Are democracies less able to act in time?

Dear Professor Ellwood,

I refer to the 6 Oct 2010 Straits Times report of your lecture ‘Acting In Time’ at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Illiberal China refused to ratify the treaty at the Copenhagen Climate Summit last year even as most liberal democracies wanted to. It was only this year that China premier Wen Jiabao promised to narrow China’s income gap even though their income gap has been widening for many years now. On the other hand, most liberal democracies, particularly those in Europe have always been egalitarian societies. Thus, it does not seem that liberal democracies are generally worse off when it comes to acting in time to avert long-term problems like climate change and widening income gap.

Despite, the PAP’s long term planning over thirty years, they often got things wrong. The stop-at-two policy in 1969 ended with Singapore suffering from low birth rate. Throughout the decades of industrialisation planning, they never once envisaged that the electronics industry we so heavily depend on would suddenly migrate en masse to China in the early 2000s leaving us to scramble to find a replacement industry. Our so-called paranoid government looking over the horizon all the time couldn’t even see the global financial crisis brewing right under their noses.

One human tendency being subverted in the Singapore system leads to another being exemplified in its full glory. The PAP short-sightedness now extends to its grow-at-all-cost strategy. Foreigners are pumped onto the island so quickly that property prices shot up over night and trains suddenly become over-crowded. How can they claim to be ‘forward looking’ when they can’t even see beyond two, three years?

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