BAN chewing gum and spitting. Now there’s something our authoritarian nanny-in-chief, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, can learn from one of the world’s most successful leaders, Lee Kuan Yew. Lee’s death at the age of 91 last week is the perfect excuse for which Motsoaledi has been waiting to justify intensified draconian control. It legitimises control of every aspect of our lives. After LKY, as he was known, banned chewing gum and spitting, his country became one the world’s most spectacular successes.
Read Leon Louw’s latest column Civil control offset by economic freedom first published in BDlive yesterday.
LKY’s suppression of civil liberties spawned the myth that Singapore’s economic policy was interventionist. According to Fareed Zakaria, for instance: “Its economics system favours free markets and free trade, but with the government playing a large role.” But the government played no such role. Apart from limiting civil liberties, LKY introduced economic policies that turned Singapore’s economy into the freest of any country, according to indices of economic systems.
Singapore faced much greater obstacles than SA. It started poorer, with more intergroup conflict. It has no resources, whereas we are one of the world’s most resource-rich countries. Its population had less wealth, literacy and education. No one could have predicted that LKY’s mix of economic freedom and civil authoritarianism would catapult Singapore to the top of the pile.
Free-market denialists and Big Brother fundamentalists, faced with such overwhelming evidence against a “greater role for government”, spew spurious nonsense in their search for socialistic explanations. Singapore’s prosperity is, they say, due to whatever interventions there might be. Their silliest favourite is to attribute its success to being small, yet most other small countries have not prospered. Would big countries prosper if fragmented? Like Zakaria, most commentators assume that Singapore’s authoritarianism extends to the economy. If that were so, other authoritarian countries would prosper.
In addition to free market policies, LKY enforced three “principles of governance”: integrity, especially the absence of corruption; meritocracy, a best-person-for-the-job policy instead of affirmative action, despite immense initial inequalities; and a level playing field.