Singapore gets me thinking

Posted by jeremy 5 years, 6 months ago to Government
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I'm spending Christmas/New Year in Singapore... one of my favourite places. It's BOOMING... shipping, financial services, retail. The mass transit is efficient and cheap. The people are very friendly and also pretty rigid - try changing a menu item or being a bit innovative about the way you do something.

I also watched AS I & II here, which really got me thinking. About nations-states, city-states, Western (especially American) rugged individualism vs Asian-style paternalistic collectivism.

Singapore is pretty much run as a private company by the ruling family. There is limited freedom of expression by almost no open descent. Yet the government seems to have created a physical and economic infrastructure that allows business to thrive.

Which brings me back to thinking about the role of government. I doubt many here would disagree that less is better. I think Singapore also shows that a City-State that is open to the world and open for business can be a VERY effective model.

So I'd love to hear what members of this group think governments SHOULD do... (Maybe nothing, but that seems to degenerate into war-lordistan pretty fast)...


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  • Posted by j_IR1776wg 5 years, 6 months ago
    A benevolent dictatorship is nonetheless a dictatorship. A slave no matter how well educated, fed, clothed, and housed is still a slave. As others on this post have pointed out, the US Government ought to protect us from external enemies, internal criminals, and provide a system of courts to adjudicate criminal charges and civil disputes. Period.
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    • Posted by lostsierra 5 years, 6 months ago
      Sorry to disappoint you folks but Singapore is a democracy, not a dictatorship. It has a much higher standard of living than the USA, especially California. It is also bigger than some of you seem to think. It is a large island and many smaller islands. Claustrophobia? Hardly. Cross the causeway and head north. Lots of open land in Malaysia which is likely the least densely populated nation in all Asia. Or take the Eastern & Oriental Express up to Bangkok. The E&O is the most luxurious private train in the world, plus you get a personal stewardess. These comments here reflect a LOT of ignorance.
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      • Posted by j_IR1776wg 5 years, 6 months ago
        Er you might check out the following:

        "The government in Singapore has broad powers to limit citizens' rights and to inhibit political opposition.[1] In 2009, Singapore was ranked 133rd out of 175 nations by Reporters Without Borders in the Worldwide Press Freedom Index. Freedom in the World 2006 ranked Singapore 5 out of 7 for political freedom, and 4 out of 7 for civil liberties (where 1 is the most free), with an overall ranking of "partly free" " at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_righ....

        then we can revisit the subject

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        • Posted by 5 years, 6 months ago
          Singapore seems to be a "paternalistic democracy"... citizens vote, there is an opposition and they don't seem to sit in jail... but there are restrictions on freedoms, and the government does have a LOT of power to curtail individual rights should it choose to exercise same.

          Maybe part of why it seems to work is that it's on the scale of a city-state... if you like a manageable size.

          Just notes from an outside observer...
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          • Posted by j_IR1776wg 5 years, 6 months ago
            As Lucky posted below, Lee Kuan Yew titled his book "Socialism That Works". This was in response to the horrors of the Socialist experiments of the early 20th Century. The mass slaughter caused by Hitler, Stalin, and Mao forced the socialists to moderate their approach to Marxism to make it appear more warm and cuddly. Dubcek tried the same thing in the Prague Spring.. A gilded cage is still a cage.
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            • Posted by lostsierra 5 years, 6 months ago
              Socialism is the last thing Singapore has.
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              • Posted by j_IR1776wg 5 years, 6 months ago
                Ok what would you call a single-party state?

                "Singaporean politics have been dominated by the People's Action Party (PAP) since the 1959 general election when Lee Kuan Yew became Singapore's first prime minister (Singapore was then a self-governing state within the British Empire). The PAP has been in government and won every General Election since then. Singapore left the Commonwealth in 1963 to join the Federation of Malaysia, but was expelled from the Federation in 1965 after Lee Kuan Yew disagreed with the federal government in Kuala Lumpur.[1] Foreign political analysts and several opposition parties including the Workers' Party of Singapore and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) have argued that Singapore is a de facto one-party state."
                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_o...

