What is government anyway? A parable from Singapore

by on July 29, 2005 at 1:52 am in Political Science | Permalink

Yes Singapore has developed rapidly through the use of market incentives, but there is much government planning here as well.  Every food stall gets a letter grade for its cleanliness, which must be displayed prominently.  More significantly, land planning has been extensive, and yes the government decides where the food stalls (and just about everything else) will go.

But why do we call this government?  Let us say that way back when, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had homesteaded the territory of Singapore in proper Lockean fashion.  He then wrote a contract welcoming people (all subsequent migrants, but not everyone) to live there, provided they agree to various rules and regulations, including of course Singaporean land planning, not to mention the ban on oral sex.  This would then count as "the market," presumably.

Should we then think that such planning is more (or perhaps less) efficient, because it is now "the market" instead of "government"?  But why should our evaluation depend on the murky details of past history?  What is really the difference between market and government anyway?  Can we in any case think of Singapore as a very well planned corporation, albeit with some uptight morals at times?

When we do public choice theory, is it really the government we are criticizing?  Or is our true target something like "excessively large land parcels," regardless of their historical origin?

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