Why Singapore is special

by on August 3, 2015 at 1:40 pm in Economics, Education, History, Philosophy, Political Science, Science, Travel, Uncategorized | Permalink


Singapore as an independent nation will be fifty years old this August 9.  In the comments, a number of you have asked me why I find Singapore so special.

I would cite three features of the country above all else:

1. It is a place where large numbers of people are obsessed with both food and economics.

2. The citizens and leadership of Singapore have an unparalleled knowledge and understanding of economics, engineering, and public policy.  In this regard the polity is distinguished in world-historic terms, and anyone who visits is enjoying a remarkable privilege to see this in action.  In my admittedly idiosyncratic view, this is one of the best and most important sights of the contemporary world, more interesting than most natural wonders.

3. Singapore has created what is possibly the highest quality bureaucracy the world has seen, ever.  Imagine a country where you can have a serious debate as to whether there is a brain drain into the government rather than out of it!

Singapore of course, like all places, has various problems and imperfections, but I believe its significance does not receive enough recognition from outside commentators.

Here is a good article about how Singapore is seeking to export its own expertise.

1 Dan in Euroland August 3, 2015 at 1:47 pm

Or as W Gibson phrased it: Singapore is Disneyland with the Death Penalty: http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/1.04/gibson.html

2 Thor August 4, 2015 at 1:18 pm

Anyone can be a smart-alec, and/or offer a bon mot. But that tells us too little. D+

3 Kevin C. August 5, 2015 at 3:07 am

And that should be considered a compliment.

See some related here about EPCOT, Singapore, and politics.

4 Dan Wang August 3, 2015 at 2:01 pm

Have never been to Singapore before, but 2 & 3 make me think of Switzerland without the marvelous natural wonders.

5 SinoPlato August 3, 2015 at 9:21 pm

The wealth of the Swiss is a natural product of their social capital, that manifests itself organically in a republic with many direct, local, communal democratic mechanisms. In that way, the Swiss are not really distinguishable from their Germanic neighbours to the north.

Singapore, on the other hand, is comprised of a racuous assembly of Chinese dialect communities descended from coolies and porters, Malay Muslims and low caste South Indians. None whom have European levels of social capital back in their home countries, and all of whom traditionally live in those communal extended families notoriously impermeable to state integration and modern public life.

That Singapore came anywhere close to where it is today is a miracle. Its as if a Switzerland emerged from a population of Sicilian lowlifes, Greeks, Pashtuns and Russian peasants. A political model that outperforms the natural level of social capital of the input populations will be welcome to many developing nations I’m sure.

6 Adrian Ratnapala August 3, 2015 at 11:41 pm

Sweep of history dude. Social captial accrues over centuries, and on that time scale the Swiss have a far, far better democratic record than nearly anyone. Especially their Germanic neighbours to the north.

7 SinoPlato August 4, 2015 at 12:07 am

Agree that soc capital takes a long time to accumulate. Which sucks because it chains countries to their history.

The point here is that the deepest division is between those peoples capable of localised self-government, and those who aren’t capable. The Germans have a long history of independent, local social/religious/political organisations, that are distinct from 1) the mechanisms of state and organised coercion, as well as from 2) family, ethnic or kinship structures. In India, Russia or China or the Muslim countries there is precious little evidence of this–its all one or the other, while even in Europe there is an obvious difference between the Teutons, Low Countries and the English on one hand, and everybody else on the other.

The capacity to form corporate bodies and organisations independent from both violence/state and ethnicity/kinship is important to economic and social development for obvious reasons. From my pov Singapore is the only country to have short-circuited the tight coupling between social capital and wealth without using nat resources.

8 Nick August 4, 2015 at 5:49 am

If we’re comparing Swiss vs. Singapore then the discussion shouldn’t be about democratic records at all. Singapore is a benevolent (or so Tyler indicates) dictatorship – although I would probably agree.

9 Hadur August 3, 2015 at 2:02 pm

It’s the closest thing we have to a classical Greek city-state, down to the combination of seemingly barbaric punishment and intellectual sophistication.

Back when I paid attention to military stuff (about 10 years ago), Singapore was also notable for having a very respectably sized military compared to some of the much larger countries around it. This may have changed, but I seem to recall finding the size of their submarine fleet particularly impressive.

10 Hadur August 3, 2015 at 2:03 pm

That said, shouldn’t Tyler be criticizing Singapore for its relatively restrictive immigration policy? I have two degrees and I doubt I am skilled enough to be allowed to move to Singapore.

11 Anon. August 3, 2015 at 3:49 pm

The majority of people in Singapore were born elsewhere.

12 Mr. Econotarian August 3, 2015 at 5:28 pm

See “Eligibility for Employment Pass” http://www.mom.gov.sg/passes-and-permits/employment-pass/eligibility

There are over 200,000 people on the Employment Pass in Singapore, the equivalent of 12 million in the US if you adjust for population size. In contrast, the number of H1-B workers in the US is only around 650,000.

13 Fyodor August 4, 2015 at 2:31 am

Nice try, Mr., but you haven’t included other work visas, notably Work Permit holders. These foreign workers, on wages of less than S$2k/month, number around 1m people out of a workforce of 3m. More than 200,000 workers are maids from the Philippines, Indonesia etc. who raise the children of Singapore’s middle class. It’s a lot easier to support the high living standards of Singaporean citizens with an army of lowly-paid Untermenschen.

For your next visit, Tyler, I suggest you visit one of the worker dormitories to see how “the other half” live.

14 Dave D'Rave August 4, 2015 at 5:55 pm

Actually, there are maybe 650,000 people in the US _currently_ on H1-B visas. There are another 750,000 (more or less) who came here on an H1-B and have been upgraded to a Green Card.

There are also similar numbers of people on L-1 visas, and another million or so when you add up E-1, TN-1, W-1, H1-B1, H2-A, etc.

Try to get your facts right, please.

15 Art Deco August 3, 2015 at 5:42 pm

of seemingly barbaric punishment and intellectual sophistication.

NationMaster reports Singapore’s intentional homicide rate at 0.38 per 100,000. Given their population, that amount to about 20 homicides per annum. There’s a center at Cornell University which tracks executions internationally. They report 7 executions in the last 8 or 9 years. All of which is to say that the probability a perpetrator will be executed might be around about 4%. That’s ‘barbaric’? Or are you contending whacking vandals over the backside with a cane is ‘barbaric’?

What term to you make use of for pursuing public policies which have turned Detroit and much of Baltimore into hellholes?

16 wwebd August 3, 2015 at 9:05 pm

Art Deco, your rhetorical question answers itself.

17 Art Deco August 4, 2015 at 9:34 am

I asked three questions, and, no, they do not answer themselves.

18 Alain August 5, 2015 at 1:42 am


Excellent comment.

19 Edgar August 3, 2015 at 2:04 pm

” Imagine a country where you can have a serious debate as to whether there is a brain drain into the government rather than out of it!” Hey dude, GMU is a state school, ergo, part of the government.

20 Michael August 3, 2015 at 2:47 pm

I, for one, feel like we are draining too many intelligent Americans into government. We could really use more Bureaucrats spending less time trying to be clever.

21 Lord Action August 3, 2015 at 2:06 pm

Surely the most unusual feature of Singapore is the frightening collapse in birth rate? I understand the appeal of some aspects of the place, but the birthrate is enough of a problem to make me think “whatever Singapore is doing, we should do the exact opposite.”

I would feel a lot better if this problem was well understood.

22 skeptic August 3, 2015 at 3:10 pm

Low birthrate is a feature, not a bug, for cuckatarians.

23 Brian Donohue August 3, 2015 at 3:34 pm

Can’t speak for cuckatarians, but I’m just fine with zero progeny for ‘skeptic’.

24 Floccina August 3, 2015 at 5:15 pm

Could that be due to having so many people to choose from that a person always think that they might trade up, even married people, until it is too late?

25 Lord Action August 4, 2015 at 10:41 am

I suspect this is part of it. I recall there being papers on the topic of too much choice making relationship-forming hard.

26 Bob August 3, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Low fertility rates are a characteristic, and feature, of cities.

27 Barkley Rosser August 4, 2015 at 12:19 am

Really working hard to get your pet neologism out there, aren’t you, skeptic. So far does not look like it is catching all that virally, but I guess you can keep trying here. Maybe some of the drooling racists who love to use “cuckservative” will pick it up from here and start spreading it among the Aryan Brotherhood types, but then again, maybe those types do not give a hoo about dissing questionable libertarians as much as you do.

