Hemlock's Musings

Why Singapore
is Pathetic

Nine reasons  (there are more)
Updated May 2005
1. Singapore’s economic growth miracle of the 1960s-90s came mostly from added inputs, not from growth in productivity.
Hong Kong         Singapore
Average growth p.a., 1960-85                             6%                    6%
Worker productivity increase, 1970-90               150%                100%
Savings rate 1970-90                                        20%                  40%
Change in output per unit of capital, 1970-90        0%                -50%                   source

In other words, Singapore had to invest twice as much as HK to produce the same level of output. To compensate for the poor productivity and diminishing returns of investments directed by the state, its people had to save twice as much as Hongkongers, and consume less. 

2. The Singaporean people do not really have the fundamental right to make their own investments.  The Singapore government forces people to hand over up to 40% of their net income, and it invests most of it as it sees fit.  The government “allows” people to individually direct only a small part of these forced savings (mainly into non-voting shares in state-owned enterprises).  The government tells Singaporeans how lucky they are to be “allowed” to choose to use their savings for education, home purchase, medical coverage, etc – as if the money weren’t theirs in the first place. Pathetic.

3. This is therefore a planned economy, in which civil servants attempt to pick winners.  As well as (mis)managing its people’s savings, Singapore’s government also arranges subsidies to encourage favoured industries.  Needless to say, these subsidies are at the expense of other industries.  For example, the rest of the economy has subsidized forex traders and fund managers (the last people who need a subsidy) in order to push Singapore higher up the list of international forex trading and fund management centers.  The government sells this to its people as a “success”.  Meanwhile, the government is ordering its state-owned business to expand beyond the little city state.  In their desperation to become regional players, they are paying over the odds for assets of doubtful quality.   Pathetic.

4. One big mistake made by the controllers of the Singaporean economy was to maintain a large manufacturing sector long after factories would otherwise have been moved to lower-cost sites (as they did in Hong Kong in the 1980s-90s).  They have put their people’s wealth into direct investment into local manufacturers, or into tax breaks and other subsidies for inward manufacturing investment.  It is therefore left with a large and increasingly unviable manufacturing base in such loser industries as semiconductors.    Pathetic.

5. Faced with such mismanagement, most people would complain.  Not Singaporeans.  Their government effectively controls the media and runs a highly effective PR campaign aimed at convincing the people the government is wonderful.  Many sincerely believe it. Those who don’t fall for it keep quiet, or wish they had.  The few people who dare to speak out suffer reduced career prospects or even spurious legal action. Unlike Hongkongers, Singaporeans have no right, in practice, to walk down the street handing out anti-government leaflets and shouting anti-government slogans.  It is a crime to speak in public without a permit.  Pathetic.

6. Democracy is impossible without free speech.  Singapore is therefore no more a democracy than Hong Kong (where the government is appointed by Beijing).  However, Hong Kong at least allows an opposition to exist openly, and to present its views in independent media, without fear of persecution or harassment. In Singapore, opposition politicians who ask awkward questions can be (and have been) sued for libel by ruling politicians and convicted (and bankrupted) by a judiciary that mysteriously consistently sides with the government. Neighbourhoods that vote in low numbers for the ruling party receive lower government funding for public facilities in retaliation for their lack of gratitude – in flagrant violation of the basic democratic principle that the government is accountable to all its people, not just its voters.  Pathetic.

7. Singapore’s ‘father figure” is Lee Kuan Yew.  One of his interests is eugenics.  He believes that a more-intelligent population can be achieved through selective breeding, and at one stage Singapore encouraged people with high educational levels to marry each other, and it offered financial incentives for them to have children.  (After hearing his ideas during a state visit, Britain’s Princess Anne said, “Well, Mr Lee, it doesn’t work with horses.”)  Social engineering continues today, with the government, which used to go to great lengths to encourage people to have fewer babies, begging them to have more “if they can afford it”. This means “unless you’re Malay”.  Singapore’s schools systematically leave Malays disadvantaged and stuck in low-paying jobs.  They have also tried to attract more (Chinese) immigrants from Hong Kong.  Don’t all rush.  Pathetic.

8. Singapore is famous for not being corrupt.  It is true that if you are Lee Kuan Yew’s eldest son you can become brigadier general after just five years in the army, and six months later you can become a member of parliament, and soon after that you can become deputy prime minister.  And then become the PM!!!  And if you are the eldest son’s wife, you can be put in charge of the state holding company (it holds key interests in 40% of the stock market by market cap).  And if you’re Lee’s number-two son, you can run the main Telecoms company.  But that’s not corruption, or nepotism.  That’s “meritocracy”.  (No, that's pathetic.)
9. Cosmopolitan magazine
is banned.

Update: Cosmo legal from 2003 if sold in plastic bags

Does Singapore Invest too Much?  (SF Federal Reserve Bank)
US State Dept Report on Human Rights - Singapore
Lee Kuan Yew and Eugenics
Instructions on Overriding Singapore's Pathetic Attempts to Censor the Internet
Update    Singapore’s pathetic Spring of 2005…

22 March, 2005
Singaporean independent documentary filmmaker Martyn See has his 30-minute documentary about opposition leader Chee Soon Juan
banned from the city’s film festival because it broke a law against party political films.  To encourage the development of Singapore as a hub for the creative arts, the authorities told him he could face two years in jail and a US$60,000 fine for showing the work in public.  (Singapore Rebel.. It’s worth watching.)

26 April, 2005
Chen Jiahao, a Singaporean student in the US
shuts down his weblog and posts an apology after being threatened with a defamation suit by A*STAR, a thin-skinned Singapore Government research agency.

6 May 2005
Plainclothes police shut down
a meeting of 120 people who had gathered at the city’s Furama Hotel to hold a vigil for Shanmugam Murugesu, a father of two, who was sentenced to death for possession of 1 kilo of marijuana.   (He was executed a week later.)

11 May 2005
Police ask film director Martyn See to
come in for questioning.  Don’t forget your toothbrush.