In the past week we've discovered that Facebook's co-founder Eduardo Saverin has decided to renounce his U.S. citizenship -- probably to take up Singapore citizenship, since he's been living and working here for awhile now. This has had several effects, among them the following:
1 -- Some people around the world have finally located Singapore on a map.
2 -- Some people around the world have not yet located Singapore on a map, but now know it exists.
3 -- Americans are accusing Saverin of dodging tax and being unpatriotic, even though his spokesperson insists that's not really the case.
As a Singaporean, I don't really have a problem with the idea of having a billionaire who was a character in an Oscar-winning film to call a "fellow citizen." He'll probably singlehandedly increase our Gini Coefficient by a few points just by becoming a citizen, but that's fine because the Gini Coefficient has been going to pot for a few years already anyway. At least this way we get to pretend that a Singaporean was involved in the creation of a massive money-making social network like Facebook.
Some people have pointed out that by putting economic concerns over everything and giving up citizenship on a country that gave him his big breaks, Saverin has proved himself much more Singaporean than the rest of us. No one doubts that he'll decamp and ditch Singapore the moment it no longer makes financial sense to stay here.
Honestly, whether Saverin becomes a Singapore citizen or not makes very little difference to the average Singaporean. His life here is so vastly different from ours that he might as well be living on Mars. And it's not like we haven't done anything like this before: Many members of our national sports teams aren't born-and-bred Singaporeans. Kung Fu movie star Jet Li is Singapore citizen too.
Being ludicrously rich as he is -- and likely to get richer -- it's unlikely that Saverin's life in Singapore will be any different as a citizen than as an American expatriate. He's already past the age to be hauled up for compulsory military service. As a citizen, he'll have to pay S$100 (US$79.83) to enter either of our two casinos (foreigners enter free), but that's hardly going to be a problem for him, is it? And it's not like anyone was ever going to be able to afford to live where he's living, anyway: Frm what I understand, he's got a penthouse in our main shopping district. I can't even afford to move out of my parents' government flat.
And what will Singapore get from a Singaporean Saverin? It's hard to say. He has indicated a desire to continue investing on start-ups around the world, but we don't know how many -- if any -- of those start-ups are Singaporean endeavors. I guess we'll see. It's also been reported that he wants to start a charitable foundation. I wonder what cause he'll choose.
You know what would be interesting? If he started championing human rights causes in Singapore. Joined local civil society groups and became an activist or something. Why not? Once a citizen, he'd be allowed to comment on Singapore's "internal affairs" and participate in local "cause-related activities." And famous and rich as he is, he probably wouldn't have to worry about the possibility of being detained without trial under the Internal Security Act or getting threatened with defamation suits.
But I doubt this is going to happen. That's too bad.