The Fine City of Singapore

I’ve heard a few times libertarian types singing the praises of Singapore. I heard another on RT the other night (which probably indicates I need to stop listening to RT!). One of the arguments they put forward is that if the West keeps up with the whole “central planning” and “regulation” and the high taxes, the rich will leave and they’ll head for places like Singapore.

Now while I happen to agree that this is a risk of a movement of capital in future from the US and Europe to places like Singapore and Middle East business hubs such as Dubai or Qatar, I think the reasons for this are not what the libertarians think it is.

There are many reasons why anyone chooses to live in one country or another. The weather (some like hot weather, others don’t), the people (e.g. you’ve married someone from Thailand and decided to move there, or they’ve moved to Britain), factors related to a specific industry (I don’t think manufacturers of winter jackets get much trade in Singapore!), ease of travel and yes then issues related to tax and government policy.

As I’ve mentioned before (see here and here) one of the reasons why many foreign billionaires are seeking to keep a foothold in the UK (or Europe or America) is that they see these Western countries as their bolt hole in the event of a crisis back home, plus the fact that presently the bulk of global trade is conducted in Europe and in the US.

Indeed I was watching an online film today which showed the enormous influence of the the Chicago Board of trade and similar trade bodies on grain and cereal prices. Similarly markets in places like NY, Rotterdam, London, Zurich and Frankfurt have a huge influence on global capitalism and its hardly a surprise that many of the rich want to keep a shoe in.

Asking them to pay a little more in tax or imposing some reasonable regulations on these markets to prevent the sort of abuses thrown up by the LIBOR scandal or the crash of 2007 isn’t going to send the rich rushing for the exit doors (at least those trying to make an honest wage anyway, and I’d argue we’re better off driving the dishonest one’s out of town :wave: ).

A fine city
Indeed part of the problem here is that Libertarians have something of a warped view of Singapore as some sort of libertarian ideal. Clearly they’ve never actually been to the place. Tourists and locals often joke that Singapore is “a fine city“. A double entrée, as it is indeed a fine city, but its also run by a very authoritarian regime and the cops will arrest and fine you for the slightest transgression.

For example, crossing the street anywhere but a designating crossing point is considered jaywalking in Singapore (even small side streets with no traffic!), as is swearing (a law no doubt dreamt up to run us Irish off the Island! :))) running on side-walks, dancing in public, chewing gum, urinating in a lift (this one’s not really a surprise, other than the fact they’ve actually gone to the trouble of passing such a law!), talking politics with a taxi driver (imagine trying to impose this one in London! |-|), carrying a knife of any kind (I almost got done for this at the airport as I had a small…and I mean less than inch long blade… pen knife buried in my bag! :no:), feeding the birds (not tuppence a bag!) or eating food on public transport are all among the all examples of petty by-laws in Singapore too numerous to mention.

And as far as drugs are concerned (a number of libertarians are very keen on Cannabis legalisation), Singapore has extremely harsh drug laws, including the death penalty for being caught with amounts that won’t necessarily earn you a prison sentence in the UK. And gay rights? Ah? no such thing!

While Singapore is nominally democratic, the same party has been in power since 1959, longer than many dictatorships. Furthermore, public speaking is not allowed without a permit, although they do have the equivalent of a “speakers corner“. However, the libel laws in the country are such that politicians often take people who speak out against them to court and sue them, which sort of means you need to watch what you say. Needless to say Amnesty International are not impressed with Singapore. The 2006 Freedom in the world index put Singapore 5 out of a 7 point scale (7 being North Korea!) and they’ve never rated below 4.

And if you want to talk about that bugbear of libertarians “central planning” (don’t scream!) well a quick walk around Singapore’s harbour area (where when I was there they were working on a number of massive building projects) will show the sort of government central planning that Beijing or Pyongyang would be proud of. Oh, and they have compulsory national service for all men….those overweight have to do an extra few months to help loose a few pounds (work that ass Private Pile! 😥 ).

The real reasons why some of the world’s wealthy are flocking to Singapore are in fact entirely the opposite reasons that Libertarians suppose. Quite a number of the rich want an authoritarian regime. For if you’re rich enough and can afford to buy political influence, then this is the sort of place you can do business without a load of pleb’s bringing up their “rights” and stuff. The low tax regime and the increasing importance of trade via Singapore (which sits about midway between resource rich Australia, Africa and the Middle East and manufacturing hubs in China, India and Malaysia) are indeed yet other reasons, but not the decisive ones.

Of course, as always when dealing with authoritarian regime’s I suspect a number of these non-dom’s are also keeping a house in the West to serve as the bolt hole in case things don’t quite work out.

Furthermore, one of the key mantra’s of libertarianism is that economic freedom goes hand in hand with political freedom. However, Singapore, Dubai and other such business hub’s suggest the opposite is true. And even then only for the privileged and the wealthy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to slag off Singapore. Despite the loss of my pen knife, I actually enjoyed my time there (word of advice, do try a Singapore Sling, but not in the Raffles Hotel, overpriced and not as good as you’ll get in many other bars). Although personally its not the sort of place I’d want to live…. notably due to the heat! Plus I might feel the urge one day to go for a jog, across the middle of a street, while chewing gum & smoking and talking about politics to a taxi driver caught in traffic :)).

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One thought on “The Fine City of Singapore

  1. Pingback: The death of democracy? | daryanblog

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