Why is Singapore the only 'proper' country in the world

A man sleeping in a rickshaw in Esplanade Park, Singapore. Source: Photoshot/Vostock Photo

A man sleeping in a rickshaw in Esplanade Park, Singapore. Source: Photoshot/Vostock Photo

The fact that Singapore managed to shoot straight into the first world with a very rigid political system and consistently low scores in press freedom gives hope to those dreamers who wish to see economic prosperity for Russia, without significant political change.

A man sleeping in a rickshaw in Esplanade Park, Singapore. Source: Photoshot/Vostock Photo

50 years ago, Singapore became an independent state. From that moment, it was free to choose its own path and implement its own policies. The paths and policies it chose have led to unprecedented success and are now constantly scrutinized by developing states attempting to repeat the Singaporean miracle.

Russia is not an exception here. The fact that Singapore managed to shoot straight into the first world with a very rigid political system and consistently low scores in press freedom gives hope to those dreamers who wish to see economic prosperity for Russia, without significant political change. There are others, however, who prefer to disregard looking up to Singapore. These people cite the sheer size difference between the Asian city-state and Russia, which has 17 million square kilometers of land.

Both of these groups tend to forget what the Singaporean experience is actually about. I would say that it was expressed in the most concise way by one of the country’s most prominent thinkers, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Kishore Mahbubani. He describes the policy trio that propelled Singapore into the developed world as MPH - Meritocracy, Pragmatism and Honesty. It looks quite simple when you put it this way. You just have to find the best people of the nation, eliminate corruption and be utilitarian about your policies. But that's not it.

What is meant by pragmatism - and Mahbubani is very clear about it - is another word for benchmarking. Lee Kuan Yew and his followers took individual policies from those who succeeded and implemented them. Singaporean leaders made governing a process of meticulously collecting the best practices, rather than creating national myths of fostering exceptionalism. This targeted approach is what we, here in Russia, tend to forget. To fight corruption like Singapore, we do not have to be the size of Singapore. It’s action that counts.

Perhaps to some extent it was easier for the city state to compile this set of growth and development strategies precisely because it was a new state - this novelty gave the founding fathers a feeling of purity, a new beginning, a clean slate. But they turned out to be very practical about what their country should be like. Governing a state, big or small, is not about making it special, it's about making it work.

A very important point should be made about the lack of democracy or an imperfect human rights record in Singapore. Popular participation in the administrative process of a country is just the tip of the democratic iceberg. Perhaps, more important for a people-governed state is accountability of the civil servants and institutions to each other and the greater aim of improving people's lives.

After all, that is what human beings were trying to achieve when they decided to start joining in tribes and states. They believed that together they could live better than each of them by themselves. And when the government can raise living standards or claim responsibility for failing to do so, a country may be considered to be ruled by the people's interests.

We may well be looking at a state just like that.

Happy Birthday, Singapore!


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