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Singapore’s example

“In the Singaporean case, economic growth has proved to be an upshot of cultural values; it requires a critical mass of the population to hold a certain moral and political psychology, and a particular set of dispositions about enterprise and industry, risk, and change. Cultural values are sticky, and to change them, some moment of acute crisis, when it appears that the costs of continuing down a certain path are greater than shifting course, is required. Yet while crises are necessary for cultural change, they are not sufficient: they represent moments of maximal opportunity, though they must be exploited. And for this, skilled politicians with judgement and a strategy are required.”

James Vitali

15 comments to Singapore’s example

  • Kirk

    The really amazing thing about reading these brilliant little pieces of thinking is that the usual set of dumbasses pontificating in them really have zero idea of what they speak about.

    …economic growth has proved to be an upshot of cultural values; it requires a critical mass of the population to hold a certain moral and political psychology, and a particular set of dispositions about enterprise and industry, risk, and change.

    Really, Mr. Vitali? How, pray tell, do you propose to identify these “cultural dispositions” in any meaningful way, and then somehow magically impart them to another population? What mechanism do you propose to use, in order to inculcate them into the population of Britain? Re-education camps, perhaps? Mass brainwashing…?

    Let’s be brutally honest here: These assholes have zero idea about how Britain got into the mess it’s in, right now, and no idea at all how to effectively get out of it. All this blather is just that… Blather. You want to fix the UK’s multitudinous “issues”? You’d better go back a few hundred years and analyze just what the hell went wrong during the latter stages of the Industrial Revolution, and onwards. That’s where the roots are, and those are the things you need to address.

    I’ve no idea what to do in order to “fix” these things, and neither does this arsehole. All he can do is point at Singapore, which will likely be entering its own decaying senescence era sometime in the next century, and advocate copying them; never mind that the underlying culture is totally different, and the fact that trying to graft that onto the UK would likely result in revolution and the need to replace a large chunk of the population.

    What worked for the UK during the early 19th Century won’t work now; conditions have changed, assumptions are no longer valid. What works in Singapore today likely won’t translate to Britain, and to propose trying to copy them is idiocy on stilts.

    But, this is the same crap we’ve been hearing since forever, with these assholes. Remember how “Japan, Inc.” was going to rule the world? All the predictions about Brazil? The ones that keep receding ever further into the future?

    Raw fact is, these people do not know in any meaningful way what “went wrong”, and have no idea how to go about “fixing” anything; all they can do is point enviously at other people who’re successful, and advocate for copying them. And, I’ll point out that it’s no damn accident that all the examples they love to point at are entirely statist sorts of solutions, with MITI in Japan being lauded as the creator of Japanese wealth and success, and just like with Krugman, they love them some CCP total economic control.

    They’re never going to look in the mirror and acknowledge that a large part of the problem is that they don’t know what they’re already doing with their interventions, that those interventions are 90% of the damn problem, and that they should never, ever be listened to by anyone with a lick of sense.

    I’ll point out that the love affair that these assholes always seem to have going is with large-scale statist despotisms, and despite Singapore being an economic success, that’s what it really is at the roots. An authoritarian despotism, run by benign technocratic dictators, who’ve been successful so far in their Southeast Asian niche. How long that’s going to continue is anyone’s guess, but I doubt you could copy/paste Singapore over onto the UK absent doing a total population and cultural replacement.

    There are answers out there to the UK’s problems, but I highly doubt that they include wholesale adoption of Singapore’s policies and procedures. They’re obviously “right” for Singapore at this historical moment, but… Transpose them to your own society at your own risk.

    The tourist-philosophers that go overseas, see something, and then start espousing it for their own nations generally lack any sort of deep understanding of what they’re looking at, and fail to comprehend how hard it would be to actually implement. It’s like people seeing Japan’s low crime rates, and saying “Why can’t we have those…?”, while ignoring all the unfortunate features that go into those low crime rates which we wouldn’t tolerate. Want a local police box, that you have to report to when changing address? Want everyone in your business? That’s the price for your low crime rate… Nothing comes for free.

  • Paul Marks

    No Kirk – cultural values that worked in the early 19th century, such as hard work, honesty, saving for the future, and looking after your children, will work now – and in any “historical period”. That is why, for example, Utah (or South Dakota – it is not a Mormon thing) basically works as a society – and New York (which has rejected traditional values) increasingly does not work.