                FWIW I did business around the world in the '80s and '90s including Singapore. You can fool economic realty for a time but sooner or later it catches up.

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            • Posted by Lucky 5 years, 6 months ago
              Spelling correction acknowledged, thanks.
              Wherever socialism has been tried, there is one direction, down, fast or slow, but always higher taxes, more controls, less individual freedom, lower standard of living, economic instability, more unemployment, less press freedom. Some things may improve like health care access for the very poor as in Cuba, it does not last. It could be that Lee KY called the system he brought in 'socialism' for political reasons - to recognize the public feeling at the time. When his party got power, only a few of the above list got worse. No doubt some people on here would have done it better (I mean that), but it has been a good performance over 50+ years, compare with other places that got out of colonialism. My admiration is not just based on the overwhelming good performance across the board, but consider as well, the areas in which Singapore is bad, are improving, slowly. (The 'west' rates higher but we are in decline). Controls on business are reducing, press freedom and freedom of speech controls are far more severe than in 'the west' but par for the course elsewhere, they are being moderated. To return to the point of this thread:
              Find a tight group of ethical, efficient and brilliant people and give them complete power, things get better, right? Well, in Singapore, so far, yes maybe. It is an ultra high risk strategy, if it goes wrong, it goes very badly wrong, and fast. (John Galt turned down the offer) There is another severe objection to this arrangement, see point made by dkhalling elsewhere, central decision making and control can not work all the time (Objectivist or Austrian), and there can be no such thing as a correct decision which is right for all.
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              • Posted by j_IR1776wg 5 years, 6 months ago
                "...and there can be no such thing as a correct decision which is right for all" Agreed! That is why the founding fathers opted for decentralized, limited government which placed the responsibility for the lives of citizens squarely on their own shoulders. Between 1792 and approx. 1900, Americas became the most productive, literate, militarily powerful society that has ever existed. Why do Marxists prize slavery over individual rights? .
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  • Posted by rationalape 5 years, 6 months ago
    It's pretty much a crap shoot. I thought of Singapore and other autocratic governments that seem to prosper. But the crap shoot part is that the autocrats in charge allow policies that allow prosperity. Certainly not the case in say, Zimbabwe. An interesting case is the recent flowering of Abu Dhabi after its autocrat adopted prosperity. So, the autocratic model can lead to incredible prosperity but only if the autocrats allow it.
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  • Posted by Lucky 5 years, 6 months ago
    Lee Kwan Yu, the effective founder of Singapore, said his system was 'Socialism That Works', capitalized as that is the title of the book. If correct, is an interesting socialism. I have lived and worked in few countries, I came across a Singapore tax rate sheet some years ago and had to laugh. Yes there is tax, but with rates that low, why bother? Could it be that with low tax, there is more incentive, more income, leading to higher taxable income?
    There is a lot wrong with Singapore - criticism of the people in government can lead to very steep fines, if not paid then years of jail.
    Singaporians who do not like it are free to leave, for skilled and professional people, getting in is not hard. There is a big demand for unskilled labor- not paid well but for those from Indonesia, BanglaDesh etc very good pay. There is movement at both ends. Primary education is very good and very low cost for citizens, tertiary education is very good and very low cost for those on scholarships, pricey for others. There is an increasing standard of living, comparative economic stability, and even increasing personal freedoms.
    With all that, I remain a fan.
    A Gulch it is not, but it works.
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  • Posted by jrberts5 5 years, 6 months ago
    For this site, I would think that saying that governments should protect the lives, liberty, and property of its citizens is stating the obvious. Perhaps you are really asking how this should be done? But I won't put words in anyone's mouth.
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  • Posted by Sextant 5 years, 6 months ago
    Governments should enact laws that allow the individuals to succeed without making them dependent upon the State for their success, within the bounds of responsible Capitalism
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  • Posted by davecusenza 5 years, 6 months ago
    My brother in law works and lives in Singapore and loves it there. My visits there have always left me with a favorable opinion. The Fraser Institute recently published their annual Economic Freedom of the World project report and it shows Singapore being in second place. You can check out and download the report at http://www.freetheworld.com/ . It is very interesting how the US has fallen to 17th place from 2nd place since 2000. Before 2000 we were always in the top 3. During the last decade we have lost ground in all areas they rate. The largest decline is in the area of legal system and property rights. In this area we went from 9th place to 38th since 2000. I am not saying Singapore is perfect but if our government really was serious about getting our economy going again it could learn a lot from Singapore and stop regulating everything little thing to justify their self serving feeling of importance..