28 asdf August 3, 2015 at 3:51 pm

It’s not unique to Singapore. Nearly all OECD countries are IQ shredders, where the smarter you get the fewer the offspring. This gets particularly bad in highly urbanized environments, and is also pretty bad amongst Asians.

29 Lord Action August 3, 2015 at 4:31 pm

It’s rebounding for the high IQ in the US. It’s even rebounding in Japan. But it’s still low and unclear where it’s going to end up. I’d expect faster rebounds in more diverse societies. The various technological shocks that impair fertility have disproportionately struck the high IQ, so you’d also expect that to be where evolutionary rebound would be the strongest. Diversity + evolutionary pressure = solutions.

In any event, it’s especially bad in Singapore. Perhaps it’s just too-high urbanization.

If you are looking for an important social problem to analyse, I’d suggest finding ways to make urban living palatable for families (maybe more specifically, children). I’m not sure it’s solvable, but if you managed it, you’d do a lot of good.

30 Al August 3, 2015 at 6:02 pm

A prerequisite to getting lots of middle class families to move into U.S. urban centers is creating a local society, an environment, where people trust each other a lot more than they do now.

If your “family friendly” urban environment contains a steady stream of unknown, unaccountable folks from pretty much anywhere on the globe, you might feel like never letting your kids out of your sight.

And that’s a really fun lifestyle, not to mention a super-great way to parent.

31 Todd Kreider August 3, 2015 at 7:42 pm

“It’s rebounding for the high IQ in the US. It’s even rebounding in Japan.”

As if you have any stats on Japan.

32 Lord Action August 4, 2015 at 9:58 am
33 asdf August 3, 2015 at 9:31 pm

Actually, diversity is really bad for high IQ fertility. Smart people can choose to have children, they don’t have accidental pregnancies. And they only have children when they are socially and psychologically comfortable with doing so. Diversity increases anxiety and conflict.

The best thing to help high IQ fertility is

1) Affordable family formation policies.
2) A reversal, as much as is practical, of the Great Centralization economic factors that create very expensive cities.
3) Reduced diversity and immigration
4) Increase in traditional, ethnic, and religious social patterns and status

Smart conservative religious women have replacement fertility. Smart liberal atheist women are having 0.4 kids per woman. This pattern holds even as you go country to country and the average rate of fertility goes up and down. It’s always the traditional women among the smart set that are having the children, not the feminists.

34 Dude Man August 3, 2015 at 10:29 pm

“3) Reduced diversity and immigration
4) Increase in traditional, ethnic, and religious social patterns and status”

I’m curious how you plan on accomplishing these two. I understand how you can reduce immigration, but I can’t think how you plan on reducing diversity peacefully and the genie isn’t going back into the bottle on the status and social pattern front.

35 asdf August 4, 2015 at 12:36 am

#4 is possible, but I agree its not probable. Israel has had a lot of success increasing TFR by promoting nationalism, ethnic chauvinism, and religiousity. This plays out in the various demographic groups in the USA as well.

Deportation is just a more extreme form of #3. So take whatever changes are necessary to make #3 happen and ratchet them up some.

I don’t expect these things to happen, but they certainly could happen. It’s within the majorities power to do so tomorrow if they wanted. The issue is the lack of a coordinating mechanism, though that might as well just be a way of saying “social failures are a thing”. All societies become decadent, atomistic, and lose their Asabiyyah in time. They lose the ability to act as a cohesive whole, even when its obviously in their interest.

36 Moreno Klaus August 4, 2015 at 6:18 am

“Smart conservative religious women have replacement fertility” … “Smart” …. yeah right lool

37 Lord Action August 4, 2015 at 10:01 am

Diversity isn’t necessarily code for immigrants. For example, within the US, you have urban liberals who are not having children and significant minority populations like Mormons who are. In the future you’ll have less of the former and more of the latter.

38 Adrian Ratnapala August 3, 2015 at 11:56 pm

I live in a 4 storey block of flats about 5km from the centre of Munich. The block is about 100 yards long and its land area is about 50% building, 50% garden. The jungle has a (feeble) jungle-gym and a sand-pit.

Kids play there every day. They also play out on the front pavement. There are perhaps 10-20 kids all told, divided into various friendship cliques. It looks much more fun than any of the 1/4 acre blocks I lived in as a kid, and more like the illegal child minder’s house that was the highlight of early my school years.

Perhaps this model is too low density for Singapore, but it is still higher density than exists in much of the world.

39 Lord Action August 4, 2015 at 10:02 am

Germany is not a good example either. The German birthrate is deplorable.

40 Bob August 3, 2015 at 4:18 pm

What is there to understand? Cities are densely populated areas that need to import basic necessities such as food. That’s why they have low fertility rates.

41 Lord Action August 3, 2015 at 4:36 pm

I get it that cities are bad, but I doubt it’s because the food comes from far away. I live in a leafy suburb with a high birthrate, and my food is mostly shipped in from hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

42 Tom West August 3, 2015 at 5:27 pm

“whatever Singapore is doing, we should do the exact opposite.”

If a low birth rate is a serious problem, then we’re all in trouble.

There’s every indication that any industrial society with decent civil rights for all its citizens and reasonable opportunities for women (i.e. what most of is would consider a moral society) ends up with a birth rate below replacement.

But, a below replacement rate birth rate is not the end of the world (at least not for another several thousand years). Sure, we have to adapt society to negative population growth, but surely there are real crises to worry about.

43 Art Deco August 3, 2015 at 5:46 pm

No, we’re not all in serious trouble. The United States, Ireland, France, and Britain reproduce at or near replacement level and Israel reproduces above replacement level. Much of Europe is in trouble and the Industrial Orient is in baaaad trouble.

44 Alexp August 3, 2015 at 6:51 pm

Buy at least in the United States, France, and the UK, much of it is due to certain demographics that a lot of commentators on this site wouldn’t consider “desirable.”

You could actually say that about Israel as well.

45 Art Deco August 3, 2015 at 7:34 pm

No, you couldn’t. Black Americans reproduce at replacement level. Hispanophone mestizos have high total fertility rates (3.9), but given the source country fertility rates it’s a reasonable inference that lasts one generation. Caucasians and Amerindians have rates about 5% below national means.

As for Israel, the tfr of the Jewish population has hardly changed in 50 years, while that for the surrounding Arab societies has tanked.

46 anon August 3, 2015 at 9:23 pm

“Hispanophone mestizos have high total fertility rates (3.9)”

^Just to add, I believe their TFR is significantly lower than that now, and been dropping rapidly since the late 2000s recession began.

47 Alexp August 3, 2015 at 9:46 pm

Not talking about Jews v Arabs, but rather secular v. orthodox Jews.

48 Alexp August 3, 2015 at 9:48 pm

And the fact that Caucasians are 5% below replacement and Hispanics are at 3.9 illustrates my point. The fact that it only last one generation indicates that the relief is temporary.

49 jorod August 3, 2015 at 2:06 pm

Do they have welfare?

50 ibaien August 3, 2015 at 4:44 pm

quite a bit, but the framing is very appealing to compassionate libertarians like Tyler.

51 Tyler August 4, 2015 at 1:29 am

Mostly in the form of public housing, which they also use as a tool for social engineering and political control

52 Bill Ellis August 10, 2015 at 6:24 pm

You left out all the mandated investment accounts for a wide range of Social welfare needs.

53 Nick Miller August 3, 2015 at 2:08 pm

I’d be interested if Tyler thinks other places can emulate Singapore, or if the nation’s circumstances are so unique that it is unrealistic to expect other countries to replicate Singapore’s successes.

(*Obviously countries can mimic some of Singapore’s policies, but it has features like its prime geography to leverage international maritime shipping and its density that can’t be copied.)

I wonder the same about Switzerland- how much of their high standard of living comes from being a tax haven and from accumulating wealth in the 20th century due in part to being neutral during major wears?

54 Paul August 4, 2015 at 2:01 pm

Brazil tried some years ago to emulate the government housing projects (they even called it “project Singapore”) and it was a spectacular failure. Countries either work or not because of a variety of processes and circumstances. I understand why we try to emulate it but so far I have seen very little evidence that one country can actually copy another in this regard. By the way, this is very true for policies like gun control and crime control in general.

55 Randall Parker August 4, 2015 at 11:11 pm

Other countries won’t be able to emulate Singapore until genetic engineering makes it possible to try.

56 nigel August 3, 2015 at 2:16 pm

Re: brain drain.

