Weekend Roundup: Singapore at 50 Shows Why Governance Matters

While many countries in what used to be called the Third World remain stuck in the same poverty and ethnic strife that characterized them in the immediate post-colonial era, Singapore stands out for its rapid rise to prosperity and peaceful embrace of diversity. From the day it became independent on August 9, 1965 to 2014, Singapore’s GDP per capita has soared to an astonishing 3700 percent. Above all, Singapore’s lesson for the world is that governance matters.

Writing from Singapore, the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Kishore Mahbubani, reveals the open secret of the city-state’s success: meritocracy, pragmatism and honesty in government. Unabashedly, he argues that Singapore is the world’s most successful society. The country’s former Foreign Minister George Yeo compares Singapore to a bonsai and nanotechnology, emphasizes its unity in diversity and analogizes the recent lightening up of hierarchical authority to “pruning” a banyan tree.

Harvard’s Graham Allison says Singapore’s achievements as a soft authoritarian regime challenge the conventional view that democracy is necessarily the best form of governance. Ali Wyne writes that Western democracy could learn two things from Singapore’s success: the importance of quality leadership based on merit and the lack of ideological predisposition in tackling problems. Anthony Saich points out that “voice and accountability” measures show where Singapore’s lacking, and that a model built upon paternalism and high growth rates must now yield to rising demands for more pluralism and equality.

Nobel Laureate Michael Spence argues that China’s expanding market economy is outpacing the capacity of Chinese authorities to manage it politically. They should let the stock bubble burst, he says, and allow markets to allocate resources. In my comment titled —> Read More