    The land on the Pine Ridge reservation is not (contrary to the lies of falsely named “liberals”) really different from other land in South Dakota – it is the culture and the economic practices, specifically the communal ownership of land under elected tribal councils, that is different. Collectivism under the Act of 1934 does not work – it produces poverty and misery, it is bad economically and it is bad for society (for the culture).

    The “cultural revolution” in much of the West which pushes such things as dishonesty (indeed the denial that objective truth even exists) and laziness (claiming that wealth is a sign of “exploitation” and “oppression” was not some natural social evolution – it was deliberately pushed, and it is (as intended) having terrible effects.

    The problem with Singapore is that it is missing one of the traditional values – children. They are not reproducing.

    As for the general question – the great debate in economics the late 19th century was between the German “Historical School” and the Austrian School – the latter arguing that there were certain principles of economics that were universally true, not subject to “historical period”.

    The German Historical School was very useful for such people as the American Pragmatists and British Fabians (neither group was made up of Jews – people who blame “the Jews” for the decline of the West, please note) as their statism violated the laws of economics – so they welcomed a School of Thought that denied that there are laws of economics.

    Good intentions do not make such things as New York rent control a good idea – it is a bad idea because it violates basic economic law, specifically that prices (and rents and wages are prices) should be determined by supply and demand – not government edicts.

    The same is true of high taxation and high government spending – these are bad ideas, and good intentions do not make them good ideas. That they will lead to a worse economy than would otherwise have been the case is economic law – and good intentions can not change.

    And, yes, fiat money and credit bubble finance are bad economic ideas – they violate economic law, they benefit a few people at the expense of everyone else (they are the real “exploitation and oppression”) and places that depend on such a monetary and financial system – such as New York City, are going to fall.

  • Marius

    Singapore’s economic and social policies were heavily influenced by the UK, so there is no reason to suppose some of its policies can’t be applied to the UK, even though it has changed from the nation which influenced Lee Kuan Yew. I’ve not heard anyone who suggests we can learn from Singapore arguing that we ought to become Singapore.

    Japan didn’t end up ruling the world but I can assure you that they don’t look jealously at the US and Europe. Freedom comes in many forms. The freedom to wear a nice watch in public. The freedom of knowing your teenage daughter can walk home safely at night.

    The most significant change in the US and Europe in the past 30 years has been an erosion of freedom and the rise of incompetent technocrats who appear to despise their nation, so we’re not in a great position to slate the Japanese or Singaporean way. Especially now banana republic lawfare is standard practice in the US. Makes the Singaporean president suing critics for slander look rather benign.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Marius and Paul: spot on. Kirk: oh dear.

    Lee was heavily influenced by a certain view.’, an image, of the best in British culture. I’ve read about his upbringing and education.

    What Kirk omits is the author’s point about Mrs Thatcher’s focus on culture and character. She understood what the late Shirley Robin Letwin called the “vigorous virtues”: hard work, enterprise, thrift, educational excellence and thirst for knowledge, respect for parents, love of family.

    And all underpinned by belief in liberty and equality before the law.

    I find Kirk’s use of terms in describing this article very wrong. Oh well, such is life.

  • Kirk

    The three subsequent commenters to my post had the point of it breeze right by the tops of their heads… Likely, they never even heard the wheet as it did.

    You’ve all got the entirety of what I’m saying wrong. The point that I’m making is that you do not just “graft” Singapore onto Britain, and expect it to work. Just like grafting “Europe” onto Asia of the 18th and 19th Century did not work… Out of all the attempts, the only one that “worked”, for any real given value, was Meiji Japan. And, pray tell, why was that?

    Because the Japanese did it mostly on their own, picking and choosing what they wanted and what worked for them, on their own. There was no “top down” imposition of things done by foreign powers that also tried to retain their new positions of primacy.

    Japan wanted to change, and did what it had to on its own terms. What we’re discussing here is the difference between trying to intervene in an alcoholic’s life and “fix” him from without, and what happens when said alcoholic hits rock bottom and decides to fix himself all on his own. Which is generally more effective?

    Singapore is a society that found itself in a very bad place after WWII, and like El Salvador today, everyone living there came to the conclusion that something had to change. So, they changed: Now, posit that change being imposed by outside force, before those populations almost universally “hit rock bottom”, where the consensus was that the things being done were not existential necessities. Imagine the result if El Salvador’s policies were imposed by, say, the United States or someone else that wasn’t indigenous El Salvadoran…?