Isn’t that the problem here in the US to an extent, in a perverse way? Clearly not with regard to 99% of the bureaucracy, but with regard to (a) intelligent people getting law degrees and becoming a part of the compliance apparatus and (b) intelligent people making careers in the revolving door sector at the higher levels of government?

57 Harun August 3, 2015 at 9:17 pm

Yes, that’s why DC’s counties are so rich.

The key insight is that instead of running government better, they find ways to make money off government not running better – the more opaque the regulations the more lucrative for the consultant.

58 Hoosier August 3, 2015 at 2:17 pm

“Have never been to Singapore before, but 2 & 3 make me think of Switzerland without the marvelous natural wonders.”

That was kind of my impression too. The famous quote about cuckoo clocks from the Third Man comes to mind.

I’m sure I’d enjoy the food and relative cleanliness of the streets but if you’re not going to shop and you’re not an economist or a student of public policy, there’s really no draw is there?

59 jim jones August 4, 2015 at 4:34 am

I have a couple of neighbours here in the UK who moved from Singapore because it was oppressive and boring.

60 Franck Boizard August 3, 2015 at 2:18 pm

The birthrate is key : no children, no future, whatever the growthrate.

And no, immigration is not a solution, it is a problem, as we very well know in Europe.

61 Jan August 3, 2015 at 2:34 pm

Singapore gets better immigrants than you guys.

62 Franck Boizard August 3, 2015 at 3:45 pm

You are right. Yet I think massive immigration, the kind you need to compensate a low birthrate, is always more a problem than a solution, except if you slaughter all the natives first, like in the USA.

63 Art Deco August 3, 2015 at 5:47 pm

except if you slaughter all the natives first, like in the USA.

See Keith Windschuttle on the source and course of these memes in Australian historiography. The notion that the ‘natives’ were ‘slaughtered’ ‘first’ in this country is an imaginary one peddled by the malicious.

64 Propane Nightmare August 4, 2015 at 1:05 am

… for now. Europe or the USSA used to get “good” immigrants too, they also used to integrate them better, untill they started to falll more and more into Socialism, conformism and thought police.
I’m starting to see in Singapore what destroyed the West : a crippling debt, demographic issues that will result in a less and less controlled immigration and gentrification.
Also what can be said about Murica, can also be discussed about Singapore : is there a singaporean soul and character ? Was it constructed along ethnic lines ? Is there any historical tradition and culture ? I see it clearly in Hong Kong. Not sure if I see it see it in Singapore.

65 Adrian Ratnapala August 3, 2015 at 2:20 pm

I think France and India also have brain drains into government. And in France that probably does mean the beaurocrats are pretty effective. But the brain-drain exists because those jobs are safe and powerful.

66 Anon August 3, 2015 at 4:58 pm

India I would say it is no longer true. Till the late 70s’ the bureaucracy was considered attractive to get into.One of my classmates who would have excelled in any field entered the Indian Administrative service and contributed very well. ( And after a few years of Grad school at an Ivy league university, even I made a half-hearted attempt at it.) Now people pretty low down the pecking order go into the civil service. The private sector and Software are considered much more attractive now.
In the recent civil service exams, only a handful scored over 55% in the qualifying examination.
However there are lateral shifts at the higher level of some Economists and Technocrats into senior postions , but not too much..

67 whatsthat August 3, 2015 at 2:21 pm

It also has the population of an average sized colony within Delhi. If you look at the areas surrounding India Gate, you will draw much the same conclusion.

68 Baphomet August 3, 2015 at 2:28 pm

I thought Singapore was a de facto dictatorship? Where the regime systematically sues its political opponents into bankruptcy? I remember Christopher Lingle narrowly escaped public flogging after having alluded to this in a column in the International Herald Tribune. Of course, that was a long time ago.

69 Jan August 3, 2015 at 2:36 pm

They certainly don’t tolerate dissent, or a lack of total respect. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/07/world/asia/singapore-amos-yee-lee-kuan-yew.html?_r=0

70 Bob August 3, 2015 at 3:19 pm

Amos Yee was detained for anti-Christian hate speech and obscenity, not for dissent or disrespect.

71 Brian Donohue August 3, 2015 at 3:37 pm

I think anti-hate-speech laws are awful. I’m sure Jan agrees.

72 Bob August 3, 2015 at 4:24 pm

Sure, but anti-hate speech laws and measures aren’t uncommon. What’s unusual is that anti-Christian hate speech is prosecuted.

73 Jan August 3, 2015 at 9:48 pm

Hate speech is one thing. Hate crimes, those I don’t go for.

74 chuck martel August 4, 2015 at 6:59 am

What’s the definition of “hate”, anyway? The progressives, for instance, consider any attitude opposed to their own as hate, being opposed to gay marriage is countered with “hate is not a family value”. Hatred is a pretty extreme emotion but as with so many other terms, the language has come to serve special interests. Opposition is now hate.

75 Bob from Ohio August 3, 2015 at 4:20 pm

Many Soviet dissidents were detained for mental illness not for dissent or disrespect.

76 Bob August 3, 2015 at 4:29 pm

Right, they were detained for mental illness, not for crimes. Apparently hate speech and obscenity are crimes in Singapore.

77 Bob from Ohio August 3, 2015 at 4:42 pm

“Right, they were detained for mental illness, not for crimes.”

Mental illness was a pretext as are these “crimes”.

78 Bob August 3, 2015 at 4:56 pm

Are you suggesting that hate speech and obscenity are not crimes there, or that they can’t be or shouldn’t be crimes there?

79 Jan August 3, 2015 at 6:20 pm

Yeah, you think he would’ve been detained if he was saying that about somebody else?

80 Flannery Bro'Conner August 3, 2015 at 2:30 pm

Maybe if Singapore needed to be raised or lowered in status it would get more recognition from outside commentators.

81 A Definite Beta Guy August 3, 2015 at 4:26 pm

Singapore needs higher status in the minds of the right-leaning intelligentsia, but the bravado overstates Singapore’s value. Singapore is less of an example of a successful society than Germany or France.

82 Attila Smith. August 3, 2015 at 8:45 pm

France is a successful society !? Il vaut mieux entendre ça que d’être sourd…

83 Jan August 3, 2015 at 2:34 pm

They have one of the best universal health care systems in the world. (And some US conservatives say they actually like it–I say great, let’s replace Obamacare with exactly what Singapore has.)

84 Art Deco August 3, 2015 at 5:32 pm

Because state insurance covers catastrophic care and is a small portion of total expenditures, among other features. You want publicly provided medical care not subject to wretched queues and economically sustainable for the long haul, you need to abandon the practice of first-dollar coverage for medical expenses. Now imagine the demagogy the Democratic Party of Crime engages in when you propose to do that. (And recall all the media bellyaching over utilization management and review 20 years ago).

85 Jan August 3, 2015 at 6:24 pm

Do it how they do it, absolutely I want it.

Also, based on your comments, I don’t think you understand how healthcare works in Singapore. There is an e-book about it that’s a quick read and very cheap, I suggest you check it out. Insurance there and medical care in general is heavily regulated by the state and also heavily subsidized for those with lower income people. The health care savings is compulsory. You assume I think every kind of regulation healthcare in this country is good, I don’t.

86 Thiago Ribeiro August 3, 2015 at 7:26 pm

“There is an e-book about it that’s a quick read and very cheap, I suggest you check it out.”
What is the title?

87 Jan August 3, 2015 at 9:38 pm
88 Thiago Ribeiro August 4, 2015 at 5:06 am

“Here you go.”
Thank you very much.

89 Art Deco August 3, 2015 at 7:35 pm

I don’t think you understand how healthcare works in Singapore.

Yes I do, and you’re not in a position to instruct anyone about much other than the contents of your alimentary canal.

90 Jan August 3, 2015 at 9:45 pm

Health care policy is what I do, and I recently literally read the book about Singapore’s system. Please school me some more. Your comment was stupid because you just assumed I think universal first dollar coverage for everything is the way to go. You also assume I give a damn what ridiculous name you want to call democrats today.

91 chuck martel August 4, 2015 at 7:04 am

We live in a society with CCTV cameras on every corner, super-sophisticated locks on every door, secret policemen everywhere, complicated codes for identification numbers of all kinds. Why? Because there are so many bad people around us. Paying for their medical expenses, keeping the mal hechors alive and reproductive, is crazy. Let them die. Then we won’t need smart chip car keys.

92 Art Deco August 4, 2015 at 9:29 am

We live in a society with CCTV cameras on every corner, –

You live in Britain?

super-sophisticated locks on every door, secret policemen everywhere, complicated codes for identification numbers of all kinds. Why?

