Monday, November 5, 2012

From Third World To First, Part I

From Third World To First - The Singapore Story: 1965-2000 by Lee Kuan Yew is the story about how Singapore went from a small peninsula of Malaysia, and a third world country, to a city country that is equal in prosperity to any first world country.

Lee Kuan Yew was the Prime Minister of Singapore for much of its history.  And if his book is to be believed, he is largely responsible for its success.

When Singapore first became independent the concern was defending the city state from outside countries.

When trying to raise the prosperity of Singapore's citizens, the country did all that it could in order to attract high-tech industries to its industrious citizens.  They succeeded and Singapore is still a wealthy country.

While I was reading about how Lee Kuan Yew was turning Singapore into a financial capital, I was impressed with his, and all those around him, when their goal was to do the best jobs that they could.  The were constantly trying to improve their country.  So long as that was their goal they could not help but be successful.

(I should note that this book was written by the longtime Prime Minister and I don't know how trustworthy his memories are, or how unbiased he is.  But I am giving him the benefit of the doubt.)

The country was largely socialist, although their main problems came from communists.  It is also usually claimed as one of the top two freest places in the world.  It is socialist because its government is often directing the lives of its citizens.  It brought in foreign companies, it started its own companies, and built government housing.  It is a country where socialism built it and then sold some of its assests to its citizens.

One part that struck me was how the unions were dealt with.  Lee was a former union leader and was first elected thanks to that.  But he had seen how badly the unions in Britain had harmed that country that he knew that he had to change the way that they did business.  He made strikers first get approval from the government to strike, etc.  He also encouraged all unions to be individual for each employer so that they would look out for the company's well being as well as their own.  Unlike our unions today, which just demand more and more and more.  Lee knew that this would not work and encouraged the unions not to work that way.  Once the unions understood that they were partners with their employers, Lee encouraged all workers to belong to their companies' union.

One chapter is called "A Fair, Not Welfare, Society."  The government built the houses and schools and arranged the healthcare for the country.  And admitted to redistributing wealth, in order to promote "group solidarity."  Lee keeps noting that in Britain and Sweden the people on welfare unashamedly just ask for their government handouts and have less desire to work "because they are taxed so heavily."  Singapore still socialized everything but they were doing so in a limited way.  They built the homes, but sold them to the citizens.  They were also constantly improving their redistribution of wealth.  That is one thing that we cannot say about our "free" country.

When they thought that it was time to remodel the government built homes they did so on the taxpayers' dime, but also required the homeowners to pay for a small part of the improvements.

Lee noted that co-pays in healthcare are necessary or the patients will just add up all the expenses that they can.

In our country we buy insurance.  Insurance that is nearly completely controlled by the government, to the point where even men need to pay healthcare premiums for things like pregnancies.  Lee saw that this is too expensive.  He also saw that the socialized British National Healthcare Service, NHS, gives people no incentive to reduce their costs.  The government pays the bill and the individuals get all that they can regardless of costs.

So far what I am reading is the story of a successful planned economy.  But a planned economy where the planners actually mean well for their citizens and constantly improve in order to better their country.  This is very different from everywhere else that socialism has been tried.  Sweden is stagnating.  And all communist/ socialist countries were/ are run by people who were interested in only themselves and did/ do not mind killing tens of millions of people in order to make their own lives better (See: USSR, Nazi Germany, China, Cambodia, Cuba, North Korea, etc.)

If I were going to defend socialism, then I would look at Singapore as my main exhibit.  And yet we never hear of Singapore being called a socialist country.  I wonder why.

In contrast, the places in our "free" country that are socialized (education, roads, healthcare, law enforcement, public safety, etc.) are all run by people who are interested in being re elected or getting the maximum pay and ending their workday at 4:45 each day.

When was the last improvement in our education system?  What was it?

If you are going to socialize some part of a society then you need to constantly improve it and change what does not work.  We are doing nothing of the sort.

Our teachers' unions strike when it suits them and continue to demand more, and more, and more.  Recently in Chicago, we saw teachers average making around $78,000 per year (before benefits, which include pensions) strike, while the mere citizens averaged close to $45,000 per year.  They often seem to have no interest in anything but themselves.  They fight any proposed change.  Our education system would be very recognizable to any teacher during the Civil War, and yet the world has changed dramatically since then.  We have seen no improvement in our public sectors, and yet they always increase in cost.
I'll say it again: If you are going to socialize some part of a society then you need to constantly improve it and change what does not work.  We are doing nothing of the sort. 

In Singapore they have a socialized society.  But their public leaders mean well and are competent.  We have the worst of both.  And that is why our "free" country is less free than their socialized one.
Country Rankings: 2012 Index of Economic Freedom

1. Hong Kong
2. Singapore
3. Australia

10. United States (and dropping each year)
(Is it any wonder that Hong Kong is the place that I am most interested in seeing again?)

We often hear, from those on the left, that republicans have moved more to the right.  Whether or not that is true, the democrats should be more like the government of Singapore: government guided movement towards prosperity.  Not the democrats' current goals of putting more people on welfare and giving more benefits to unions.


I wonder if my calling of Singapore socialist comes more from the author's, and former Prime Minister's, opinion of Singapore's history more than how it actually happened.  But the government does own the airline, many banks, and other businesses.

Singapore has "limited government spending" according to the Heritage Institute, but the first half of this book is about the government being involved in seemingly every aspect of its citizens' lives.  Including trying to get men to marry better educated women.


Those are my thoughts on the first half of From Third World to First by Lee Kuan Yew.  The second half deals with Singapore's interactions with the other countries of the world.

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