Singapore Chronicles


The green.

That’s the first thing that strikes you when you leave Changi Airport and begin the drive into Singapore.

My only previous experience in Asia was hyper-tech Japan, so I was sort of expecting the same thing – crowds, neon, huge LCD screens. Instead, I found myself in a city embedded in a lush tropical garden.

I didn’t know what to expect when I embarked on my maiden voyage to Singapore last week. For years I have been reading about the tiny island nation, perhaps the most remarkable development story of our lifetimes. In a nutshell, in fifty years Singapore went from being Caja Seca to something like the world’s greatest transportation hub. Its education system is the envy of the world.

This transformation fed my imagination, and for years I had longed to come. Now, I was about to see the real thing.

For us policy geeks, Singapore is Disneyland. I could write a long essay about what my week there taught me about development, and about a country’s possibilities to overcome. Instead, I am going to focus on three things.

  1. The greenery

The greenery in Singapore is not just the result of a blessed geography – it is actually a targeted, well-thought public policy.

2016-06-15 17.59.17-2The late Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore, wrote about this in his autobiography, appropriately titled “From Third World to First.” One of the things Lee noticed when he traveled was that other countries either had artificial environments, or had natural environments that were unkempt. Seldom did he find sprawling public spaces that were well taken care of. So one of his target policies in order to convince foreign investors and tourists that Singapore was different was to focus on its relationship with the environment.

Lee even talks about how he brought in botanists to discuss ways in which they could make the fragile rainforest soils of Singapore more apt for things like shrubbery and grass. As in – he was personally involved in the planning of this. It wasn’t just something he dispatched to some flunkie, he was involved in the actual discussions with the tree guys and the horticulturists.

Everywhere you go in the city, there are plants, flowers, parks. Very few public spaces are left unattended. All of them are immaculately kept. All of them have been thought about. Their use of endemic species in a harmonious way conveys a lot about the emphasis they place on caring for nature, of sustainability, and of doing your job well.

I think about Venezuela and our lush vegetation. I think about how we pillage it every day – whether it is by killing Lake Maracaibo, filling Parque Nacional Henri Pittier with piles of garbage, or poisoning our rivers with mercury.

I am not a believer in this, but perhaps the rape of our environment has caused some sort of karma. Sometimes it seems as though we are cursed – perhaps this?

  1. Knowledge society

I was walking down Orchard Road one day and I noticed a sign on a door. It said “Learning Hub,” and “Transformation starts here.” It was the offices of the NTUC.

2016-06-16 19.14.35Imagine my shock when I found out that the NTUC was Singapore’s main trade union, the equivalent of the AFL-CIO, or the CTV in Venezuela.

Yes – the main sindicato in Singapore promotes … knowledge! Worker re-training!

I can’t even begin to wrap my head around this. Here in Latin America, the fights are about minimum wages, or the right to strike – typical union stuff. But there, the unions appear to be partners in the country’s development agenda, focusing on the skills people need to improve their productivity. This extends obviously to Singapore’s world-famous educational system. The whole country seems wedded to the idea that only knowledge can generate progress. Everywhere you turn, there are signs of universities, schools, courses.

It takes good policy to make this work. And I know what you’re thinking – they are different. True, they are. But it’s also true that they had 40% literacy back in the 50s. Singapore’s knowledge society wasn’t born that way – it was made, thanks to smart policy.

  1. A job well done

As I was riding Singapore’s amazing Metro system, I couldn’t help notice the cleanliness on the trains. I am sure that, every day, hundreds of people actually wipe the bars, seats, and floors … really carefully. There is practically no dust, no smudges, and definitely no graffiti.

2016-06-15 17.59.16-3This wasn’t always like this. Lee writes about how Singapore was mostly an open-sewer city, and about how many of its inhabitants were so used to littering, it was seen as an unchangeable part of the way they were. But through a combination of tough policing, and a culture of taking care of the common good, they have transformed that inheritance.

This goes beyond the actual cleanliness. It conveys a sense of a society that has placed a very important virtue at the center – that a job has to be done well, or not at all.

