S’pore: Economic freedom but political and social repression

Nick Gier
New West Politics

Singapore, a prosperous city state of 4 million people, gained its independence from the Great Britain in 1963. Since that time it has been ruled by the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has won every single election since 1959.

Initially styling itself an anti-Communist and Social Democratic, the PAP was expelled from the Socialist International in 1976 because it suppressed dissent and jailed opposition party leaders.

According to the Swiss-based IMD Business School, Singapore and Hong Kong are first and second in economic competitiveness with the U.S. ranking third with five other social democratic countries found in the top ten.

Adjusted for purchasing power, in 2009 each Singaporean shared over $50,000 of national income compared to each American at $46,000 and each Hong Konger at $42,000.

Singapore’s tax rates are low, topping out at 20 percent for both individuals and corporations. Since 1955, however, both companies and their workers have contributed to the Central Provident Fund, which now requires a 20 percent deduction matched by 15.5 percent from the employer. These are essentially compulsory savings accounts that Singaporeans can use for paying for higher education, health care, buying a home, and retirement.

Even though it is 54 percent government owned, Singapore Airlines is one of the most successful airlines in aviation history. Wikipedia reports that in 2009 the airline “ranked 33rd in Fortune magazine’s World’s Most Admired Companies,” and is sixth “in the world for international passengers carried.”

The government owns 80 percent of Singapore’s land, on which 88 percent of citizens live in public housing and 92 percent own their own houses or apartments. Low unemployment, housing security, and universal health care (taking only 4 percent of GDP vs. the U.S. at 16 percent) give Singaporeans the confidence they need to lead healthy and productive lives.

In addition to political repression Singapore has high rates of economic inequality. On the Gini Index where 100 is complete inequality and 0 is full equality, Singapore’s score is 48, the U.S. is at 45, and the Nordic countries are most equal at 27.

Unequal countries usually have high homicide rates, but Singapore’s is comparable to low European rates. Finland’s high murder rate correlates with it having the highest gun ownership in Europe, while Singapore’s low homicide rate may be because it has the world’s fewest guns.

Economically unequal countries also have the highest incarceration rates, but Singapore’s 350 per 100,000 is still much lower than the U.S. rate of 738. These numbers are far higher than Communist China at 118, South Korea at 97, the Nordic countries at 68, and Japan the lowest at 62 citizens per 100,000.

Just like the U.S., Singapore has a large number of drug offenders in its prisons. Singapore has one of the highest execution rates in the world. Over 70 percent of those hung-by-the-neck-until-dead were convicted for drug violations.

Recently Newt Gingrich was on Fox New with Bill O’Reilly, and O’Reilly said that Singapore’s tough drug policies worked “swell”—especially with regard to mandatory drug abuse treatment—but that Americans would not have the “stomach” for such draconian measures.

Gingrich’s response to O’Reilly was: “Well, I think it’s time we get the stomach for that, Bill. I would try to use rehabilitation, and I’d make it mandatory.” Of course I’m not suggesting that Gingrich believes that drug dealers should be executed, but his position demonstrates the lack of respect for basic human rights that one often finds among conservatives.

I’m afraid that too many Americans would agree with Singapore’s law that stipulates a two-year prison term for any male having sex with another male. Recently the Singapore Parliament passed a law legalizing oral and anal sex between heterosexual partners, but it is still a crime for homosexuals!

In conclusion we see that Singapore is economically free and prosperous, but politically unfree and very socially conservative.

Nick Gier of Moscow taught philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years. Read the full version at http://www.home.roadrunner.com/~nickgier/HKSing.pdf


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