No clue why you do what you do. I’ve never lived any place with ‘secret policemen’, nor ever had a door lock more ‘complicated’ than an ordinary deadbolt, nor spent more than a brief run of years in any building which had anything more complicated than key card access to it’s outer doors. I have two or three codes, two of which I almost never use.

93 Art Deco August 4, 2015 at 9:31 am

While we’re at it, two of the neighborhoods I’ve lived in were dodgy enough that you could not get a pizza delivered there. No shortage of hoodlums around.

94 Careless August 5, 2015 at 5:52 pm

Over the corpses of a million doctors

95 Linus August 3, 2015 at 2:41 pm

Singapore is special because it is stupid.

The first thing you are warned about when you land is about the criminal offense of carrying gum (Yes, with an m!). And things go down from there.

Apartment choice dictated by the Government to reflect ethnic makeup of the city,
Government owned taxi companies (Two of them to compete with each other, really!).

A chip design engineer I know, a very bright guy working at a design center of a major US chipmaker a permanent resident of S’pore applied for a citizenship. For the last twelve months the status of the application is a bureaucratic “Processing”. He is also acutely aware that it could be rejected because a government genius decided that his profile does not fit into a “National Requirement”. Till then his young family lives under a cloud of uncertainty.

This blog is a Singaporephile for reasons that escape me, and will anyone who knows that stupid place.

96 Dan in Euroland August 3, 2015 at 2:48 pm

Technocracy is very appealing to libertarians.

97 Sam Haysom August 3, 2015 at 3:06 pm

Well there’s always the certainty of returning to were he came from right? Surely that nation has some need for computer chips. Maybe he’ll make a little less money, or maybe enjoy a less diverse assortment of food and fewer snakes crawling up his pipes, but at least he’d have a sense of certainty. Trade offs apply to the cosmopolitan techies too.

98 Jan August 3, 2015 at 9:52 pm

Snakes up his pipes? Go on.

99 Axa August 3, 2015 at 6:05 pm

How is this compared to applying for citizenship in the US or Germany? Is Singapore worse?

100 Phil August 3, 2015 at 10:06 pm

Singapore’s citizenship and PR processes are very opaque. The application process itself is easy enough but the criteria are unknown – the published criteria represent the minimum standards to apply, not the minimum standards to be granted PR/citizenship.

The real life criterion for citizenship is rumored to be “you are an ethnically Chinese professional with children, ideally young and male so they can be drafted.” If you do not meet this criterion, you’d better make a huge amount of money and/or create jobs for Singaporeans. PR standards are more liberal but the above guideline still applies.

101 JJ August 4, 2015 at 2:36 am

“Singapore is special because it is stupid.
The first thing you are warned about when you land is about the criminal offense of carrying gum (Yes, with an m!). And things go down from there.
Apartment choice dictated by the Government to reflect ethnic makeup of the city, Government owned taxi companies (Two of them to compete with each other, really!).
A chip design engineer I know, a very bright guy working at a design center of a major US chipmaker a permanent resident of S’pore applied for a citizenship. For the last twelve months the status of the application is a bureaucratic “Processing”. He is also acutely aware that it could be rejected because a government genius decided that his profile does not fit into a “National Requirement”. Till then his young family lives under a cloud of uncertainty.
This blog is a Singaporephile for reasons that escape me, and will anyone who knows that stupid place.”

I thought this was a seriously ridiculous comment and felled compelled to reply to it.

I’ve travelled to Singapore many times and I’ve never heard any warnings regarding chewing gum. In fact, his statement isn’t even correct. It is illegal to sell gum in Singapore, not to carry or chew it. The only warnings I’ve heard are regarding drug penalties.

Singapore has one of the best taxi services I’ve found in any major city in the world. The taxis are clean and inexpensive. The only issue is that the fare structure is complicated and results in certain periods of times where it can be difficult to flag down a taxi.

The example about citizenship tops it all. It is much harder to get citizenship in other countries such as the USA, even if you studied there.

Singapore is by now means a paradise but it is nothing like what this guy complains about.

102 Peter@happiestcountryintheworld August 4, 2015 at 6:51 am

the happiest country in the world handles its immigration much better: http://www.thelocal.ch/20141014/us-expat-denied-swiss-citizenship-after-39-years-residency

“Although the decision was negative, the unsuccessful applicant must still pay a 3,600-franc administrative fee.”

“Despite his good knowledge of Switzerland and his ability to speak German, a local naturalization commission ruled that he did not know enough about the geography and politics of the region where he lived, the newspaper said.
The commission said the American could not name six neighbouring villages and was unaware of the current political issues in Einsiedeln.”

103 rayward August 3, 2015 at 2:54 pm

Singapore is dominated by the Peoples Action Party (PAP) and does not have an electoral democracy as we think of it in the West and its citizens have limited basic rights (speech and assembly are highly regulated). Singapore’s success is attributable to Lee Kuan Yew (the “wise man of the east”), who led the country from its independence from Great Britain in 1959 until his death earlier this year (he was de facto leader until his death even though he officially left government in 2011). He was the quintessential benevolent leader in the image of the early Greek philosophers. For those suspicious of liberal democracy, Singapore is a natural attraction. Some have even suggested that it is a natural laboratory for Straussians. There is a respect for order and discipline in Singapore that won’t be found in the West. Western obsession with individual liberty would clash with the order and discipline that would be imposed by force if not freely accepted in Singapore.

104 Anon August 3, 2015 at 6:40 pm

Singapore is basically: Hobbes was right, the City.

105 Anon August 3, 2015 at 7:56 pm

Lee strikes a Hobbesian note, declaring that “human beings … are inherently vicious and have to be restrained from their viciousness;” proclaims that trying to foist abstract ideals like equality on reality begets “regression,” not progress; and agrees with Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek that “powerful intellects” are capable of “unwisdom” when convinced that they “can devise a better system and bring about more ‘social justice’ than what historical evolution, or economic Darwinism, has been able to work out over the centuries.”


Absolute genius, really. What he understood is what most libertarians don’t: evolutionary forces have made human beings inherently selfish and short sighted; these forces can be put to good use in the form of capitalism/market competition, but also destructive use in the form of behaviors that cause extreme negative externalities.

Recommend reading Pinker’s writing on Hobbes as a further exploration of these issues.

106 Tyler August 4, 2015 at 1:36 am

All well and good until the “inherently vicious” humans that compose the ruling party start to behave as predicted.

107 Anon August 4, 2015 at 3:19 am

I would rather put my trust in technocrats than the common people

108 carlospln August 4, 2015 at 6:45 am

That’s why your ‘Anon’.

109 Richard August 3, 2015 at 3:01 pm

The lessons of Singapore is that democracy is overrated, by a lot. Most people would give up their right to vote and join a political party for a 5% rise in income. Many people don’t even vote when the costs of doing so are zero! Democracy should be judged by the results it produces, not because it gives you the “right” to cast one out of 150 million votes that individually can never affect anything.

110 The Original D August 3, 2015 at 3:42 pm

It’s been led by a benevolent dictator for most of its existence. It’s too soon to tell whether Singapore is a model that can be emulated over the long term.

111 Art Deco August 3, 2015 at 5:52 pm

Most people would give up their right to vote and join a political party for a 5% rise in income

[citation needed]

112 T3t August 3, 2015 at 6:50 pm

Revealed preference: most people (in the US) don’t vote, and it’s free.

113 Art Deco August 3, 2015 at 7:38 pm

No, most people don’t vote in any given year. That does not mean they give up the right to exercise given a contingency of their choosing. And, no, it’s not ‘free’. Exercising the franchise requires time and attention that they budget for other things.

114 Todd Kreider August 3, 2015 at 8:24 pm

No citation needed.


115 Harun August 3, 2015 at 9:27 pm

Pol Pot or Lee Kuan Yew…there’s a difference.

116 mapman August 3, 2015 at 10:02 pm

Pol Pot or Lee Kuan Yew…there’s a difference.

Or Putin and Lee Kuan Yew…there’s a difference – the former is infinitely more liberal.

117 Millian August 3, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Talk about an exercise in status raising for certain groups. Up next, why feminist, democratic Sweden needs its status to be reduced. One can summarise the “analytical” content of this post as: Rich and powerful Chinese elite likes things I like, prefer systemic and mathematical thinking to rather than creative or emotional concepts, and have been permitted to run the government of a small South Seas island.