It’s about cultivating good habits, and about how those habits translate to other aspects of their lives. After all, if you get people used to wiping the floor until it shines, what does that do to their propensity to engage in petty crime? What does it do to the importance they place in education, or saving? To the stability of their families?

As they say, virtue begets virtue.


The National Museum of Singapore is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the country’s history. As I breathed it all in on my last day in the city, I came across a cardboard cutout of Lee Kuan Yew.

2016-06-18 04.49.55-2Quietly, when nobody was looking, I took a selfie with the man.

The great thing about the particular policies that I highlighted is that they are not particularly grandiose or expensive to implement. Yet they convey an important part of Lee’s legacy here – that good governance is sometimes evident in the details, in the little things that change perceptions and attitudes.

Lee’s story, and the story of the country he created, gives me hope that yes, public policy can actually change people’s lives for the better. We are not tied to our circumstances. We can never stop believing in humanity’s ability to overcome our past.

It only took me a trip to the other side of the world to reawaken this belief.

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  1. Juan,

    I share your appreciation of what Singapore has achieved, but with a caveat… I lived there for about eight months around 18 years ago. I have found that you cannot know a place after a short visit. You must live there, shop there, pay bills there, and form friendships there, in order to “know” it.

    Singapore’s transformation was imposed upon it by the force and will of Lee Kuan Yew. It was not a natural evolution and the result feels somewhat artificial and sterile. Disneyland is wonderful place to visit, but it is not “real”, and I would not wish to live there. I feel the same about Singapore. In spite of Singapore’s cleanliness and efficiency, I prefer the noise and chaos of Bangkok. Yes, it is dirty and messy, but it is “real”.

    • Sure, I don’t know if I would want to live there. Not saying it’s a nirvana, but it does give you hope for the power of public policy to accomplish things.

      • I wasn’t disagreeing with your assessment. However, I did wish to provide a counter-point. In Venezuela, much of modern Venezuela can be (and is) attributed to Marcos Jimenez Perez. And yet, his individual accomplishments led inevitably to the Fourth Republic and, in turn, to Chavismo.

        My point is that the implementation, by the state, of a single powerful individual’s vision may be efficient in the short-term, but may have unintended consequences in the long-term.

        • Oh, I dunno. I spoke to ex-pats living in Singapore and they rave about it.

          Here was another thing I noticed: 8 am on a Friday, and the subway was practically empty. People (some) get to work at 9 am, and they don’t have to commute for two hours because the place is small and public transportation works.

          • Juan, I think that you should have informed yourself a bit better about Singapore before writing this post. It seems like you just made the same mistake the press constantly makes when writing about Venezuela and other countries, which is forming an opinion with insufficient information.

            Singapore is an example of competitive authoritarianism. For example, the Singapore Elections Department is a body within the Prime Minister’s Office, that operates without transparency.

            The structure of Singapore’s parliament prevents opposition parties from being able to win in elections. The vast majority of seats in the parliament are group representation constituencies, in which at least one member of parliament is of a minority race. While this system could appear as effective in allowing for racial diversity, in practice it limits minority parties ability to compete because of their lack of resources relative to the ruling party.

            Further, opposition parties often suffer “misfortunes” such arrest, sued into bankruptcy especially in defamatory lawsuits, and imprisonment, with the convictions and bankruptcy in turn barring the opposition candidates from standing in elections. How convenient, isn’t it?

            Regarding freedom of speech, not only are the vast majority of media outlets controlled by the state, but the country’s Sedition Act also criminalises any publication or even expression that seeks “to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the Government”. Did you know that until recently Singapore held the world record for keeping a journalist in jail for the longest time without charges? More than 20 freaking years.

            And on their highly patronised public transport system, it is mainly due to the fact that Singapore imposes a number of heavy restrictions to car ownership. Singaporeans have to bid for the legal right to own and register a car, and the winning bids such right usually surpass the price of the actual cars.

