Thursday, March 31, 2016

Singapore Final Thoughts

A Land of Contrasts

Since returning to Phoenix from Singapore I've been mentally processing the impressions of my visit. My main takeaway is that modern Singapore has advanced from third world to first world status (achieving one of the highest standards of living in Asia) in just one generation.


It has done so by embracing a transparent and efficient single party government. A seemingly incorruptible meritocracy, that (of late) offers a stark contrast to America where with its Citizen's United verdict our Supreme Court has reduced our government to a cesspool of corruption where elected officials must now spend 87% of their time begging for political contributions from industry, Wall Street and the 1%.

Singaporeans, with few resources, focus on the creation of a bright future.

Americans, with every conceivable resource, talk of returning to the past.

So in essence, while Singapore looks through a windshield to the future, we seem to be gazing into a rear view mirror.

Sign in Kampong Glam

Singapore sort of reminds me of a modern Asian version of the Netherlands. Similarly land and resource poor, Holland claimed land by holding back the sea. Both countries nurture their main natural asset - their people. Kids in Holland grow up speaking 6 or more languages. Everyone works hard. There is consistently low unemployment and they enjoy one of Europe's highest standards of living bolstered by a real social safety net.

Similarly, Singapore, with limited land, exploits its strategic location by operating the world's second busiest port and finest airport while nurturing its populace. Singapore encourages multi-lingualism, yet has firmly established English as its primary language.

Much of the credit for Singapore's success must be attributed to its first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Under his focused guidance Singapore was founded as a truly multi-cultural society.

Singapore has implemented a wide range of pragmatic long-term social and economic initiatives all grounded in a strong, frequently brutal, rule of law. Justice works fast unburdened by jury trials.

Embracing Multi-Culturalism
(Hijab, Tennis Shoes & A FCBarcelona Bag!)

Singapore cherishes its 100% secular government rebuffing any attempt to inject religion into government. It understands that when religion enters politics one group always disadvantages another.

The Pros:
95% of Singapore's residents own their own home. With little land available, most homes are built as point towers built by the HDB (Housing Development Board). As new and refurbished units become available, quotas assure that the national ethnic mix is reflected in ownership.

In 2014 Bloomberg rated Singapore's healthcare system as the most efficient in the world. It is funded by compulsory savings and payroll deductions. It maintains low prices by enforcing rigid price controls. And, although costs are very low, to curb over-utilization, healthcare services are never provided "free".

Singaporean's typically work an average of 45 hours a week.

The literacy rate is 96% with 47% of its young going on to achieve a post secondary degree.

Mass Transportation:
Singapore opted not to pave its limited land with asphalt. Its compact space has allowed it to build and operate a remarkably well integrated clean, fast and very inexpensive mass transit system.

Each month a limited number of COE's (Certificates of Entitlement) are auctioned. They allow the wealthy to purchase a new car or motorcycle. COE's are good for 10 years (what is considered a normal auto lifespan). Driving is then further subjected to ERP (Electronic Road Pricing) adding tolls for the use of key roads in high traffic locations. Tolls are adjusted in price during rush hours. This has resulted in an ownership rate of 12 cars per 100 residents.

Singapore is incredibly safe. Serious violent crime is rare. Much like Japan, I felt completely safe walking and sightseeing. Singapore is also famous for its relentless adherence to upholding intellectual property rights. I applaud that as well!

The Cons:
Harsh Laws:
While I love its low crime, Singapore is known for enforcing overly harsh laws. It canes vandals and outlaws both guns and gum. Forgetting to flush the toilet is a crime and jaywalking comes with massive penalties. Forget any treatment programs for repeat drug offenders, they are executed by hanging.

While westerners find Singapore's drug laws unrealistic, you must remember that while under British rule 40 to 60 percent of Britain's colonial revenue came from the licensing of 550 opium merchants resulting in massive societal damage.

And, it becomes harder and harder to find fault with a nation that has clean streets and almost no homelessness. In a little over two weeks I saw a grand total of three graffiti tags. 

Stifling of Civil Liberties:
Probably my biggest concern is that Singapore is sowing seeds of its own eventual discontent by overly suppressing personal civil liberties. They really don't need to perpetuate it.

As technology continues to erode Singapore's ability to control what people watch, think or read, its tenacious grip on archaic moral values will be increasingly challenged.

In sum, while it may not be utopia, and I strongly caution anyone with any amount of drugs in their blood stream to avoid it, I deeply respect Singapore's people, its corruption-free secular government, its progressive social safety net and its steadfast commitment to multiculturalism.

And, I hope to return there in the future.

Roadboy's Travels © 2016   

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