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The Fatal Error of The Singapore Model?

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)


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Singapore had been an on-going socio-economic experiment for the last 45 years or so, we're all lab animals. Whilst achieving certain standards in our financial excellence, having very little to the country. you gain some and you lose some.

We had also been the land of opportunities and a place for refuge to many southern chinese while under british rule from the early 1800s, and the values of the chinese refugees have been handed down generations.
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My mom and most of my family still live in Singapore although I have immigrated to the States for the last 10 years. I remembered my mom telling me that after the birth of my sister in '82, the nurse in-charge asked if she wants a tubal ligation. My mom declined but decided to stop having a 3rd baby ( possibly due to me and my sister driving her up the wall 24/7 ). I think there are pros and cons to every country not matter how good the system can be. Chewing gum issue: the govt spends hundreds and thousand of dollars in the past cleaning up dried gum left on ground/elevator buttons and just about anything else. So much of the tax payers money are saved. I love both Singapore and America equally!
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My family and I have lived and worked in Singapore for the last 10 years, we obviously love it. The pluses: good jobs, great schools, safety, clean air and water, ideal climate (for me), arts, entertainment, low taxes, nice people, excellent, inexpensive food, public transport, affordable, high quality healthcare, and travel access to many wonderful places in Asia.

But low birth rate may not be the only concern looming.

Singapore has had a great run, 45 years of growth and life style improvement with the Lee family in charge. Lee Kuan Yew has turned the country over to his son who governs exceedingly well. The countries leaders are honest and smart and because there is no opposition (doesn't allow an opposition) and doesn't have a functioning press the government can decide a direction, a project and it happens. For now things get done very, very well and progress and growth continue apace.

But what happens next if the leaders aren't smart and honest? Can a government that doesn't have any checks and blances serve its citizens well in the long run?

I’m not sure. But right now it is working and we feel like there may not be a better place in the world to live.
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