            And don’t get me wrong, as a transport policy adviser I’m not fundamentally opposed to making car owners pay for the negative externalities of their travel choices. But I doubt a conservative like yourself would be supportive of such disincentives being applied to yourself.

          • Thanks for your comments Luis. I’m on my fourth book on Singapire, so yeah, I’m pretty well informed. As for the issues you mention, I’m not as interested in them. I was trying to focus on economic development.

    • Hi! As a Singaporean who has lived here for over 30 years, I’m finding this thread very enlightening, interesting and somewhat amusing. Been following Caracas Chronicles lately to understand the Venezuelan situation better, so imagine my shock when this article popped up.

      I would like to offer my two cents’. Singapore *wasn’t* the result of a single individual’s will alone. Lee could not have done it without the support of an intelligent and honest team – something that may have to do with the times: when there is nothing to begin with, there is nothing to be gained, and so the politicians were genuinely invested in making something of the country. Also they did have a lot of popular support (as well as their detractors, certainly) – many people in my parents’ generation will testify to that. Personally, my biggest testimony is the fact that I am able to write this to you now in English, thanks to Lee’s bilingual policy. No policy is perfect, but some things worked. Yes, he put some people in prison. Yes, you cannot SELL gum (allow me to correct the common misconception – you can chew gum, but not sell it commercially. It came about in the early 1990s because people sticking gum in the train doors and elevators caused millions of dollars in repairs and damages.) Yes, some of the policies are restrictive (but even Europe has signs that say you can’t put your feet up on chairs in the public trains). What interests me in this – the policies worked in the short run, and they pulled together a people. In a sense Singapore and Venezuela differ greatly – we have very little of natural resources, but we got lucky with politicians with integrity who have done the best they could. Venezuela has amazing beauty and rich natural resources, a charismatic leader and very unfortunate economic policies. (I didn’t comment to add to the ideological debate, just to give my point of view, so I don’t want to comment on Chavez and co – besides I don’t know enough about chavismo.).

      I agree that there are moments when I wish the place were a little less ‘sterile’ and maybe a little more messy and chaotic like Malaysia, our neighbour across the border, instead of trees planted at regular intervals all over the island… but then again, there are choices and opportunity costs to everything. I would not trade my ability to stroll along the main road at 10pm without fear of being attacked for a more ‘natural’ mess. At the same time, I realised everyone else’s politics is a lot more interesting than ours because… people actually speak up!
      So another cost I will concede in Singapore is that perhaps people are far too happy to be passive and let the state run everything, which it does tend to do in some areas. But the same government has been promoting the arts and creativity, initiative and enterprise as well as acknowledging the need for a healthy opposition. (I was skeptical – can you tell people to be creative?? Jury still out on the matter.)

      However, the people themselves are much more politically active than they were eight years ago. Yet we are, or have become, very practical people. The main question during an election is not so much ideological left- or right-wing, as “who is the right person to run the country in a stable manner”?

      It’s not heaven but it’s definitely liveable, and considering there was almost nothing to start with, we’ve at least managed to survive pretty well. Where will this country be in twenty years? I don’t know. There are no precedents, and it’s a path we’ll have to beat out on our own. Will Lee’s legacy last? I hope so, but when a legacy is a country, it’s a living thing. And living things are unpredictable. In the meantime, thanks Juan and the rest for the glowing appraisals. You’re right, astute economic policy has a lot to do with it. Can we keep it up? Time and history will tell the rest of the story. We have a long way to go. (I’m also discovering I’m part of a fascinating social experiment :))

      Venezuela’s situation makes me sad because it should be – and I pray it will one day be – so much more. But its people – the few I know – are resilient and talented, and clearly the educated populace has a mind of its own that will hopefully eventually – and I hope peacefully – prevail.

      • Evelyn,
        Great contribution!
        Your point of view as an insider certainly adds a lot to the discussion.
        So, you have lived in Venezuela for 30 years?
        Then you know all there is to know about Chavismo.
        Thank you for your comment and your warm wishes.

