I had the privilege this week of listening to a lecture by Hans Rosling, professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. Many will have seen his engaging performances on Youtube or in Ted talks . He’s the one with the endearing Swedish accent – he says “yust” for “just” – and the animated charts that show nations as variously sized, coloured bubbles moving dramatically over time. He also uses a pointer with a little hand attached to the end.
His message is basically an optimistic one: that poor countries are rapidly converging on richer ones as their birth rates fall to sustainable levels and as their victory over preventable disease and premature death allows them to advance economically. Most of the world is now between what he calls “light bulb” and “washing machine” – in other words advancing up the lower rungs of the “middle classs”.
Singapore’s normally staid airwaves are being shaken up with a raunchy rap video urging the city-state’s population to do what it takes to get the birth rate up.
As the tiny nation of 5.2m gears up to mark 47 years since it was founded next week, candy maker Mentos has issued a call to action in the bedroom, urging Singaporeans in a video to give the country “the population spurt it so desperately needs”.
“We’ve got to go all the way for Singapore, baby, you know what I’m saying,” a male voice sings to a female companion audible in the background. “Let’s put a bao” — bun — “ in your oven”.
Later he tells her that he wants to “explore your body like a night safari” — a reference to the night safaris that have made Singapore zoo famous.
The backdrop is some unfortunate mathematics that threaten the sustainability of Singapore’s economic miracle.
The number of “baby boomers” reaching 65 is rising. That’s not a problem unique to Singapore. But what’s really hurting is that the birth rate among “heartlanders”, as native Singaporeans are sometimes called, has been in steady decline for some time.