Now, that was the facetious exercise in status reducing for people who think only other people do status reducing. Here is how we should think about Singapore.

Many large entities have sub-entities which concentrate many brilliant people together but which are inherently un-self-sustaining. London is a good example. There are about ten million people in that area of the UK (1 in 6 Britons) but the demography is pretty stark: it survives because people from the rest of Europe, Aberdeen to Athens, flow in and out rapidly. Singapore is unique in that the sub-entity is sovereign but its demography is equally doom-y. It is a beacon to those who put reason over either emotion or freedom but people don’t actually want to bring children into the world there.

118 A Definite Beta Guy August 3, 2015 at 4:29 pm

Sweden does need to be reduced. The parts of Europe that require status increases are the Rhine-Ruhr region and Northern Italy (but not Southern Italy).

119 Millian August 4, 2015 at 3:37 pm

Not sure who needs their opinion of Northern Italy improved. Perhaps Americans who don’t know about it.

120 Robert Cottrell August 3, 2015 at 3:31 pm

Singapore is special because Lee Kuan Yew made it that way. But what made Lee Kuan Yew special, and is there a precedent for an autocratic ruler doing so much good and so little bad?

121 Bob from Ohio August 3, 2015 at 4:39 pm

“is there a precedent for an autocratic ruler doing so much good and so little bad?”

Ataturk? No body else springs to mind.

Counter examples are legion.

122 Anon August 3, 2015 at 5:08 pm

Jawaharlal Nehru , India’s first Prime Minister considered himself somewhat autocratic.He was virtually guaranteed to remain PM till his death.And although it is fashionable in today’s India to be critical of him, he did much good. (and probably deserved the Nobel prize for Literature more than Churchill. Read his Last will and testament) . Here is an excerpt from an anonymous article that he wrote about himself:

“The most effective pose is one in which there seems to be the least of posing, and Jawahar had learned well to act without the paint and powder of an actor … What is behind that mask of his? … what will to power? … He has the power in him to do great good for India or great injury … Men like Jawaharlal, with all their capacity for great and good work, are unsafe in a democracy.
He calls himself a democrat and a socialist, and no doubt he does so in all earnestness, but every psychologist knows that the mind is ultimately slave to the heart … Jawahar has all the makings of a dictator in him — vast popularity, a strong will, ability, hardness, an intolerance for others and a certain contempt for the weak and inefficient … In this revolutionary epoch, Caesarism is always at the door. Is it not possible that Jawahar might fancy himself as a Caesar? … He must be checked. We want no Caesars.”

123 Prakash August 4, 2015 at 2:43 am

Nehru’s neglect of primary education and health for more glamourous projects had led India into a great stagnationary period with untold suffering. The cost in life and opportunities missed is absolutely huge.

124 Anon August 4, 2015 at 5:18 pm

Hindsight is 20/20. There is something called “zeitgeist.” Ever wonder why Rajaji’s laissez-faire capitalism is appreciated only so many decades later?

125 Harun August 3, 2015 at 9:29 pm

Peter the Great?

Bismarck even?

You could even put Suharto here…yes, he stole, but he wasn’t all bad.

The British governor’s of HK?

Meiji Japan?

I’m just riffing here.

126 Harun August 3, 2015 at 9:30 pm

Some Taiwanese think Chiang-Ching-Kuo was awesome.

127 wiki August 4, 2015 at 1:39 am

Chiang-Ching Kuo is definitely underrated in the West. He oversaw an orderly transition to greater democracy in Taiwan while also presiding over its rise to wealth that puts it in the same ballpark as the other Asian tigers. All this with less autocracy and greater freedom today than Singapore. The KMT’s methods weren’t pretty nor even-handed but in the end, they got a lot of Singapore level growth while still allowing for a modern, stable democracy today.

128 Art Deco August 3, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Not sure as much. Two candidates in the zone: Augusto Pinochet et al and King Hussein of Jordan. Up to a point, Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia. The al-Khalifa clan in Bahrain one can argue for. Salazar in Portugal is another candidate. Franco in Spain after the guns had fallen silent around 1940 or 1941.

129 Anonymous August 3, 2015 at 11:01 pm

Franco in Spain after the guns had fallen silent around 1940 or 1941.
Part of me suspected you might be a fascist.

130 Art Deco August 4, 2015 at 9:21 am

Franco was a career military officer and not associated with any political organization prior to 1937. The FET was a fusion of Falangists and Carlists to which the Alfonsine monarchists signed on; the Falangists were the faction which most resembled the Italian Fascists, but even they had their doubts and criticisms about various and sundry projects of Mussolini. With regard to domestic affairs, the Falangists opposition to parliamentary rule (as articulated by Serrano Suner) was contingent and not categorical, seeing it as something appropriate for Britain but not for Spain. With regard to foreign affairs, all factions were free from the practical effects of the revanchism and mad vainglory which characterized the fascist regimes in Italy, Germany, and Croatia. As it happened, the Franco regime as it evolved was a military regime with some corporatist aspects and the variegated coalition which supported him largely disappointed (the Carlists most acutely so).

Fascism, properly understood, was to be found in Germany, Italy, and Croatia. In the rest of Europe what you saw were more conventional military or royal authoritarianisms. Portugal’s regime had structural similarities to Italian Fascism, but an incompatible ideology and flavour.

131 Moreno Klaus August 4, 2015 at 11:39 am

This is just ridiculous…Salazar, Pinochet are good guys really?

132 Art Deco August 4, 2015 at 12:15 pm

As always, compared to whom? Compared to what Soviet Russia was offering, without a doubt. Compared to the politicians they replaced, it’s more a question of value scales. Chile’s political class had mismanaged the country’s economy for decades, and none more severely so than Salvador Allende’s regime, which was also a long-term threat to the Chilean Constitution. There comes a time when electoral institutions are no longer sustainable social practices for a time. Portugal, Spain, Chile, Uruguay, and Jordan are all countries which have reached that point at one time or another.

133 Gart August 6, 2015 at 5:33 pm

That Hitler guy was pretty good until the war started.

134 collin August 3, 2015 at 3:46 pm

Singapore is by far the most functional and competitive socio-econo-political country in the world. And yet this nation it has the lowest birth rate in the world as well.

My question is their a correlation or even a causation that the most well run nation also have the lowest birth rates and make it harder for younger adults to feel settled in their life. Why is that?

135 Doug August 3, 2015 at 7:24 pm

Very well run places tend to have high property values, because a lot of people around the world want to live there. Since peak fertility occurs a lot earlier than peak earnings, that makes affordable family formation difficult, and people have fewer or no children.

136 Anon August 3, 2015 at 7:43 pm

Is there a stronger correlation between birth rates and high property values than birth rates and female educational attainment?

137 Art Deco August 3, 2015 at 7:45 pm

Opportunities for foreigners to settle in Japan for an indefinite period are sharply circumscribed. The population is hardly increasing at all and if the entire non-agricultural population collected in settlements of ordinary suburban density (as that’s understood in America), over 60% of the land would be vacant except for a few farmers and foresters. Their fertility rates are still awful. Ditto South Korea. Ditto Taiwan. While we’re at it, housing costs in Japan are artificially inflated by the community preference driven razing of homes in circumstances where such would never take place in the United States. (James Fallows offered after his sojourn in Japan that many Japanese react to the thought of purchasing 2d hand furniture the way Americans would react to the idea of purchasing second-hand socks; some of this appears to carry over into the realm of physical plant).

138 Millian August 4, 2015 at 4:11 pm

Lots of the Japanese houses are made of wood. You have to knock them down.

139 Art Deco August 4, 2015 at 5:33 pm

The clapboard house in which I spent my teen years and in which my mother lived for 27 years is still standing. It was built in 1903.

140 Jason Bayz August 3, 2015 at 8:38 pm

My question is their a correlation or even a causation that the most well run nation also have the lowest birth rates and make it harder for younger adults to feel settled in their life. Why is that?

Women’s education and career focus? It is going to raise GDP and reduce fertility, for obvious reasons.

141 Steven Kopits August 3, 2015 at 3:53 pm

Singapore is easy to reproduce. Pay performance bonuses to politicians, and I dare say you could get a passable version of Singapore in Greece. It’s not hard if you align incentives.

By the way, brains should go where their marginal product is the greatest. In principle, that would be in government. The US government manages value two orders of magnitude greater than the largest domestic firms. (Apple’s revenues are about 1% of GDP.) Therefore, the very best minds should be in government.

