One of the most memorable books I've ever read was From Third World to First : The Singapore Story, written by Lee Kuan Yew. In it, (then) Prime Minister Lee described how he transformed the tiny backwater island of Singapore, which has virtually no natural assets into an economic powerhouse and a modern society in just one generation.
While anyone who has ever visited Singapore can clearly see that the achievements are real, there are those who disagreed with the means Lee used to get the country there:
Achieving all this has required a delicate balancing act, an often paradoxical interplay between what some Singaporeans refer to as "the big stick and the big carrot." What strikes you first is the carrot: giddy financial growth fueling never ending construction and consumerism. Against this is the stick, most often symbolized by the infamous ban on chewing gum and the caning of people for spray-painting cars. Disruptive things like racial and religious disharmony? They're simply not allowed, and no one steals anyone else's wallet.
Singapore, maybe more than anywhere else, crystallizes an elemental question: What price prosperity and security? Are they worth living in a place that many contend is a socially engineered, nose-to-the-grindstone, workaholic rat race, where the self-perpetuating ruling party enforces draconian laws (your airport entry card informs you, in red letters, that the penalty for drug trafficking is "DEATH"), squashes press freedom, and offers a debatable level of financial transparency? Some people joke that the government micromanages the details of life right down to how well Singapore Airlines flight attendants fill out their batik-patterned dresses.
So, it was quite interesting for me to read this interview with Lee (now a "Minister Mentor" - a strangely apt title befitting the man still behind the curtain in Singapore even though he's ostensibly retired) by National Geographic Magazine's Mark Jacobson. In particular:
Perhaps the most troubling problem facing the nation is a result of its overly successful population control program, which ran in the 1970s with the slogan "Two Is Enough." Today Singaporeans are simply not reproducing, so the country must depend on immigrants to keep the population growing. The government offers baby bonuses and long maternity leaves, but nothing will help unless Singaporeans start having more sex. According to a poll by the Durex condom company, Singaporeans have less intercourse than almost any other country on Earth. "We are shrinking in our population," the MM says. "Our fertility rate is 1.29. It is a worrying factor." This could be the fatal error in the Singapore Model: The eventual extinction of Singaporeans.
Link (Photo: David McLain)