      • Evelyn – Thanks for posting a Singaporean’s point of view, your thoughts, and for not limiting it to a one-liner. Your writing – very enjoyable – shows me a kind of inside look at what is often talked about, an Asian culture which is more work-oriented with a propensity for, or acceptance of, orderliness. Very hard to try to describe a culture or approach to life, but the kind of neatness and order I saw from my “virtual tour” of Singapore would probably kill a Venezuelan! Venezuela is almost built on “negligible offenses” (running red lights, partying until dawn … I regularly bought rum in the supermarket when I was 16 years old). In the U.S. if you have a small accident you trade insurance information like good citizens, and don’t say anything that might be incriminating; in Venezuela you get out of your cars, swear, wave your arms at each other, calm down, estimate costs, one pays the other, and you drive off before any cops get there. There’s some unwritten rule allowing maybe as much as three or four minutes to settle it, and after that people start blowing their horns – depending on traffic. There is much to study in Singapore, and if one can remain proper and orderly, I’m sure it’s a great place in many very important ways, with a lot for a foreigner to learn. Some of that order would be good in V., perhaps especially in this time frame, as much as I hate to say it, the socialist / meritocracy aspects of the economy, but I honestly doubt the same social model would work at all. I still think Chile is a better study to repair the V. economy. To try to reform the social order and the accomplished disorder in V. is like telling Brazil there’s no more Carnaval and it’s illegal to steal things. I’m not looking for a fight, here, it just seems to me, or your post reminds me, that the social dispositions of Singaporeans may be one important reason for the economic and social miracle, and the rules of Singapore understood and matched that.

      • Evelyn,

        Thanks for your contribution. It is always helpful to get the information “straight from the horse’s mouth.”

        I recall arriving in Singapore coming from Bangkok in about 1998. In the arrival hall, I was shocked to find that there was only one person ahead of me in line at the immigration booth. As the immigration officer was stamping my passport, I commented my surprise to her. Curious as to why I found this unusual, she asked where I was coming from and why I would be so surprised. When I explained that in Bangkok, the line at immigration would normally take 45 minutes to an hour, she laughed (hand over mouth) and told me. “Oh… Singapore Government NEVER permit THAT.”

        I wish you and Singapore, all the best.

  2. Last August I went to a conference on data mining and knowledge discovery in Australia. All the big players were there: top universities and companies such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Visa, Baidu, Alibaba and many others…The companies had a series of stands where they were trying to attract professionals… Among them there was also the stand of a country: Singapore. They are also desperately looking for professionals in this area.

  3. While there are many things to be admired about Singapore, where I depart is in their woeful disregard for freedom of speech and dissent, for freedom of assembly, and for the right to be protected from discrimination based on status as LBGT.

    From what I read, their record there is shameful.

  4. “Fidel even talks about how he brought in agronomists to discuss ways in which they could make the fragile rainforest soils of Cuba more apt for feeds to produce milk cows. As in – he was personally involved in the planning of this. It wasn’t just something he dispatched to some flunkie, he was involved in the actual discussions with the animal guys and the horticulturists.”

        • From what I understand, they have a totalitarianish right wing government, and Lee Kuan Yew was basically Marcos Perez Jimenez. Therefore they like economic freedom but they are not big on personal freedom (no free press, no free elections, no chewing gum). The Castros run a full throttle totalitarian leftist mess where there’s no free press, no free elections, no economic freedom, no free traveling, no bread… But hey! you can chew gum! Haha. The way I see it, Singapore is great. They do need to improve on the subject of personal freedom and hopefully they’ll get there eventually and become a libertarian paradise.

  5. Singapore and Venezuela are two contrasting examples of an important point I often like to make.

    While many attribute the success or failure of a country to its history and the cultural make up of its people, the nature of the government is actually much more important. A single person, a Chavez or a Lee Kuan Yeu can be the determinant cause of either the destruction or positive transformation of a whole country or even a continent.

    Human history of course is full of cases of this. Single figures like Hitler, Castro, Mao, Hirohito, Allende, Pinochet, Stalin, Pol Pot, Kim Il Sung, Gorbachov have marked the lives of millions and millions of people.

