What We Can Learn from Singapore

In March of last year, my wife and I spent ten wonderful days in China as part of a group meeting with church and business leaders. It was an unforgettable experience. I told a group of Chinese students at a church service that I was bringing some of China back with me. Our hosts — from Hong Kong to Shanghai and Nanjing to Beijing — kept us well fed as I patted my stomach.

Economic growth is astounding. Cranes and skyscrapers were going up everywhere. How much of what is going on in China is an economic bubble that will soon burst, I cannot say.

In our many excursions by cars, vans, and buses, I got to speak to a number of Christian leaders who were filling us in on what’s going on in the Malay Peninsula and Indochina Peninsula regions, in particular Singapore and Vietnam. The economies in both countries are booming.

What’s happening in Singapore was the first to catch my attention. Most Americans know little about Singapore except for its punishment by caning. “A convicted male criminal who is between the ages of 18 and 50 and has been certified medically fit by a medical officer may be subjected to judicial caning.” Michael Fay was an American who gained international notoriety when he was sentenced to be caned as an 18-year-old in 1994 for theft and vandalism. He received four strokes across his bare buttocks.

There’s no doubt that the laws and customs of Singapore are different from the United States and other Western nations. The most interesting thing about Singapore is its economy. Consider the following:

Along with Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan, Singapore is one of the original Four Asian Tigers. The Singaporean economy is known as one of the freest, most innovative, most competitive, and most business-friendly. The 2011 Index of Economic Freedom ranks Singapore as the second freest economy in the world, behind Hong Kong. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index, Singapore is consistently ranked as one of the least corrupt countries in the world, along with New Zealand and the Scandinavian countries. . . .

The percentage of unemployed economically active people above age 15 is about 2%. Singapore has the world’s highest percentage of millionaire households, with 15.5 percent of all households owning at least one million US dollars. Despite its relative economic success, Singapore does not have a minimum wage, believing that it would lower its competitiveness.

Here’s what I found most interesting about Singapore’s economic philosophy. “The government has rejected the idea of a generous welfare system, stating that each generation must earn and save enough for its entire life cycle.” Even so, there are a number of “means-tested ‘assistance schemes’ provided by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports in Singapore for the needy.”

If there’s one thing we in the United States can learn from Singapore is its emphasis on self-government, planning for the future for ourselves and families and not to depend on money confiscated from other people.