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  • Posted by LetsShrug 5 years, 6 months ago
    Can you have guns there?
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    • Posted by lostsierra 5 years, 6 months ago
      Yes but with heavy restrictions. Not much hunting, too much jungle. Security guards carry guns, sometimes full-auto M-14s which are privately owned. Too restricted on this point for me but crime is extremely low, about 1/300 of LA crime rate for felonies.
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    • Posted by 5 years, 6 months ago
      Don't think private individuals can... happy to be corrected. But I have to say I'd bet Americans (and really only a sub-set thereof) are the only people in the world who would assess level of freedom partly on gun "rights".

      You guys do realise that most of the rest of the world thinks that the American obsession with gun ownership is a little nuts, right?

      I grew up in LA and saw an evolving situation as a kid where children were taking guns to elementary school. And using them on other children.

      Sorry... Just don't see the relevance of the question... any non-Americans out there have a view? (Americans welcome, too... we are all about freedom of expression, right? :-) )
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      • Posted by LetsShrug 5 years, 6 months ago
        If you can't defend your own life... you're not free. (The parents should be arrested if their kids gain access to their guns and take them to school...that's not the guns doing.) "Obsession with guns"..."a little nuts"..."rest of the world thinks.." Good luck to you.
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        • Posted by Eudaimonia 5 years, 6 months ago
          Was I the *only* one who went to a high school with a rifle team?

          It's not guns.
          It's not guns in schools.
          It's values or lack of.
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          • Posted by LetsShrug 5 years, 6 months ago
            We didn't have a rifle team, but my husband's history teacher told him he'd like to see his Browning over / under so he brought it to school one day. Walked down the hall with it over his shoulder...no one batted an eye. The teacher gave it a thorough inspection in the front of the classroom...said it was an impressive shot gun and handed it back to my husband. Those were the days.
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  • Posted by RonC 5 years, 6 months ago
    I saw a project to make Belle Island, MI a city state similar to Singapore. Sadly, the city councilmen and Mayor refused to consider the sale of the citizens property. It's been perfectly OK to steal property from the citizens of Detroit for the last 50 years, but to create a capitalist money maker for them is unacceptable. It seems to me incentive is the driving force behind free economies and progressive politicians know little of incentives and a great deal of penalties and punishment.
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    • Posted by Hiraghm 5 years, 6 months ago
      We had a shopping mall here in OKC go under about... oh, almost 20 years ago now.

      I didn't have the resources, but had I, I wanted to buy it and turn it into a small arcology.
      http://www.arcology.com/

      Like a miniature version of Todos Santos in "Oath of Fealty", I would have included a centralized park area, apartments, office suites, as well as retail outlets, maybe even a private school. Building upward as funds allowed.
      Alas, the place has become a government office complex now, pretty much.

      But, I would have tried to make it as self-sufficient as possible, a micro city-within-a-city.
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  • Posted by Herb7734 5 years, 6 months ago
    In Singapore, are you a citizen or an employee? If a citizen, then the prosperity is eventually doomed because innovation will become a challenge to the rulers. If an employee, then one must work within the terms of one's employer, and everything is up to them as to success or failure.
    .
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  • Posted by jrsedivy 5 years, 6 months ago
    Hi Jeremy - Thank you for sharing your experiences in Singapore, it sounds like a great place!