    There are also definitive proofs that history and culture mean little compared to government, take for instance East vs West Germany, North vs South Korea. Take Costa Rica vs Nicaragua or El Salvador. Take Singapore before and after Lee Kuan Yeu. These are practically large scale social experiments where the people have been split in two and conducted through different governments with contrasting results.

    History and culture of course matter but governance matters a lot more as it can turn things in a dime. Consider how little time it took to change Venezuela into what it is today, 18 years, it turned for the worst in practically an instant. It could have turned in either direction.

    Next time someone tries to explain why Venezuela is as it is based on its history and its cultural make up think about this. A single election may be the real answer.

    • Thank you, amieres. Exactly the point of Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in “Why Nations Fail”. We are NOT defective, not doomed, not in need of “el hombre nuevo”.

      • Point well-taken, and, whereas Amieres hit the nail on the head, if the “people” elect someone ike themselves ,i. e., Chavez, then they will get a government like themselves, with all their faults.

    • I would be curious to know if their are any Ticos that are loyal CC readers that might care to comment on Jose Figueres, the founding father of modern Costa Rica. Led a successful revolution to overthrow a tyrant…then set up constitutional democracy and abolished the military. 70 years on, an unbroken democratic trajectory, low corruption, 95% literacy, and national healthcare.

      Wish I knew more about Figueres so I could comment more completely and intelligently, but he seems to have been a man with a lot of integrity who came along at the right time for CR.

      Of course CR didn’t have oil rent to fight over, but still…there’s a reason that “pura vida” is their national motto.

  6. Singapore is mostly Chinese and Indian , wherever chinese minorities have established themselves in asia or africa they have soon become the backbone of trade and industry in those countries , in the US their inmigrants have been among the most succesful in academia , business and the professions , far more than inmigrants from other places ……., good governance is essential but it does help if your have a culture that historically has developed certain qualities of hard work , discipline , entrepeneurship among a large percentage of those who share it ……..!!

    • Yet China had been for many decades a third world country and a big portion of it still remains as such. The big economic expansion came only after Mao’s death and the change of government. The Chinese example just proves my point: How governance is more important than culture.

    • In the other hand, Latinos have been largely a plague wherever they set foot for the very same reasons:

      No work culture.
      No self enforced discipline
      No entrepreneurial vein.

  7. On the other hand there are other countries , for example Puerto Rico, which despite having lived for over century under the aegis of the american capitalist and institutional model , have not been able to develop their potentia habilities to the same degree as people in continental US ,,,,,,,,,,!! funny about culture and how it sometime appears to affect a countrys development ……!!

    • Puerto Rico couldn’t develop its potential capability because there was no such thing. Uncle Sam did try to develop the local economy by giving tax breaks to companies relocating to PR, but tax breaks can’t be a long-lasting development policy…

      • “…couldn’t develop its potential capability because there was no such thing.”

        Ridiculous! You could have said the same thing about Japan. Few natural resources. BB is right. Culture has a huge effect on national success or failure.

        • Indeed Japan lacks natural resources but has a large scale of internal market which could be said as a kind of resources, even though it seems very true cultures have a huge effect on economical success of countries.

          Yet an economical success does not mean success of quality in life, specifically elements such as liberty, basic rights, happiness etc. As for Japan, it is obvious the level of happiness is much less than those middle classes in the Latin American countries, despite of the economical success.

          Venezuela has everything, I cannot see what is the roots of the problems. I can see the fragments of problems here and there, but cannot see the whole picture.

          • “As for Japan, it is obvious the level of happiness is much less than those middle classes in the Latin American countries, despite of the economical success.”

            Idiots are the happiest people on earth.

    • In 2009 I was in Puerto Rico trying to get their gov’t to develop the island into the hub for solar energy in the Caribbean. Their answer? “We will not support any policy that will bear fruit more than 2 years from now because it might benefit our political opponents.”

      • Because that is a part we should care about when talking about what the government should do to maximize happiness. One you should particularly care about if you are Christian. I thought you also brought that part and would not separate it from the political question.

