The Singapore Argument—is it really good governance that made them prosperous?
First of all, I would like to refer you to a previous discussion in a libertarian community in LiveJournal dated April of last year regarding the same topic (http://bit.ly/hLW0SH). This is from my old blog and it shows that this is something I really encounter a lot even in normal everyday conversations: the sentiment that Singapore is prosperous because of their big authoritative government and that the same thing is needed here in our country.
Me and my mom during our visit to Singapore in 2009
This is also where I learned about the Index of Economic Freedom where they rank countries based on how economically free it is. In the 2011 index, Singapore remains to be the second most economically free country in the world next only to Hong Kong. It only takes 3 days to start a business in Singapore compared to the world average of 34 days, they say. Here in the Philippines, there are so many procedures, requirements, fees, and other red tapes that are very burdensome to potential entrepreneurs and unattractive to foreign investors. Of course this could all be avoided or bypassed by paying under-the-table fees and having the right connections (connection-ism is a prevalent political philosophy in the Philippines).
Transparency International ranks Singapore as the third least corrupt out of 180 countries in their 2009 index. This is due to transparency in government spending and anti-corruption laws; constraints on government and not because their bureaucrats are benevolent.
I also find it interesting that people find Singapore's restrictions on freedom of assembly and of speech as acceptable or somehow attribute their discipline and peace to these suppressions of civil liberties. If anything, it is the market that's protecting them. For instance, Singapore cannot copy China's authoritative regulations on the internet because it may as well cause their economy to collapse as many businesses are thriving because of social media. A good example of how a liberalized market economy can prevent bureaucrats from abusing power.
Some even attribute Singapore's prosperity to the geography, saying that they are prosperous because they are a port city. It's interesting though that the Philippines has so many islands and ports that can potentially be as prosperous as Hong Kong or Singapore but what we must understand is that we have to implement pro-market reforms in order to achieve that.
It is very possible for our country to be as prosperous as Singapore, but what we have to copy is their liberalized market economy and not their atrocities on civil liberties. We have to be business-friendly and inviting to foreign investment and lessen or abolish trade restrictions and tariffs while maintaining inalienable liberties of individuals.
The solutions proposed by libertarians are clear and concrete whereas the statists and planners would rather gamble on the chance that bureaucrats will be benevolent or that their interventions will lead to positive outcomes.
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