Lee Kuan Yew - Political genius personified
In an era where rather inept political pygmies are struggling to ‘lead’ the Western world, Lee Kuan Yew deployed a simple mix of ingredients to deliver unprecedented prosperity to his citizens. Where too many other nations have failed to deliver through their ham-fisted, self-destructive, socialism, Lee Kuan Yew concentrated his efforts on economic growth - with incredible results. It wasn’t just an obsession with growing the economy per se, but a journey to national improvement with opportunity for all. Aggressively higher competitive educational standards were pursued ruthlessly, underpinned with a wise approach to speaking English to both attract foreign investors and become a central communication link alongside local ethnic languages. Unlike many other nations, corruption was ruthlessly expunged. At the heart of government, civil service leaders were handsomely rewarded but then again they remain accountable for their actions. Today, Singapore, the city state which dared to globalize, is a glittering example of what can be achieved with a level playing field and honest, diligent government which appreciates that growth comes despite the state not because of it. Thus private investment has flourished in a property owning nation with minuscule rates of crime.
The recipe sounds so simple yet it eludes so many governments in the world, as politicians seem to think they can allow corruption for a few, or create a welfare mentality that somehow will fuel a quasi-command economy.
Rather, under Lee Kuan Yew’s brilliant stewardship, Singaporean GDP grew more than 100-fold between 1960 and 2011. At independence, Singapore’s economy lagged several Caribbean nations. Barely one generation later, Singapore’s economy, measured on a per head purchasing power parity basis, eclipsed even the greatest economy the world has ever seen - the United States of America.
With hindsight the Lee Kuan Yew approach looks entirely sensible but it was unclear in the 1960’s when Marxist rebels throughout Asia were still keen to join the madness of Mao instead of endorsing the benefits of a free, open, honest, economy which rewarded thrift and investment while keeping inflation and taxes low. Readers may wish to contrast this with the desperate stasis of Europe where a generation of political pygmies has suffered an alarming recidivist streak back to the era of envy and anger. Better education, opportunity for all and a less corrupt, crony-free environment in which all citizens can profit are the clear ways forward - if only many emerging markets would take the medicine, citizens would enjoy a much richer world. Readers may also contrast that it was the single-minded leadership of the highly intelligent Lee Kuan Yew (he achieved a double first in law from Cambridge) which delivered Singaporean prosperity entirely against all odds. Without the genius and diligence of the late Mr. Lee, too many nations have festered in the third world for a half century - when they could have leapfrogged out of poverty like the Asian city state.
Yet Lee was not a dogmatist, his approach was purely pragmatic. It wasn’t just his own citizens who benefitted from Mr. Lee’s economic vision, in many ways he inspired China to adopt a more open trading economy and hence liberate hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens from poverty.
True, in Western circles there was a widely held view that Lee’s somewhat authoritarian approach to political freedom somehow diminished Singapore’s achievements. That said, by Roman standards, Mr. Lee delivered ‘bread and games’ in a fashion entirely unprecedented in world history...
In an era where the top down economic planning institutions are delivering NGO-centric disasters of corruption and fetid incompetence which creates a donor culture and helps make the West feel smugly superior even as economic power is clearly moving east, driven by a brilliant prosperity revolutionary. RIP Lee Kuan Yew.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.