    • Tienes:

      Prácticamente pleno empleo
      Libertad económica
      Seguridad ciudadana
      Desarrollo y comodidades de primera

      Cuales son esos fulanos “derechos humanos” que tanto necesitan?, que a un drogo no le den pena de muerte?, eso?

  8. Your points about turnarounds, government, and education are really well made, but I don’t know, Juan … it’s hard to trust people who drive on the wrong side of the road. And they do have a Sim Street.

    And I didn’t know they spoke German over there, even though all the signs are in English. Mandarin is the primary language. Eighty percent of the population live in government housing, which includes “cluster houses” and not just high-rise apartments. I have no idea how “government housing” is organized, but apparently the residents own their places. There is not-government private ownership, but I’m used to six digit prices, and get a little dizzy thinking about a 1,400sf condo in the sevens. You can find stuff with elbow room (2,400sf is elbow room there) under eight digits. Most places are small, it seems. Rentals in prime areas are like breath-taking $7,000/mo *USD for 1,400sf. Unemployment there was recently as high as 3.1%, but apparently they’ve brought that back down under control. If they were not confined to an island, it might be less expensive. Some of their labor force may commute from across the water.

    They do have an oil / services business (24% of exports), but the bulk of it seems to be in transactions, whether that be shipping or financial.

    I did see garbage cans outside cluster houses (but they looked washed). It’s probably cultural, or even a law, but almost all houses have fences or walls. Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims are the primary religions.

    Chile is also an economic turnaround story. I’ve heard little but bad about Pinochet, but he invited Milton Friedman and some of his associates in, and much to his credit, listened to them and implemented free market capitalism.

  9. There is one crucial thing I see no Venezuelan mention in these discussions:

    Venezuelans have one of the highest birth rates in South America and they have the highest birth rate among girls younger than 16.

  10. Singapore has been for many years among the top 5 countries with more economic freedom in the world according to Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index. That’s quite an achievement. It’s true that they are not doing as well on personal liberties as one would hope but I’ll take economic freedom over no freedom anyday, with my eyes shut. Thank you, Nagel, for writing about it. The point is we should emulate what’s good about it. Period.

  11. The comments in this article have highlighted the balance between economic and social freedoms. We have seen that capitalist economic systems can be successfully imposed on a nation by a strong and authoritarian leader such as Lee Kuan Yew or Pinochet. These policies have produced positive economic growth and rapid increases in productivity, personal income, health, education, and other measurable indicators. But, at what cost?

    It is said that “Man does not live on bread alone.” I would posit that for any nation to achieve true greatness, it must find a balance between economic and social freedoms. For this to occur, there must be true plurality in government, such that minority opinions are taken into account. I do not advocate complete social libertarianism. A society without any social norms is not a society, but an anarchy without rules. But, for a society to remain healthy and dynamic, it must permit radical sectors the opportunity to push the envelope. In this way, new ideas get a chance to be tried and ultimately accepted or rejected. The radicals of a healthy society are the yeast that allows the bread to rise.

    Juan would like us to ignore Singapore’s lack of personal liberties and look at their economic policies and successes in isolation. I would argue that this is a grave error, as Pinochet’s rule in Chile ultimately proved. The long-term health, stability, and happiness of any nation requires that a healthy and equitable balance be struck between personal and economic freedoms, while avoiding unnecessary regulations, controls, and government meddling on all fronts.

    • “These policies have produced positive economic growth and rapid increases in productivity, personal income, health, education, and other measurable indicators. But, at what cost?”

      A few thousand dead communists.

      A true bargain if you ask me. Pocket change.

      • “A few thousand dead communists…” and also a lot of dead people who were considered communists but weren’t.

        It’s easy to say “pocket change” when you haven’t lost a child to a military dictatorship based on mere suspicion.

        I don’t think it’s a good thing to be cavalier about human rights abuses, whether they are committed by leftist regimes or rightist ones

  12. Singapore hires and attracts the best and the brightest, and it hold a special place in the imagination as a meritocracy. The idea of a society bonded together harmoniously by common values is attractive. The notion of values imposed on a society from a group of elites is not. You can get Singapore that way. You can also get Venezuela and Cuba that way.