    Do you get my point? Britain, like any other state, needs its own solutions that are unique to Britain, and ones they arrive at themselves. You try to copy everything about Singapore, without that near-universal recognition by everyone involved that there’s a problem that must be addressed…? It ain’t going to work. For one thing, the solutions that worked for Singapore aren’t likely to work as they did there, because the underlying conditions and culture simply are not there to support it.

    Most of you are entirely too confident you know what you’re doing; you speak platitudes about “change”, but you’ve no idea at all how to actually determine what needs changing, or how to effectively go about it. Say you want to copy Singaporean education policies and practices… How do you propose to get the parents to treat the teachers and their schools with the same reverence and deference that the Singaporean teachers expect as an automatic right? Similarly, how would you go about transferring all the good things about Finland’s education system onto a British social system? You can’t just mouth the platitudes about it all, and call it good: How do you do it?

    That’s the problem with all of these assholes; they go somewhere, look around at what’s on the surface, and utterly fail to observe or understand what goes into those things easily visible to an outsider. Japan, for example, looks lovely when you’re there for a month or two, but when you’ve lived there and know the realities that go into all that loveliness, like the intrusive police presence, and the utter lack of restraint once you’re “justice involved”? Ever seen the figures on conviction rates, in Japan? You get charged, you’re guilty. Regardless of the merits of your case… All that lovely Japanese culture comes at a price, and its one that you’d never pay willingly, were someone to come up and say “Let’s make Britain Japan…”

    All of these things are far more complex than these envy-mongers make them out to be, and if you want to really “fix” anything in your home society, you’d better be damn careful and fully cognizant of just what you’re copying–Or, it will never take, and if it does, you likely won’t like that which results.

  • Paul Marks

    I see Kirk – what you are saying is that the state can not dramatically improve culture.

    I think you are correct about that – I do not think that Lee in Singapore really changed the culture, he inherited a traditional Chinese culture of hard work and family values and ran with it, in Hong Kong and Taiwan it was much the same – without the state stressing the culture.

    What was good about these governments is not that they changed the culture – but that they did not ruin the culture.

    And politicians and officials (and teachers and so on) did ruin the culture in the United States and United Kingdom.

    It is hard (perhaps impossible) for the state to improve the culture – but very easy for the state to CORRUPT the culture. For example take someone from Philadelphia in, say, 1960 – and put them in the city right now, they would think they were in some nightmare.

    In a society that works one does not need “skilled politicians” – indeed it is “skilful” (cunning) politicians and officials who can do really terrible harm.

    Take the example of Mayor Wagner of New York City, or President Johnson of the United States (an incredibly skilful politician – whose Great Society programs did terrible harm, horribly twisting the culture, the society).

    The Chinese Taoists said the job of government was to leave people alone – and make sure that private bandits left people alone as well. That is what Lycrophon argued in Ancient Greece – and he was correct, and Aristotle, who argued that government could morally improve people, make them “just and good”, was mistaken, deeply mistaken.

    As Prime Minister Gladstone put it – of one thing I am certain, it is not by the action of the state that the morality of the people can be improved.

    Although (Paul would add) the action of the state can ruin (corrupt and destroy) the character of the people.

  • Kirk

    You’ve also got the perfect example of what happened with Margaret Thatcher’s Britain before you, as well. Maggie tried, she did… But… What happened? Did her attempts work?

    The woman is still hated to this very day by a wide swathe of childish Britons who fail to understand what she was doing. And, I’d submit that there wasn’t any other outcome that was going to happen, after nearly a century-plus of state interventions and bribery of the population.

    All of this “cultural” stuff is far more complex than most even begin to comprehend. El Salvador, for example…? They’re running on a set of cultural software that is entirely A-OK with the sorts of interventions that Bukele is making. For now… Remains to be seen how long his work lasts. It may, it may not…

    My objection to all this “tourism” is that the track record for it is ‘effing horrible. People are still running off the bullshit that Dewey brought back from Europe, back in the day, the supposed “rigid Prussian authoritarian education system”, when in actual point of fact, there was really no such thing in the real world. Dewey and his followers along that vein went to Europe, saw what they wanted to see in what was there, ignored the reality, and then brought back the projections to impose as “copies of the successful European systems”. They grabbed the smoke and left the fire, to coin a metaphor.

