There has been a lot of criticism of the Singapore government, on this site most of it originates from me. However, there are a number of things which are hard to criticize – especially in light of how successful Singapore has become due to the government's policies. Human rights may be ignored; the laws are strict and, some say, draconian in nature; and there are so many things about Singaporean society which seem to be so very wrong; but Singapore is a phenomenal success, and for that we have Lee Kuan Yew and the ruling People's Action Party to thank.
Singapore has no natural resources to speak of; the only thing that it originally had in its favor is its prime location at the tip of the Malay peninsula. It was for this reason that it was declared an ideal place for a colony by Sir Stamford Raffles, and it is also largely for this reason that, as an independent nation, it is successful today.
Singapore today boasts some of the world's finest shipping facilities, constructed because Singapore is first and foremost a shipping hub. It is an ideal location for ships from Europe to stop on the way to China and East Asia. Stemming from this is its position today as a location for multi-national corporations to set up their regional headquarters – which has brought it more success today than shipping ever had. To position Singapore as such an ideal location, the government has ensured that Singapore boasts one of the most highly skilled workforces in the region; highly literate and with many opportunities for tertiary education locally. To further ensure that Singapore is seen as an ideal location for setting up business, tax rates are extremely low, and there are no minimum wage requirements.
In order to ensure that overseas investors would view Singapore in a good light, the government keeps property prices high – and they keep on rising. The high cost of living in Singapore can be largely attributed to the high cost of property, and when coupled with the low wages, it means that the quality of life of average Singaporeans is low – the problem is, what can be done about it? The more I think about it, the government is doing the only thing that it can do with what it has to work with – but Singapore is in a rather precarious position at the moment. China, one of the world's largest markets, is opening up; and it is getting rather difficult to ensure that Singapore will be chosen above it. Let me try to explain:
Singapore has next to no natural resources, it cannot function without the constant flow of goods into the country. China has all the resources that it needs to be self-sufficient – for a long time it functioned in total isolation from the rest of the world. Singapore has no minimum wage requirements, but wages have to be high enough for the population to be able to survive with such a high cost of living. China has no minimum wage requirements, and because the cost of living is one of the lowest in the world, wages don't have to be high for the population to be able to survive on them.
China is a market which has only started emerging recently; already a sizable portion of the world's manufactured goods are made there. Cost of living is low; wages are low; property prices are low – unfortunately for China, educational standards are also low, at least when compared to Singapore. Singapore's possession of a highly-skilled workforce would seem to be the only distinguishing feature that the island possesses, but China can be expected to devote much effort into improving the educational standards of its workforce – what happens to Singapore then?
So what about all the criticism of Singapore? The fact is that much of what the government has been doing over the past several decades is the only thing that it can do. It has positioned itself in the only way it could, and our criticism comes from believing that there must be a better way to run a country. Take minimum wage for instance, many people believe that having a minimum wage is almost a requirement for “civilized countries.” Last time the government tried to adopt a minimum wage the entire country went into recession – it conflicted with the need for big businesses to be able to operate in Singapore at a low price.
Singapore is one country that cannot afford to go into recession, all the things that are needed for human beings to live are imported from overseas. Our water comes across from Malaysia, our meat comes mainly from Australia, etc. The government has no choice but to do things which which may not seem to be good for the people, but are good for the country itself. Making sure that the crime rates are low, the country is clean, the people are educated are all things which are necessary in order to promote Singapore as being a prime location for big, Western businesses to set up shop here.
As for the things like compulsory National Service, the country needs to be able to defend itself – just like any country. In Singapore however, given it's relatively small population, if joining the army was something that you only did by choice then there would be hardly enough of a force to repel any would-be invader. However, somewhere along the line the government got so preoccupied with making sure that the people would do things which were for the good of the nation, they managed to create a state where the people can barely operate without someone telling them what to do. They are trying to repair some of this damage, and they are doing it in the same way that they caused the problem in the first place, but in reverse.
Take the birth-rate issue. The government decided at one point that the birth-rate was too high, so they held a series of public campaigns to lower it. It proved too successful, and now they have to try and get the birth rate back up to a level which will ensure that the population stays stable through the use of another public campaign. The fact is, as ludicrous as the idea may be for a country to have to have their government enforce mandatory mixers in order to encourage their people to have relationships, if the government didn't enforce it people wouldn't date.
Singapore's future doesn't look as bright as it once did, not for me at least. Things feel as if they are about to go downhill – multi-national corporations are more interested in China these days. How can Singapore distinguish itself in a world where distance is not as important? Ships don't really need to stop here to resupply as much as they used to, and in China a business can operate at far less cost – although setting up business in China still has its disadvantages, how long will it take before Singapore has nothing aside from its location to position itself with?
CIA World Factbook - Singapore
The Everything People Registry : Singapore
Thomas Stamford Raffles - Founder of Singapore
Lee Kuan Yew - First Prime Minister, and the man who shaped what Singapore is today.
Goh Chok Tong - Second Prime Minister.
Lee Hsien Loong - (not yet noded) Lee Kuan Yew's son, and third Prime Minister.
Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam - (not yet noded) Only opposition leader to be remotely successful. A brief overview of what happened to him can be found here
Junior Colleges in Singapore - A list of Junior Colleges, with some discussion on the Singapore education system.
Broadcasting in Singapore - Commercialization of broadcasting companies in Singapore.
Breasts, Otters, Creativity and Greed - A critique of Singaporean society.
Romancing Singapore - A shining example of Singaporean public campaigns
Smoking in Singapore - Discussion on Singapore as a "fine city," especially in how it relates to smoking.
Disneyland with the Death Penalty - Regards an article of the same name written by William Gibson in 1993.