    Singapore shows us what can be done with good policy and a free hand (or blank slate). I’m skeptical that Singapore is translatable, however, to places where social, cultural and historical forces have taken root. And by that, I’m not suggesting there is something innate about some Confucian model of organizing society.

    Maybe China is a version of Singapore where policy meets significant social, cultural and historical forces. The outcome there is on balance more troubling than it is admirable. There, the force and control is more evident. There, you see the weaknesses of a top down approach playing out with very negative consequences.

    But I don’t deny we all have some version of Singapore in our imaginations. A place where rationality, good judgment and sound values prevail. A place where smart, well trained people sit around a table, put politics aside, have a reasonably limited discussion, make a wise decision, and carry it out. Why is that so difficult? Why can’t the rest of us do that? Why do the rest of us do things like go to a ballot box and make a decision based on anger and fear? My Singapore is probably more of a northern European country. But either way, it is just a dream.

  13. China for centuries was one of the best run countries in history , in the sense that they were governed wisely by decent men , this was the period of the Mandarinate , Officials were chosen on the basis of their performance in a three day exam on the Confusian classics held every three years , people from all social classes were free to take the exam…….., their performance was continously monitored to select the best of the best for advancement . in the end as always happened the system became corrupt …..

    Fukuyama has written extensively about the three elements of a model political order ; a State that works (Singapore for example) , Rule of Law ( exists in Singapore in so far as its not applied to partisan political issues) and a System of Accountability (i.e. democracy) where the ruler is replaced where he stops doing the right things (missing in Singapore) …….!! Thats what democracy is about ……..If in time the state becomes corrupt or incompetent or abusive ( The Bad Emperor problem) then a system is needed to replace whoever heads the state and place someone new who can do a better job..!!

    This last element is crucial because you cannot hope to have even the most enlightened system work for ever , at some point in time it is degraded and needs a shake up!! Thats what Singapore lacks !! Democracy itself has been made into a sanctified untouchable idol, we cant see that if its given too large a role in running the state ( rather than in controlling its abuses) , it can do as much good as harm …….., thats why people like hanna Arendt proposed to separate the public functions into two , one which dealt with problems capable of being handled through competent meritocratic management and those which required statesman to create compromise solutions to very difficult exceptional social problems …….

    Our tendency is to think that a democracy can provide the best run state and thats not really its job , thats what meritocracy is for , democracy is to make sure that if those handling the state do a bad job then they can be replaced or to solve very difficult problems which mere meritocratic knowhow cannot solve because the require true wisdom…..!!

    • The Chinese civil service exam system and meritocracy actually goes back to the Han Dynasty over 2,000 years ago. But, you make a very good observation. In particular, I like Hanna Arendt’s distinction between the two separate public functions. This actually occurs in the modern model of city governments. The mayor and city council are elected officials, but the real management and administration of the city is accomplished by a professional City Manager. Most people don’t even know who the City Manager of their city is, or even that the position exists. Much of what government does is a “service provider” function, and this should be run like a business.

  14. Ok, from what I can grasp in this comment thread, if someone justifies the undermining of personal freedom and repression of dissidents on the basis of universal access to healthcare and education = uncool.

    And if a foreign journalist (to Venezuelans) writes (from an ideologically biased perspective) hailing those social policies and making excuses to justify that repression = douchebag.

    However, the undermining of personal freedom and repression of dissidents on the basis of business opportunities to foreign enterprises = groovy.

    And if a foreign blogger (to Singaporeans) writes (from an ideologically biased perspective) hailing those economic policies and avoiding any reference to that repression because it is not interesting = legend.

    Perhaps this blog should be renamed “Cognitive Dissonance Chronicles”.

  15. Another one for the CD Chronicles:

    Shallow Spanish progre (and likely Podemos supporter) who calls Venezuelan political prisoners fascists = scumbag.