    All of this crap is a lot more complicated than these simplistic autists make it out to be. They’re usually guilty of being simpletons, themselves, and try to impose their own sense of things onto situations where they’ve not even begun to comprehend the realities. Dewey, for example? The asshole never taught class in any German school, or stuck around for more than the usual tour run by his fellow sort of administrative idiot. It’s always a wonder to me, how these tourist types always seem to find a simpatico informant that just happens to agree with their every word, and supports what they’re doing emphatically. It’s like they find each other, and were you to talk to the peer group of said idjit, they’d likely tell you that the guy talking to the tourist is someone that they all universally despise and do their best to distract/sideline with bullshit tasks like squiring around the tourists that show up…

    It’s exactly the same syndrome that has the parasites shuffled off into administration and management; the real skilled and proficient people in the organization are too damn busy trying to get the mission done, than to play the games necessary. You almost never find a really good teacher going into school administration… And, who does? The failed teachers, ‘cos they don’t fit in out on the floor of the classrooms.

    Beware of all these types, the ones that think things are simple and easily “fixed”. Like as not, the only reason they think the things they do is because they’ve got a radically flawed idea of what is going on in the first damn place.

    The end result for Thatcher’s Britain is a cautionary tale; were the woman the genius that many think, nobody would have resisted what she was doing, and she’d have been more successful at righting things. As it was, she was likely more right than wrong, but the manner in which she tried to effectuate change made her ideas and changes anathema.

    Which ain’t to say I’d do any better. I would probably still be being burnt in effigy, had I been in her place. Some things are just not amenable to change, until they really hit rock bottom. During Thatcher’s era, not enough people were on board with her about that very issue… They still thought that the train was on the right track, and just needed a little work, not wholesale replacement.

  • Stonyground

    When you made the point that the population at large needed to want change in order for it to happen, Britain in 1979 came to mind for me. Thatcher’s unpopularity was easy to understand when a significant slice of the population had no understanding of how the UK economy was totally in the toilet and how sorting the mess out was going to be tough. Mass unemployment, especially when concentrated in specific areas, was bound to make the government unpopular. I can’t really see how the make-work inefficiency of all the state run industries could be dealt with without putting people out of work but it needed to be done. Are we in an even worse mess now or is the situation totally different?

  • Martin

    I can’t find the exact quote but there’s a saying that Margaret Thatcher wanted to revive in society the values of her greengrocer and Methodist preacher father Alfred but what we got were the values of her scandal ridden playboy son Mark instead. It’s perhaps unfair on Mrs Thatcher, who did have some impressive political achievements. But I think there’s some truth in it. She certainly wasn’t able revive the bourgeois pre-war values she admired in any widespread sense.

    Admittedly we are in a much worse position now as almost three decades of mass immigration have means cultural cohesion is increasingly non-existent.You only have to look at our current Prime Minister. He’s from a hard working, successful background, yet his behaviour the other day in Normandy illustrates he just sees being British as a passport and an opportunity.

  • Stonyground

    She did come out with that classic quote about socialists always failing when they run out of other people’s money.

  • Kirk

    What I have to marvel at is the insouciant way that all these self-proclaimed “genius” types spend a few weeks in a different country, develop a certainty that they’ve sussed out the entire proposition behind that society’s “success”, and then come home to declaim that they’ve been to the mount, have seen the light, heard the speech from God himself, and here are the tablets…

    Has this ever worked, anywhere?

    The only example I can think of, Meiji Japan, the thing that makes it different from the rest of the pack is that the Japanese themselves were the ones seeking change and improvement, not just some random outsiders or specific “visionary” leaders. In Meiji Japan, the Emperor was worshipped as a god; he said “We must modernize and change…” and everyone got on board. Along with that, the Japanese went out and looked at things, saw what worked, tried them out, and if they didn’t work in Japanese context… They dropped them. To this day, the Japanese are incredible culture adopters and modifiers; it may be that that was their defining feature, for whatever reason.

    The equivalent for Thatcher’s Britain would have been as if she’d been the Emperor, said “Change must happen; this isn’t working…”, and then a whole horde of Britons went out into the world, looking for examples to adopt as improvements.

    That ain’t what happened, now is it?

