Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Singapore has a strange combination. It's not a very open society, meaning freedom of speech and of the press are restricted, and the government is quite controlling. The political scene is not very pluralistic, as the same party has ruled since the founding of the country. However, Singapore is also one of the least corrupt countries in the world. It is very wealthy, highly developed, and has a great infrastructure. Almost all citizens enjoy a high standard of living. These characteristics don't often come together.

People describe the government as having a master plan. Since the 1960s, the government has tried to "engineer" society. It has, for the most part, been very successful. Not many other countries have leaped from third world to first world status in a few decades - and Singapore is not only "first world," but its living conditions are among the best. Unemployment is at a low 2%, nearly all residents have affordable housing, and business, especially foreign business, is thriving. Despite the population density, the city is immaculately clean, there are nice parks, and pollution levels are low. Crime rates are extremely low.

Of course, a few factors have been in Singapore's favor. The government only had to plan out a country the size of a large city, rather than a huge landmass. Smaller means easier to keep tabs on and control. Also, since Singapore had been under British control, English became the official language, and that always is helpful in terms of business development and innovation.

I think of the government as authoritarian but benevolent. It has a lot of power, but this hasn't corrupted the leaders. The leaders want to improve the country and satisfy the citizens. They realize that this is the best way to perpetuate their power. The plan has worked - you can hear people now and then mumbling and grumbling about the power of the party, but no one ever does anything. Everyone is too content with their lives to risk disrupting the equilibrium. If you have housing, a stable job, and good schools for your kids, there isn't much incentive to try to change the political scene. How would a change of government benefit you?

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