    Veneco mayamero with a hard-on for Pinochet who’s never been to Singapore and thinks it’s amazeballs that Sigaporean dissidents are incarcerated for decades = BFF.

  16. Juan, the secret for Singapore’s success -IMHO- was how Lee and allies dealt with the communists back in the day. That was one of the few cases in history where the communists were outsmarted and could not employ their usual bag of tricks: demand elections, smash opposition if they win, go to civil war if they lose, etc. —- Trivia about Lee and one maracucho’s will relate to: he was quoted saying that air conditioning was civilization’s biggest technological advance.

  17. Singapore’s success was based on tough laws, diminished corruption, and better education.

    To fix a mess of country like Venezuela you need a tough government. You need to send corrupt crooks to jail. Set examples. You need a system of checks&balances, a somewhat healthy police. In Singapore you get a massive fine if you even dare to spit on the streets, much heavier if you liter, or break any laws.

    The only way Venezuela will get it’s act together is with a very tough government. How did Chile get its act together? 17 years of Pinochet did it. When was Venezuela progressing by leaps and bounds, and building lots of infrastructure? Perez Jimenez. Besides tough love, much less corruption you also need much better education. Being “alphabetized” read and write basic stuff, doesn’t make a populace really educated. That translates into bad behavior, poor work performances, fathers leaving their children in ranchos, crime, etc.

    Above all, you need to punish all those who steal, all the corrupt crooks, send them to jail. That’s what Singapore did, while educating their population.

    • One time when I returned to Vzla I was absolutely shocked to see that the cars were actually stopping at the stoplights, and even stopping at the correct place. Turns out the mayor had instructed the police to enforce at least some of the traffic laws. It showed me that correct implementation of policy can make some things turn on a dime.

    • “To fix a mess of country like Venezuela you need a tough government. You need to send corrupt crooks to jail. Set examples.”

      Taken straight from a Chavez campaign ad from ’97. No quieren aprender.

  18. Isn’t the whole thing about ignoring the human rights and blatant authoritarism the biggest problem with Venezuela right now?

    Because, everybody outside the country believes in the supossed economic growth thanks to Chávez’s policies, while turning a blind eye to insignificant things as people getting imprisoned by tweeting something that displeased some bureaucrat.

  19. We tend to conflate all rights under a common denomination, but its important to note that there are several categories which recognition has evolved historically , the most basic rights are the civil rights (right to life property personal freedom, equal access to the law, due process etc) which where the first to be recognized in modern society, then there are the so called political rights which entitle people to participate in the processes of political decision making (second to be recognized) , then there are the social rights which have to do with giving every one equal access to a life of welfare and comfort (quality of life) ………most recently a new kind of rights are being recognized to special minorities (Gays, Women etc) .
    These categorization of citizenship rights where first proposed by LH Marshall in a famous 1949 lecture …

    If we look at Singapore, Civil rights (including economic rights ) are given full recognition as are Social rights to a high quality of life……..Political rights in contrast are more limited than is common in western democracies . As to more uptodate rights (LGBT rights for example) , there is no recognition of Gay rights, homosexuality is deemed illegal but there is no persecution of gays , on the other hand right to abortion is recognized with few limitations except that the life of the fetus is protected after 6 months of pregnancy.

    Singapores system of justice is part of the British system of justice , high court english cases being recognized in Singapore ……

  20. I loved Ven I was there 7 years
    Could not stand Chavez though and he was
    Spoiling my effort to start a new life
    Then he stole our project and said “if you don’t like it pack you bags”
    We did
    Ended up in Singapore doing the project which was meant to have been assigned for Puerto La Cruz but was then moved to singapore. We had a a lovely time in Sing. Moved the rest of the Ven family to Buenos Aires and shortly off for a long holiday there. I will always remember with fond memories Ven but never plan to go back.

  21. William Gibson, the great sci-fi writer, once said of Singapore that it was like ‘Disneyland with the death penalty’. He did not like what he saw, even though he wanted to. Singapore struck his imagination as some sort of Dystopia


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