Battlepanda: Trouble in Authoritarian Capitalist Paradise


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Trouble in Authoritarian Capitalist Paradise

Like everybody else practically, I bought into the myth of Singapore as the super-elite city state -- a lean, clean capitalism machine. However, according to this piece of Abstract Nonsense, we might have all had a little wool pulled over our eyes:

The first impression most foreigners get of Singapore is that it’s a harsh but successful state, dictatorial but developed and ultimately good for its people. One of the unspoken objectives of the ruling party, the PAP (People’s Action Party, no connection to communism) is to create an illusion of a first-world state by keeping the areas where there are tourists and Western expats clean to concentration camp standards.

Western conservatives, who have largely swallowed that illusion whole, keep talking up Singapore. To believe what they say, its educational system, its economy, its cultural policy, all the envy of conservatives who only wish democracy didn’t fear with their plans, work nearly perfectly.

In fact, that illusion is about as true as the illusion that the Soviet Union kept cultivating among Western socialists in the 1930s. The only way Singapore looks good is if you skew statistics to fit your agenda, which the PAP is not above doing. A few facts that Lee Kuan Yew, the de facto king, won’t mention in his interview, are:

- Singapore’s level of inequality is the highest in the developed world, except possibly for Hong Kong’s. Its bottom quintile is the poorest in the developed world except for Portugal’s.

- Only 25% of Singaporeans aged 16-17 go to junior college, the equivalent of high school. The rest don’t participate in the international reading and math tests; that’s how Singapore always places number 1 on these tests.

- Singapore’s per capita military spending is second only to Israel’s, even though Singapore is not at war nor will it ever be. That last fact doesn’t prevent the government from engaging in a propaganda campaign aimed at convincing the citizenry that it is.

- The combination of low wages, no social safety net, and a social security system that has no redistribution of wealth at all means that lower-class people often have to work into their 70s and 80s to survive.

- Singapore’s literacy rate is 92.5%, just above this of Palestine and just below this of Thailand.

- Despite the country’s cult of economic growth, its GDP per capita has stagnated since 2000.

- Despite draconian sentencing laws for violent crime, Singapore’s crime rate remains far higher than Japan’s.

Westerners who live in Singapore or who are familiar with it in passing usually complain about the small things, like the low-level censorship of movies, which, while heinous, at least doesn’t impoverish the population. Everything else - the systematic destruction of the livelihood of the poor, the impoverishment of the middle class, the plundering of the treasury - doesn’t even register in their minds, or gets rationalized.

O.K., a few of those items above are rather trivial (Singapore's got a higher crime rate than Japan, well, doesn't everyone?), but Alon Levy got his point across. Singapore glitters, but all that glitters is not necessarily gold.