Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Primer for a Productive Dictatorship

Courtesy of Lee Kuan Yew, who's been on my mind for some days now what with the turmoil in Pakistan, Kenya, and Lebanon. To say nothing of the virtual civil war ongoing in the Palestinian non-state.

Lee said that when the former British colony became fully independent in 1965 it faced tough challenges, as did many other former colonized countries. He said he learned from the failed policies of countries such as India, Pakistan, Ghana and Nigeria. Many new nations believed that the way to prosperity was state planning of the economy with socialist states being seen as models, he said. But the third world leaders who had demolished old regimes did not take into account "that building a new order demanded different capabilities."

For Lee, economic viability was top priority. Lee described how he reached beyond his immediate neighbors to export to Europe and America, ultimately attracting US computer companies. He said his strategy was to "turn Singapore, a third world island, into a first-world oasis," by establishing up-to-date facilities in communications and transportation.

Lee has been credited for handling of Singapore’s multi-racial population. The country’s population was mixed with a population that was 77 percent Chinese, 14 percent Malay-Muslims and 8 percent Indian.

"Without a cohesive people at peace with each other, development is not possible," he said. Singapore dealt with the diverse populations by encouraging everyone to learn two languages, English and their mother tongue.

"To produce results, we had to shape the administration into an effective instrument of policy," he said. In order to have a clean and effective government, Lee said government requires complete accountability and open separateness between personal assets and public funds. Corruption he said had to be eradicated.

As a leader, Lee said he learned to ignore political correctness when it did not accord with his own experience. In the 1960s and 70’s, it was politically correct to be anti-American. He rejected this because the US had the "capital, technology, know-how and markets."

On the other hand, he said, it is a mistake to follow the idea that "democracy is the precondition for economic development." Western idealogues argued that without democracy, Russia could not develop a free market.

"I know this is heresy at Harvard in Cambridge," Lee said." But Russia could not develop a free market with or without democracy. Good government should never be shackled by theories however attractive and logically elegant."