    Concerning the role of government my opinion is aligned with the following Ayn Rand quote regarding the role of government in a capitalist society:

    "The only function of the government in such a society is the task of protecting man's rights - that is, the task of protecting him from physical force. The government acts as the agent of man's self defense, and may use force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use. Thus, the government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of force under objective control."

    That pretty much sums it up :)
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    • Posted by 5 years, 6 months ago
      That sounds good in theory... you don't see any role in critical infrastructure or market regulation?
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      • Posted by jrsedivy 5 years, 6 months ago
        It's a theory I would like to see tried. I believe the free market could handle critical infrastructure just fine. Without artificial stimulation the free market rewards success and punishes failure - critical infrastructure would be no different.

        In terms of market regulation, it would self regulate based on the rational self-interest of participants. Of course this all assumes that it would be a true free market and not "capitalism with controls."

        Bitcoin is probably the closest thing to a true free market that I have seen and the recent price drops were the result of the actions regulators (non-market participants).
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  • Posted by egoistpaul 5 years, 6 months ago
    I went to Singapore in February and in October. I have known Singapore well enough to say that people have more economic freedom than the USA. The tax rates are low, and it has a strong legal system.
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  • Posted by Eyecu2 5 years, 6 months ago
    What should a government do. Well to answer question that I will take the words from the Preamble of the Constitution and quote them in part with a minor adjustment to make a sentence. A Government should establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty for the People who are governed by that particular Government.

    I know that seems simple and obviously those words do not cover what is specifically meant by them. Simple things like infrastructure and roadways can fall under at least 3 different headings here in that a good road system can insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense and promote the general Welfare; therefore, I personally support some form of taxation to build and maintain a good road system. Taxes on fuel even tolls, the list is long on acceptable taxes but I think that the most important thing is we have to find a balance between a Government that taxes enough to pay for what it should provide and yet that same government should be kept lean enough to not over step into our lives.

    Currently I am sure that we would all agree that the government of America has grown too large and demands too much in taxes from those who produce, all the while giving to those who only ride the system. This is the largest affront against freedom that I can imagine essentially turning us all into slaves in the name of compassion.
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    • Posted by 5 years, 6 months ago
      Thanks Eyecy2. Presumably it's then critical that there be free and open debate on the limits and application of these guiding principles.

      For example (to stay with the Singapore theme), they have decided here that selling drugs is so antithetical to the general welfare as to merit the death penalty... Much of he rest of the world thinks that is far too harsh... Definitely needs to be able to be discussed.
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      • Posted by Eyecu2 5 years, 6 months ago
        Agreed things need to be discussed. Personally I believe that the death penalty should be reserved for treason (in a military sense) and violate offenses only. In the case of violate offenses I support allowing the families of the victim carry out the sentence.
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  • Posted by EngineerJ 5 years, 6 months ago
    Our Founding Fathers envisioned a government that arbitrated between the states and did not dictate or legislate for them! That's why it worked for so many years!
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  • Posted by  $  WillH 5 years, 6 months ago
    "I think Singapore also shows that a City-State that is open to the world and open for business can be a VERY effective model."

    I don't know much about Singapore, so my question would be effective for whom? Individuals, companies, or the family run government? Control is control.
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    • Posted by 5 years, 6 months ago
      Well, it's a great place to do business - pretty easy to set up, reasonably low regulation, seems to be very low corruption - and it's a hub for all of Asia.

      Seems to be a pretty good place to live - very little crime, clean, very efficient transport, lots to do, stuff works, very cosmopolitain. Seems to be reasonable economic mobility (you can work hard and get ahead).

      And sure, the First family seem to do pretty well out of it, too.

