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A Tale of Two Cities: Factor Accumulation and Technical Change in Hong Kong and Singapore

This paper uses a case study of Hong Kong and Singapore, two of the fastest growing economies in the postwar world, to evaluate competing theories of economic growth. Although broadly similar in historical background and economic structure, the two economies are strikingly different along three dimensions of interest to growth theorists: (1) Hong Kong began the postwar era with a considerably better educated labor force; (2) the subsequent accumulation of human and physical capital in Singapore far exceeds that in Hong Kong; and (3) Singapore has experienced considerably more rapid structural change, as government targeting policies have propelled the economy into technologically advanced sectors. A total factor productivity growth analysis of the two economies reveals that while TFP growth in Hong Kong accounts for over two-thirds of the increase in GDP per capita during the 1970s and 1980s, total factor productivity growth in Singapore during the same period is next to nil. These results constitute strong evidence against linear models of growth that emphasize contemporaneous externalities in the accumulation of factors of production. The poor TFP performance of the Singaporean economy, when associated with its astounding rate of structural transformation, supports models that emphasize the constraints imposed by learning by doing on the evolution of comparative advantage.