Why a US columnist is rooting for Singapore

Dear Mr Matt Miller,

I refer to your Washington Post article that was published by Straits Times on 12 May 2012.

Our rise wasn’t from Third World to First but from a middle income status to First World status [1], [2]. It had more to do with good fortune than savvy, talented government officials. Our supposedly talented, savvy government took the import substitution route when they first came into power in 1959 like all the other newly independent Third World nations did. It wasn’t until we were kicked out of Malaysia in 1965 that we had no choice but to embark on export industrialization instead [3], [4], [5]. We were thus forced upon the right path instead of having conscientiously chosen it. Other strokes of good luck include the Cultural Revolution in 1966 which, according to Dr Goh Keng Swee, scared investors away from countries bordering China so they avoided South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong and came to Singapore instead [6] and the oil exploration boom in the region in the early 1970s which contributed to oil rig construction [7]. Besides luck, we also had the good counsel of Dr Albert Winsemius who was the real talented and savvy one [8], [9], [10].

Our million dollar ministerial salaries are much more than generous, they are obscenely excessive. The US is not alone in eschewing million dollar salaries in public service. All other First World nations eschew million dollar salaries in public service but still do well in the Corruption Perceptions Index. New Zealand, Denmark, Finland and Sweden actually do better than Singapore without million dollar ministerial salaries.

Rank Country / territory CPI 2011 score
1 New Zealand 9.5
2 Denmark 9.4
2 Finland 9.4
4 Sweden 9.3
5 Singapore 9.2
6 Norway 9
7 Netherlands 8.9
8 Australia 8.8
8 Switzerland 8.8
10 Canada 8.7
11 Luxembourg 8.5
12 Hong Kong 8.4
13 Iceland 8.3
14 Germany 8
14 Japan 8
16 Austria 7.8
16 Barbados 7.8
16 United Kingdom 7.8
19 Belgium 7.5
19 Ireland 7.5
21 Bahamas 7.3
22 Chile 7.2
22 Qatar 7.2
24 United States 7.1
25 France 7

Linking ministerial pay to median income and the bottommost incomes isn’t rocket science that only Singapore technocrats are capable of coming up with. Our opposition parties have been arguing for this for years before it was finally implemented in a limited way.

It’s not right to refer to our post-independence leaders as the founding generation for Singapore was founded 146 years before we gained independence. It is also not right to say that our post-independence leaders rebelled against the Western welfare state because at least one of the four key post-independence leaders, Dr Toh Chin Chye remained convicted of socialism right to the end [11].

This mighty island country has churned out a lot of fairy tales for the world to read. If you fail to see the tale behind the fairy tale, you might end up learning the wrong lessons and continue to learn the wrong lessons all your life.

[1] Carl A. Trocki, Singapore: wealth, power and the culture of control, Page 166
Singapore had already attained a middle income status in 1960 with a per capita GDP of $1,330

[2] Peter Wilson / Gavin Peebles, Economic growth and development in Singapore: past and future, Page 26
Post-war Singapore was never a backward fishing village waiting to be transformed by Lee Kuan Yew into a modern economy. The King of Thailand wouldn’t have sent 20 of his sons to a fishing village for education in the late nineteenth century. A fishing village could not have staged a manned air flight as early as 1911. Singapore was credited with the finest airport in the British Empire in the 1930s. LKY had already acknowledged in an Aug 1967 speech to American businessmen in Chicago that we were already a metropolis.

[3] Jacques Charmes, In-service training: five Asian experiences, Bernard Salomé, Page 21
Singapore at first adopted the industrialisation policy of import substitution, followed after 1966 by the export of labour intensive manufactured goods.

[4] Robert Fitzgerald, The Competitive advantages of Far Eastern business, Page 55
Singapore’s industrialisation strategy was originally dependent on policies of import substitution within the Malaysian common market, but the attainment of political independence in 1965 led to export industrialisation.

[5] Eddie C. Y. Kuo / Chee Meng Loh / K. S. Raman, Information technology and Singapore society, Page 87
Import substitution was adopted in the early 1960s in anticipation of the Malayan common market. However, Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965 dashing the hopes of the common market, hence an export strategy was promoted instead.

[6] Goh Keng Swee, Asian Pacific Economic Literature May 1996, page 2, “The technology ladder in development: the Singapore case”

[7] Diane K. Mauzy / Robert Stephen Milne, Singapore politics under the People’s Action Party, Page 66

[8] Ngiam Tong Dow / Simon Tay, A Mandarin and the making of public policy: reflections, Page 66
Dr Winsemius and I.F. Tang made extraordinary contributions to the economic development of Singapore as leader and secretary of the first UN Industrialisation Survey Team in 1961.

[9] Philip Nalliah Pillai, State enterprise in Singapore: legal importation and development, Page 30
With Singapore’s secession in 1965, the United Nations Proposed Industrialization Programme for the State of Singapore became the basis for Singapore’s industrialisation strategy.

[10] Danny M Leipziger, Lessons from East Asia, Page 240
The 1960-61 United Nations mission led by Albert Winsemius helped develop a blueprint for Singapore’s industrialisation and development plan and recommended the establishment of EDB.
[11] Straits Times, 4 Feb 2012, Dr Toh Chin Chye: No ‘dumb cow’ but a vocal critic in the House
Mr Lee Kuan Yew once said his early Cabinet was divided into two camps: on one side were the pragmatists like himself and Dr Goh Keng Swee; and on the other, there were the instinctive socialists, emotionally drawn to the ideal of equality, like Dr Toh Chin Chye. Long years in government did not change Dr Toh Chin Chye’s democratic socialist bent.


3 Responses to “Why a US columnist is rooting for Singapore”

  1. ;ABC Says:

    It seems that every time a foreigner praises Singapore his view are given maximum exposure in the media. But those who criticise us will not be heard. Did the views of Wozniacki in New Zealand about the cause of the lack of creativity in Singapore given any space in the local media? One would have thought that his views should be given maximum publicity to encourage education authorities to re-examine the education system.Foreigners like Miller do us grave injustice. With their superficial aquaintance with the system that locals have to endure they pretend to give learned and “objective” views of the country to the world at large. Has Miller discussed Singapore with people like you?

  2. JEFFGOH Says:

    Edward Griffins described such people as “useful idiots and sychophants”

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