However, because incentives are not aligned, working for the government is in significant part pointless and frustrating. Therefore, the better minds go to places like Google an Apple, even thought their marginal product working for the government could theoretically be 100 times greater–if incentives were properly aligned.

142 Anon. August 3, 2015 at 4:55 pm

Just because the government manages a lot of assets doesn’t mean that any additional hire would have significant impact. Bureaucracies have high institutional momentum, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, you can’t turn them around.

143 Steven Kopits August 3, 2015 at 7:21 pm

I am not speaking of additional hires. Far from it. (Maybe the exact opposite.)

Nor am I speaking of assets, but of value. The decision to go to war, for example, qualifies as value management, but not asset management, per se. How much did we spend on the war in Iraq? Maybe a trillion dollars? That’s quite a lot. Deco doesn’t think we should motivate politicians to be careful with these sorts of spending decisions. I disagree. He’s thinks bonuses of $2.5 bn is a lot of money to spend to avoid a war costing $1 trillion. I vehemently disagree. I think it’s incredibly cheap.

He thinks politicians would not consider the personal cost of the war to themselves. That’s $5 million per Congressman to avoid the cost of an Iraqi war. But for Deco, that’s not really motivating.

Give me a break.

What does Deco do when he sees the following statement in the press:

“The International Monetary Fund’s board has been told Athens’ high debt levels and poor record of implementing reforms disqualify Greece from a third IMF bailout of the country.”

For Deco, this is a dead end. There is no analysis of, diagnosis for, nor even consideration of what ‘a poor record of implementing reforms’ actually means. Deco is stuck. End game. Pull the cord.

By contrast, if you have ever done corporate or government strategic management consulting, this prompts a series of questions. What do we mean by ‘poor record’? Why has it been poor? Is the problem decision-making? Implementation? Motivation? All these have solutions.

Now, I propose a solution which is essentially no cost to implement, no downside in the event of failure, and eminently affordable in the case of success, not to mention the most flexible and least intrusive the Greeks will ever see. And yet for Deco, this is a bridge too far. Too dangerous. Too conceptual.

Deco, you may not be able to solve the problem because you lack imagination and analytical skills. But you’re not the metric here.

144 Art Deco August 3, 2015 at 7:48 pm

Deco, you may not be able to solve the problem because you lack imagination and analytical skills.

I have a sense of the comic, Mr. Kopits, which your clients evidently lack.

145 Steven Kopits August 4, 2015 at 7:34 am

I appreciate your impotent fatalism, Deco, but it’s a pretty high stakes game in Greece right now. If you have a better suggestion, I’m all ears.


146 msgkings August 4, 2015 at 12:06 am

If only it were as easy as running a democratic nation of 320 million like a huge corporation. It isn’t.

Your thought experiment is interesting, SK, and has a lot of theoretical insight. And, like true/pure libertarianism, it ain’t ever gonna happen.

147 Steven Kopits August 4, 2015 at 6:55 am

The difference between a country and a corporation is that a country operates under three ideologies (liberal, conservative and egalitarian), while a corporation operates really under only one–liberal (classically liberal). Because there is no articulated theory of ideology, economists feel uncomfortable with shackling governance to a purely liberal one.

I do understand that, and a bonus plan is flexible. It can incorporate egalitarian and conservative aspects as you like. Singapore obviously has very important conservative policies–it is a great deal like living in your mother’s living room: keep your feet off the furniture. Bonuses do not prevent conservative or egalitarian ideologies from being represented in policy.

Notwithstanding, the most important mission of government, if you are a fan of a blog like this, is sustainable economic growth. When IMF Dir. Lagarde speaks of Greece’s failure of governance, she is not referring to a lack of pension programs or excessive work weeks. She is referring specifically to low Greek economic growth and an inability to service debt and, behind this, a series of restrictive policies which inhibit growth. She is implicitly asserting that the liberal mission in Greece is being neglected. I am merely making that mission explicit and tying pay to the achievement of the IMF’s (and Troika’s) implicit objective function. High rates of economic growth would not hurt the Greek people, either.

I would also emphasize that the legislation in Greece would obligate the country to follow IMF “Rule PCR 4D”. Thus, the substance of the incentive program is managed by the IMF, not the Greeks. The IMF determines the terms of the bonus plan. In other words, the IMF takes on the role of the Greek Parliament’s compensation committee. The IMF can change PCR 4D (for want of a better name) at its discretion as events unfold (and they will).

Thus, we are moving the IMF out of being a fire fighter for countries with BoP problems to a full scale management of economic performance at both the agent (public policy) and principal (politician pay) level. We are putting the IMF into the economic performance optimization business. We are rounding out the IMF’s mission to provide intervention capability at the full spectrum of issues necessary to enable the IMF to fulfill its mandate.

Thus, where Lagarde or Deco see Greece’s lack of commitment to reform as an insuperable problem, I see ‘commitment management’ as a key line of business for the IMF.

Finally, I would add that a bonus plan in no way inhibits the function of democracy in Greece. Neither the voters nor the politicians are constrained in their choices. There is no dictating of policy programs along as the Troika is now doing. The Greeks are left in charge; however, if Greek politicians choose programs which inhibit growth, then they will have to forgo bonuses they would have otherwise earned. For a change, it’s not just Other People’s Money.

148 Art Deco August 3, 2015 at 5:27 pm

Singapore is easy to reproduce. Pay performance bonuses to politicians, and I dare say you could get a passable version of Singapore in Greece. It’s not hard if you align incentives.

You do a fantastic imitation of a character in a Dilbert strip.

149 Steven Kopits August 3, 2015 at 6:52 pm

They pay bonuses in Singapore, guy.

150 Jason Bayz August 3, 2015 at 8:39 pm

You’d have to get rid of democracy first.

151 Steven Kopits August 4, 2015 at 7:10 am

Voters like getting stuff for free. So they like to keep politician pay low, and I believe this is a huge mistake. (Pay is high in Singapore.) Notwithstanding, you are correct in arguing that voters will probably never support performance-based pay.

As a consequence, we bring these programs in via the IMF when countries find themselves with fiscal problems requiring the external assistance. Dir. Lagarde could install an incentive program in Greece this week if she so chose–by nothing more than a letter to Tsipras.

Lagarde has stated publicly that one of the two primary reasons the IMF will not participate in a bailout is the historical reluctance of Greek politicians to undertake reforms. OK, well that goes with a policy prescription, doesn’t it?

Lagarde could send Tsipras the following: “Passing a performance based compensation plan (‘PCR 4D’) would be a pre-requisite for any contemplated participation of the IMF in a fiscal support program for Greece.” That’s it. It could be passed this week. What’s Tsipras going to say? “Darn, what bastards the IMF are. If the Greek economy grows smartly, we’ll all be making a pot of money!” Parliament may be reluctant to vote for such conditions, but maybe not that reluctant.

In this sense, an incentive program would not come from voters, but as a condition of multilateral support. That’s how you install it.

152 Harun August 3, 2015 at 9:34 pm

China has this system, except instead of bonuses they get bribes.

If Singapore is easy to reproduce show me the other examples.

Someone should have copied them by now.

It might work, but it might not.

Actually, its weird that no one has copied them.

153 Steven Kopits August 4, 2015 at 7:21 am

So, a bribe is a payment by a third party to a political or bureaucratic principal. Thus, when receiving a bribe, the agent–the politician or bureaucrat–is not acting as the voters’ agent, but as the agent of the party paying the bribe.

It is precisely this which the incentive system is looking to fix. Why do you think Singapore is so squeaky clean in terms of governance? The incentives are largely aligned. That’s how the voter (or in the case of Greece, the Troika) gains control over the body politic.

154 Adrian Ratnapala August 4, 2015 at 12:10 am

Who will do this work reproducing Singapore? If I were the Roussean General Will of some nation, then sure, I’d hire some contemporary Lee Kwan Yew to be my corporeal deputy, and also hire the rest of the government according to businesslike meritocratic prinicples too.

But there’s no such thing as the General Will, there’s only people working within their existing institutions. Those institutions can change, but not at the wave of a wand.

155 Steven Kopits August 4, 2015 at 7:32 am

Installation is per my comment above.

And you are correct, it will take time to change the system in Greece. And I personally believe it’s important for the Greeks to go through the process themselves. We don’t need to get everything fixed overnight. We need to get the country moving in a positive direction.

156 Bob from Ohio August 3, 2015 at 4:45 pm

It probably takes a “benevolent” dictator to raise up Third World hell holes to developed status.

There are no recent other examples of “benevolent” dictators, they are almost always “non-benevolent”.

