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Monday, March 23, 2015


Very possibly, the greatest leader of the modern age passed away this morning.  Lee Kuan Yew, founding Prime Minister of Singapore, died from pneumonia at the age of 91.  Three years ago I posted on:


Singapore split from Malaysia in 1965.  However, a current issue is that the national anthem is sung in Malay, and 80% of the citizens neither speak nor understand this language.  

The country is not an island, but 63 of them.  At 274 square miles, total, it is only slightly larger than Molokai (260 sq mi).  How, then, in these few years, did Singapore become so successful and wealthy?  There are more millionaire households here than anywhere in the world:  one of six.  Unlike Hawaii, it is the easiest place in the world to do business.

I've always thought that a benevolent dictatorship was best, and this largely explains the miracle under Lee Kuan Yew.  Mind you, the opposition party (if there really is one) might have an opposing point of view.  It is quite possible that LKY first learned how to run a country from Mauritius, of all the places. There are slightly more than 5 million living here, with 11 million transient visitors.  The population density is #3 to Macau and Monaco.  Eighty percent live in subsidized public housing, there are 1.4 mobile phone subscribers per person (imagine that) but only 10% own cars, partly because the duty alone brings the price up to 2.5 the standard cost.  But the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) is about the best in the world.  Unemployment was 1.9% last year. 

Remember the concern in Korea (1.28) and Japan (1.37) about fertility rate?  Singapore is 0.78!

Forty percent of citizens are foreigners and 74% of residents are of Chinese extraction.  As a former British colony, English is widely spoken.

While only #26 on the UN Human Development Index list, the United Kingdom is #28.  Norway is #1, Australia #2, the Netherlands #3 and the USA #4.  However, it is in education that Singapore excels.  My SIMPLE SOLUTION for Humanity touched on this country.

Click on that article for other details about Singapore, especially fine cuisine.

Anyway, I mentioned Mauritius above.  Here is another excerpt from this blog site almost five year ago:

Well, for Week Three, I was next scheduled to fly back to Paris to meet with UNESCO on the Blue Revolution, but riots had started, so, instead, by their request, I flew to Mauritius, a half an hour away, which is smaller than Reunion, but has 1.2 million people, just like Hawaii. It has a sugar industry on the edge of going bankrupt, a declining textile industry (because of China) and a smaller and smaller fishing fleet. However, there is low unemployment, religious/ethnic harmony (Lee Kuan Yew pictured on the left in his youth, evidently, some time ago, came here and copied the system for Singapore) and an inspired leadership, which has selected the Blue Revolution as their future. (A small team visited Hawaii a year later.)

A New York Times article by Seth Mydans (hope this is his photo) said it well (direct quotes are italicized):

  • He worked as a translator and engaged in black market trading during the Japanese occupation in World War II, then went to Britain, where he earned a law degree in 1949 from Cambridge University. 
  • Was prime minister from 1959 when independence was gained from Malaysia until 1990, but remained as Senior Minister, then Minister Mentor, the latter ordained by his son, Lee Hsien Loong, when he became prime minister in 2004.  I might add that, while nepotism is rampant in Singapore for Kuan Yew, Hsien Loong was a Brigadier-General, also educated at Cambridge in math and computer science and gained a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard.
  • The nation reflected the man: efficient, unsentimental, incorrupt, inventive, forward-looking and pragmatic. 
  • His “Singapore model” included centralized power, clean government and economic liberalism. But it was also criticized as a soft form of authoritarianism, suppressing political opposition, imposing strict limits on free speech and public assembly, and creating a climate of caution and self-censorship.  The commentator Cherian George  (right) described Mr. Lee’s leadership as “a unique combination of charisma and fear.”  Mr. Lee was a master of so-called “Asian values,” in which the good of society takes precedence over the rights of the individual and citizens cede some autonomy in return for paternalistic rule.
  • Generally passive in political affairs, Singaporeans sometimes chide themselves as being overly preoccupied with a comfortable lifestyle, which they sum up as the “Five C’s” — cash, condo, car, credit card, country club.
  • Even among people who knew little of Singapore, Mr. Lee was famous for his national self-improvement campaigns, which urged people to do such things as smile, speak good English and flush the toilet, but never to spit, chew gum or throw garbage off balconies.
  • Said Lee, Nobody doubts that if you take me on, I will put on knuckle-dusters and catch you in a cul-de-sac,” he said in 1994. “If you think you can hurt me more than I can hurt you, try. There is no other way you can govern a Chinese society.”
  • His stature is immense,” Catherine Lim (that's her, with Lee Hsien Loong on the right), a novelist and frequent critic of Mr. Lee, said in an interview. “This man is a statesman. He is probably too big for Singapore, on a level with Tito and de Gaulle. If they had three Lee Kuan Yews in Africa, that continent wouldn’t be in such a bad state.”The cost of his success, she said, was a lack of emotional connection.  “Everything goes tick-tock, tick-tock,” she said. “He is an admirable man, but, oh, people like a little bit of heart as well as head. He is all hard-wired.”
Perhaps Lee Kuan Yew was not a saint, but he made Singapore what it is today.  The country celebrates 50 years of freedom this year, and one of my stops on my final global adventure in the Fall will be Singapore.


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