      Certainly there are down-sides, too. I wouldn't like to start a newspaper here that is critical of the government (yet there are web-sites that do and who the heck starts newspapers these days, anyway? :-) )

      So I'm gonna respectfully call you out on "control is control'... Sounds a bit simplistic... The place seems pretty effective for a large majority of the people here (maybe not unskilled guest workers...) And I'll go back to my question - there must be SOME role for government/agreed rules/social contract... what is it?
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      • Posted by  $  WillH 5 years, 6 months ago
        I might be overly simplistic, but that is because I feel that government should be simplistic. In my opinion the government exists to support the military to defend against invasion, the courts to protect the rights of individuals, and the police to remove the criminal element. That is it. Do I feel there is any government on the planet at this point that only does those things? No.

        I like what they have going on there, especially their embrace of meritocracy. In fact I love that point. I was not aware that speaking out against the government was permissible now. If so, then that changes my outlook on them.

        My biggest concern with Singapore is their sustainability. They are the major hub of the Asia “world” now, but they have little to no resources of their own. This would cause me great concern if I were looking to relocate there. One thing to be said for the US is we have a vast amount of resources, protected at this point, which could be pressed in to service if a world scale calamity arose. Still, I would love to visit there sometime, but I think I would quickly become claustrophobic.
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        • Posted by 5 years, 6 months ago
          Thanks Will.

          So I got military protection, legal protection, law enforcement... ok... that is a VERy minimal yet reasonable list.

          I'd probably like to add provide critical infrastructure (highways, efficient mass transport?) and also care for those who genuinely can't care for themselves... people with severe mental health issues or physical disabilities for example.

          Anyone have any other thoughts?
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          • Posted by jrberts5 5 years, 6 months ago
            Highways and mass transit--why can't these be privately owned? As far as military protection, I would suggest a voluntary militia as an alternative. Legal protection--why can't a court charge a fee to the involved parties for a case to be heard? Law enforcement--should be heavily constrained in their actions toward individuals and therefore in need of very little funding.
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      • Posted by khalling 5 years, 6 months ago
        what about the racism? you haven't spoken to that. Malaysians aren't allowed to own companies. or even spend the night in the city I've been told.
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        • Posted by 5 years, 6 months ago
          Singapore does have restrictions of non-citizens taking lease-holds (which most property is). I'm pretty sure foreigners can own free-hold but happy to be corrected.

          It's interesting that a Malaysian is calling Singapore racist. When I lived in KL in the '90s only Malays could own property and every business had to be majority Malay owned. Chinese and Indian cities of Malaysia has substantially different (lesser) rights than Malay citizens. It was clear racial-based legal differentiation (just without the bleeding-heart protests that were aimed at S. Africa...) Don't know if any of that has changed since, but I gather not much...

          By the way, I'm not saying Singapore is perfect by any means... it is clean, it runs well, it is open for business, it has LOTS of ex-pats... it's paternalistic, there are pretty strict rules (yes, even against chewing gum) and controls on free speech...

          What I'm really interested in is the balance. And I have to say everyone... this is my first foray in this community and I LOVE the standard of responses. Thank you everyone for your contributions and thoughts.

          The biggest and best thing we can do is continue to engage in constructive dialogue and help refine and spread our ideas about freedom and self-determination :-) (end of rant...)
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        • Posted by lostsierra 5 years, 6 months ago
          I have lived and worked in Malaysia. Married to Malaysian. Malaysians constantly spend the nite in Singapore. My family and in-laws have many times.Twenty per cent of Singaporeans are Malays. Try to tell them from the other Malays. Good luck.
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          • Posted by khalling 5 years, 6 months ago
            thanks lost. I am only commenting about hearsay. can Malaysians own property and businesses in Singapore? I have business associates who lived in Singapore for many years. these were some of their impressions. Obviously, the economy is highly dynamic and de facto economically free. They're ranked second in the world. How expensive is it to live there?
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            • Posted by lostsierra 5 years, 6 months ago
              I would say free by law, not de facto. Cost is higher than most places, Malaysia is lower than Singapore. One time the legislature debated making it a law that kids must support their parents if needed in retirement. One side said yes, the other side said kids already did due to Chinese culture and no law was needed. They do not have and rejected the western welfare state. Such laws don't exist there. In Malaysia, my wife's net pay was the same as her gross pay. No difference.
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