    There are ways to do these things, but they’re not going to be imposed from without or from within absent consensus and assent to the necessary changes being made. You can do a lot with molten metal, but once the stuff starts to cool and solidify? You’re not changing sh*t until you melt it again… The molten state is analogous to crisis; during it, you can accomplish a lot if everyone is on-board with it. Once the matrix congeals, you’re pretty much stuck with the status quo it froze at.

    No idea what needs to be done to “reform” Britain, or the US. I’d start by removing as many state interventions in things as I could, however: Each and every one of those “fixes” represents a bit of frozen congealed crap, impeding improvement. I defy anyone to convince me that we’re better off with Obamacare or the NHS than we’d be without either one. Both amount to permanent static structures sucking up resources to administer a decreasing amount of value going into actual health care. My mother’s oncologist spends more time filling out paperwork, despite dedicated staff that are supposed to be taking the load off of him, than he does treating patients. This is a good idea? Really?

    It’s the same, everywhere. The government gets involved, and you’re suddenly forced to spend more time creating and submitting the classic “TPS Report” than you are performing your actual function… We’re drowning in a sea of red tape and bureaucratic overreach. Witness SpaceX, for example: Beholden to numpties in the FAA and elsewhere that are doing their level best to impede them from progressing, and they’d be happiest if they could simply stop all progress in the name of expanding their little bureaucratic empires.

    The problems we have are in the proliferation of all these little numpty-nump jobsworthies throughout society. You try to innovate as a teacher? Someone will be along shortly to put a stop to it, never mind whether or not you’re doing the kiddoes any good at all…

  • Paul Marks

    Kirk – Margaret Thatcher did some good, not as much good as she wanted to do – but some.

    As for being hated – if the evil do not hate you, you are not doing your job.

    But you were talking about culture – society.

    And the bitter truth is that although there was some (some) economic reform – society (the culture) was actually less conservative in 1990 than had been in 1979, with such things as the decline of marriage and the decline of both religious and secular fraternal institutions.

    Although that decline in society, cultural decline, started long (very long) before 1979. And it is certainly NOT true that the economic reform (the modest roll back of the state) was the cause of continued societial (cultural) decline.

    In my home town we could chart the decline physically – for example NOT by the replacement of buildings (that has always happened in history), but by the replacement of attractive buildings by buildings that were ugly.

    That started in my town in 1960 (on a Sunday morning).

  • Paul Marks

    In the 19th century the Prime Minister who achieved the most, won the Napoleonic Wars, restored gold money, abolished income tax, removed the death penalty for many crimes….. was Lord Liverpool.

    Lord Liverpool was also the most hated Prime Minister – and there were many conspiracies to murder him.

    If you are not taking flack you are not not over the target.

  • Stonyground

    Norman Tebbit famously said don’t judge me by my friends, judge me by my enemies, I’m very proud of my enemies.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    @ Martin, the crack about Mark Thatcher is a good line of the sort you might get on the ghastly Have I Got News For You, but it also misses a point, as such gags do. If you give people more freedom to engage in commerce, to trade with others, and feel no longer ashamed about having wealth, then clearly some of those who take advantage will not be particularly wholesome people, even if they obey the law. (Of course, criminals should be prosecuted, but that’s a given.) But the vulgar excesses of a market are proof of life; they also are inevitable and far preferable to the slow-motion death of socialism. And under socialism, the sort of chancers who thrive do so by the pursuit of power over others, or they gravitate to black markets because opportunities for honest profit are closed off. I’ll take the vulgarity of British capitalism, Essex Man and all, over the refined uselessness of what preceded it.

    The old Dr Samuel Johnson line about how a man is never so innocently employed than in the making of money was well put. And about the same time as the great chap made those comments, Voltaire observed the following of the London Stock Exchange. It is particularly well meant in these days of cultural angst:

    “Go into the London Stock Exchange – a more respectable place than many a court – and you will see representatives from all nations gathered together for the utility of men. Here Jew, Mohammedan and Christian deal with each other as though they were all of the same faith, and only apply the word infidel to people who go bankrupt. Here the Presbyterian trusts the Anabaptist and the Anglican accepts a promise from the Quaker. On leaving these peaceful and free assemblies some go to the Synagogue and others for a drink, this one goes to be baptized in a great bath in the name of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, that one has his son’s foreskin cut and has some Hebrew words he doesn’t understand mumbled over the child, others go to heir church and await the inspiration of God with their hats on, and everybody is happy.”

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