157 Anon August 3, 2015 at 5:15 pm

Modi, India’s current PM could be considered one. Granted India is a democracy and has a history of leaders biting the dust , still as long as his party is in power he is close to dictatorial.

158 Prakash August 4, 2015 at 2:48 am

Modi’s troubles in undoing the land legislation of the previous government show precisely the opposite. Modi is very much electorally circumscibed until 2016 atleast.

159 Harun August 3, 2015 at 9:36 pm

I think there are some that people just don’t know about:


160 Bob August 3, 2015 at 4:52 pm

Cities are population sinks with limited space and resources. A city with above replacement fertility would not be sustainable and people would have to leave until it had sub replacement fertility. This is why historically and today cities import population from the more fertile surrounding suburbs and countryside. That is the demographic balance of cities; they consume the excess rural population. A city with above replacement fertility would no longer be a city.

161 Art Deco August 3, 2015 at 5:26 pm

The citizens and leadership of Singapore have an unparalleled knowledge and understanding of economics, engineering, and public policy.

But not of reproduction, and, ultimately, societies which frown on reproduction do not continue.

162 Louis XVI August 4, 2015 at 4:07 am

Societies come and go, like most things. Is that a bad thing? And even with reproduction, your (grand-)kids may be completely uninterested in preserving the social order you brought them up in.

163 Mr. Econotarian August 3, 2015 at 5:33 pm

We should keep in mind that there is no Google, Facebook, or Amazon.com starting up in Singapore. Part of the issue is illegality of LGBT there.

164 Art Deco August 3, 2015 at 6:03 pm

Of the eight men who founded those three corporations, a grand total of one is an identified homosexual (who was an active participant in Mark Zuckerberg’s projects for about three of the twelve years since their inception). Somehow I do not think a taste for sodomy is all that decisive.

165 Steve Sailer August 3, 2015 at 5:37 pm

Here’s a video of Lee Kuan Yew laughing at America’s immigration policies on the Charlie Rose Show:


Charlie Rose: “And immigrants has [sic] been America’s strength.”

Lee Kuan Yew: “Absolutely … But, mind you, immigration of the highly intelligent and highly hard-working, very hard-working people. If you get immigration from the fruit-pickers [chuckles for several seconds at the idea], you may not get very far!”

166 Kris August 4, 2015 at 3:28 am

But then you all complain that these “hard-working” people are stealing jobs from “real” Americans.

There’s no positive argument for immigration that cannot be countered by a negative one. I guess that’s true for any public policy issue, so only politics can settle them. The people with political influence are getting the immigrants they want.

167 JeffR23 August 3, 2015 at 6:08 pm

Singapore must be regarded as special, because if we were to think for a moment that its model could be exported to any arbitrary part of the world with similar success it would be the duty of anyone with any regard for any part of the modernist liberal paradigm to burn the place to the ground posthaste.

168 bjk August 3, 2015 at 7:08 pm

I grew up in Singapore & Egypt and you know what? I liked Egypt a ton more than Singapore. Of course I didn’t experience either country as a native, but the range of things you could do in Egypt was far greater than in Singapore. Those of us who live in highly ordered societies don’t realize how much fun you can have doing all the stuff that would get you in a ton of trouble in the US or Singapore. There is more freedom in disorder than in Singapore.

169 Sam Haysom August 3, 2015 at 7:48 pm

Some examples would be nice? And and while solipsistically I imagine you think the world should carter only to your aesthetic and antinomian preferences could you at least admit that it’s nice that the squares who don’t require disorder to find contentment have a few places committed to their preferences.

170 bjk August 3, 2015 at 7:59 pm

Well, in Egypt there were goat herds walking down the street. Can you imagine a goat herd walking down the street in the US? There would be so many violations of laws and regulations he would get hauled into jail in about ten minutes. And in Egypt you could buy any kind of firecracker you wanted, and we did. In Singapore I remember kids joking about getting arrested for having hair that was too long or chewing gum. So in which society is there more freedom? Get this, in Egypt you can put whatever kind of addition on your house you want to. It blows the mind.

171 Kris August 4, 2015 at 3:31 am

What enjoyment do you derive from watching goats wander down the street? I watch cows wandering (and frequently pooping) down the streets in India, and wish they would be restricted to farms.

172 The Original D August 3, 2015 at 9:50 pm

In terms of happiness Singapore ranks pretty low: http://www.happyplanetindex.org/countries/singapore/

Compare to Colombia at #3: http://www.happyplanetindex.org/countries/colombia/

Having spent some time living in Colombia, the people there seem a lot happier than many of the people I meet in the US.

173 msgkings August 4, 2015 at 2:19 am

Holy shit that index is literally one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen on the internet. Just awful.

174 Careless August 5, 2015 at 6:06 pm

What, you don’t think it makes sense to reward countries for being poor?

175 Todd Kreider August 3, 2015 at 7:28 pm

It is pretty funny to have Singapore , a police state, praised by Cowen on MR.

You know, for their unparalleled knowledge of economics, engineering and …food.


176 Sam Haysom August 3, 2015 at 7:49 pm

Kind of like when multiculturalism uber alles leftists praise the Nordic countries I guess. Is that analogous? Seems like it would be.

177 Art Deco August 3, 2015 at 7:50 pm

It isn’t actually a police state. The abuse of the opposition is more in the form of Patrick FitzGerald style lawfare. Call it a prosecutocracy and realize we’re living in one too, just a messier and more haphazardly administered one.

178 Todd Kreider August 3, 2015 at 8:07 pm

It isn’t a police state as long as you don’t have strong opinions and want to change things

I’m not saying it is close to…Singapore, circa 1980….

179 Benjamin Cole August 3, 2015 at 7:29 pm

Singapore is currently in a deflationary recession.

But obviously the problem is structural impediments, not that their central bank is too tight.

180 Todd Kreider August 3, 2015 at 7:36 pm

2. The citizens and leadership of Singapore have an unparalleled knowledge and understanding of economics, engineering, and public policy

So Tyler went to Singapore two or three times, went to maybe two or three conferences and concludes the above.

Was it the guy sitting next to him on the plane who had this unparalleled knowledge? A friend of a friend whose apartment is visited?
A student’s grandmother?

181 The Original D August 3, 2015 at 9:51 pm

Ignorance is bliss.

182 Joe Q. August 3, 2015 at 7:57 pm

A close friend of mine is a recent Singaporean transplant to Canada (she is Chinese by ethnicity). Interesting to hear her comments on her homeland.

To hear her tell it, the country is very well-run, very clean, but regulated to death. Fairly minor offenses are punished with beatings, even drug possession is punished with beatings, life imprisonment, or execution. There is nominally a democracy, in the sense that there is an elected legislature, but political opposition is choked off (sued or threatened into submission). There are also deep inter-ethnic resentments and a definite hierarchy of perceived superiority and capability (Chinese on top, Malays underneath, Tamils on the bottom).

No doubt a very economically vibrant place, and interesting to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

183 Peter@happiestcountryintheworld August 4, 2015 at 7:10 am
184 Expat August 3, 2015 at 8:30 pm

“So Tyler went to Singapore two or three times, went to maybe two or three conferences and concludes the above.”

Exactly. Tyler’s portrait would be laughable to anyone who has actually lived in Singapore long enough to experience things “up close and personal” outside of the Orchard Road/Clarke Quay/Tanjong Pagar elite/wealthy expat corridor.

The only parts of this account that ring true to me are the following:

1. Singaporeans are indeed crazy about food. Truth is, though, most Singaporeans will admit that the quality of the regional cuisine is better in Malaysia aside from two or three very specific local dishes – Katong laksa, chili crab, bak kut teh are often in this category. The quality of hawker food is also precipitously decreasing due to increased costs and young people choosing to exit the family business for more lucrative professions. The Western food in Singapore is overpriced and often mediocre although the floor for quality is higher than in Western countries. Aside from the ultra high end Michelin-quality stuff you can get similar quality Western food in Phnom Penh for 1/4 the price.

2. There is indeed a brain drain of highly skilled Singaporeans into the government. But this causes serious problems for the private sector workforce when you consider that many of the remaining highly skilled Singaporeans choose to go abroad. The quality of the Singapore-native workforce beyond the elite level occupations (government, finance, law) is actually quite poor, ask any expat who does local hiring.

185 Tom August 3, 2015 at 9:28 pm

I would mention their healthcare system. If conservatives want a country to counter certain economists (umm, uumm, Krugman) who think Western European/Canada healthcare systems are the ultimate model of a what a national healthcare system should look like, they should study Singapore and Taiwan.

186 Harun August 3, 2015 at 9:40 pm

Taiwan has single payer healthcare.

How is it a different model from France?

187 Barkley Rosser August 3, 2015 at 9:34 pm

Not sure it has ever been termed a “brain drain” in these locations, but in France, Japan, and Sweden the bureaucracy has long attracted highly intelligent people.

188 mapman August 3, 2015 at 9:36 pm

In the typical lingo of American liberals, Singapore is an authoritarian society with a distinctly racist worldview. That libertarians and pseudo-libertarians in the USA embrace it as a shining jewel tells a lot about their contempt for traditional Western liberties and their hypocrisy with regard to the current political discourse about race.

189 Chip August 3, 2015 at 9:51 pm

Singapore has one of the highest emigration rates in the world. Last time I looked it was top five along with some very poor and miserable countries. About 200,000 Singaporeans now live overseas out of just over 3 million citizens.

This is the real brain drain and it worries the hell out of the government. To compensate, they have brought in a lot of foreigners, which has alienated many that don’t have the desire or ability to leave. The anti-immigrant sentiment is very strong even as barriers remain high and immigrants produce much of the wealth. For example, a foreign worker needs a minimum income of $5000 a month to allow their family to join them. They’re not here to pick fruit.

And yet, visit sites like All Singapore Stuff to see what many Singaporeans think. The racism is upfront and center. And this points to one of the failings of the Singapore model. Because civic values are dictated from above they sometimes have a plastic quality that seems real only to occasional visitors. The real civic society here is often immature and fractured. There’s a reason several thousand Gurkhas are here – racial strife would probably splinter the police along ethnic lines as it did in the past.

Singapore does amazing things. Their planing for the next 10, 20 and 30 years is mind blowing. The government understands incentives and human nature in a way that keeps being forgotten in the west. But the social discontent is palpable and increasing. And while the ruling party is incredibly competent, the opposition are utterly useless. The country is always just one election away from catastrophe.

190 Phil August 3, 2015 at 9:58 pm

“And while the ruling party is incredibly competent, the opposition are utterly useless.”

Agree, the Singapore opposition have a very People’s Front of Judea/Judean People’s Front vibe about them. If they could ever set aside their differences the PAP would be done.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are deep cover provocateurs in opposition parties whose task is to keep things as fractured as possible.

191 Anonymous August 3, 2015 at 10:59 pm

Imagine a country where you can have a serious debate as to whether there is a brain drain into the government rather than out of it!

IIRC, this turned out to be a problem for the Qing dynasty. Because all of the intelligent people went into government, the rest of their culture stagnated. This caused them to be humiliated by countries like he British, where the best and brightest became industrialists.

192 TallDave August 3, 2015 at 11:14 pm

Institutions dominate.

193 Tom Warner August 4, 2015 at 1:10 am

Odd place, and couldn’t be a model even if it were a better place. It’s mainly a financial, managerial and logistics hub for Southeast Asia. It used to be a manufacturing and oil processing hub but that’s fading fast. The only territory in a somewhat similar position is HK, and it’s not a simple debate which of those two made better with what they had. Who else could really follow a Singapore model? I suppose Africa could use a Singapore-ish gateway but who? Seychelles is trying but it’s too small and remote.

Public policy of Singapore doesn’t impress me so much, and I think what impresses about the engineering is more the spendiness than domestic innovation. I don’t see unusual general knowledge of either of those, or of economics beyond the par for an administrative and financial hub.

GDP per capita is not that high for a major developed world urban area. Major American metro areas are generally 30%-60% higher.

Singapore initially seems to have impressively high baseline living standards for citizens relative to the proportion of GDP spent or consumed by the public sector. But that seeming shine fades when you scratch the surface of the private sector and find the tentacles of government almost everywhere, and factor in the high cost of living and the large reliance on migrant labor.

194 carlospln August 4, 2015 at 1:39 am

You missed the Port of Singapore-its 1st ‘leg up’ after the British pulled out of SE Asia [the world’s busiest trans-shipment port, & 2nd biggest in tonnage terms]

195 am August 4, 2015 at 2:26 am

Air conditioning was the answer, or a big part of the answer, to the question, according to their President.

196 Prakash August 4, 2015 at 2:53 am

I guess a parallel question is – why isn’t Switzerland creating new cities and reaping the benefits of (a) new singapore(s) in their midst?

197 duxie August 4, 2015 at 5:04 am

Well UK had tried. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jul/03/uk-officials-discussed-resettling-55m-hong-kong-chinese-in-northern-ireland

“UK officials discussed resettling 5.5m Hong Kong Chinese in Northern Ireland”

198 GSo August 4, 2015 at 5:09 am

The city state of Venice is a close historic parallel; Run very much as a corporation instead of a nation, built on land where no one had any historic rights they were able to enforce, and a very strategic harbour. Singapore also illustrate that it is easier to build a modern structure from scratch than by slowly renovating and changing a medieval one.

199 Mit August 4, 2015 at 5:14 am

As someone who lived and worked in Singapore for three years, I have firsthand observed all of the three points that you list above, and completely agree. I have a personal anecdote to share on (3) though.

We (as management consultants) were working closely with a senior civil servant in the Singapore government to help them design better policies to promote entrepreneurship in the country. The issue they were facing was that no amount of favorable policies seemed to be working to promote local homegrown entrepreneurs. Reasons we (mostly foreign) consultants identified were pretty standard – way too many high paying banking/legal/consulting jobs eating up local graduates at high pays, brain-drain to western nations, and of course the traditional Asian social pressures of getting a salaried job.

However, the civil servant had a telling remark that I quote verbatim: “Look around you guys. Every single one of these people on my team are the brightest and best the country has to offer. The top minds of the country would rather make the best policies in the world to promote entrepreneurship, but we’re hardly left with any top minds to be the actual entrepreneurs!”

That, to me, is a good problem to have.

200 carlospln August 4, 2015 at 6:48 am

3. Singapore has created what is possibly the highest quality bureaucracy the world has seen, ever. Imagine a country where you can have a serious debate as to whether there is a brain drain into the government rather than out of it!

‘brain drain into government’

Outstanding framing. Best yet!

201 Sean Brown August 4, 2015 at 11:30 am


Any thoughts about the points and questions raised here?

Also any thoughts on the below points (not to mention the litigious nature of the Singaporean gov’t), as well as the wisdom of hoarding massive amounts of capital at Temasek and GIC?


202 Sean Brown August 4, 2015 at 11:31 am

I do agree Singapore is special, Singaporeans are very special, and Temasek and GIC have been very successful over time. But not all of the nation-building strategy seems optimal for 2015 (though I may be wrong about this).

203 Shawn Eng August 4, 2015 at 2:23 pm

Singapore healthcare system proves that open competitive pricing lowers costs for all:


A sample price list:


204 Gareth Williams August 4, 2015 at 3:17 pm

Friend of mine lived in Singapore and married a Peranakan lady (google Peranakan if you haven’t heard of them – interesting). He reckoned that Singapore’s order is underwritten by the Gurkha Contingent, who are not aligned with any local ethnicity, widely respected and fiercely loyal to the government. There’s not many of them but their reputation and history magnifies.

205 Gareth Williams August 4, 2015 at 3:18 pm
206 carsten August 4, 2015 at 4:52 pm

Its Chinese, Its capitalist…. what more to say?

207 Ari August 4, 2015 at 8:33 pm

Where’s cultural identity? Country built on efficiency. It feels like technocrautic dreamland but very inhumane place to live.

208 Bill Ellis August 10, 2015 at 6:16 pm

If Singapore’s mandated contributions to social welfare accounts were counted as taxes how high would their tax rate be ? Has anyone ever worked that out?

It’s really too bad that the GOP vilified the idea of mandating, after they introduced the idea to America, because I believe that Singapore has shown us that it can work.

While I am a supporter of Social security I would be for phasing it into a plan that required mandated investments instead. ( with a minimum life time pay out insured by the Fed’s in case the market bombed at the wrong time )

The problem is that it’s hard to tax for fully maintaining SS and require the additional burden of paying into a mandatory investment vehicle. If we allow people to choose which retirement option they want …as repubs have suggested in the past…It would leave SS underfunded, unable to make payments to today’s retirees. So the only way I see to do it would be for a long…a generatin long…transition .
Or we could do the right but impossible thing and slash “defence” spending so we could afford to do both at the same time . It doesn’t hurt to dream.

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