Bryan Caplan  

I'm Going to See Singapore for Myself!

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Hold-to-Maturity Pricing... The Experts Strike Back...

After many posts about Singapore, I'm finally going to see it first-hand. I'll arrive on 11/16 and leave on 11/24, with a side trip to Kuala Lumpur toward the end.

Besides giving talks, I'll also be doing some field work. My biggest (and potentially most sensitive) question: Do Singaporeans actually support their uniquely efficient policies? An earlier study found that Hong Kongers are statist at heart; are Singaporeans any different? My suspicion is that the source of Singapore's success is not the public's unusually high economic literacy, but its unusual deference to economically literate elites. Will experience confirm my suspicions?

P.S. If any EconLog readers want to meet up in Singapore or KL, email me.


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COMMENTS (13 to date)
Steve Sailer writes:

My impression is that the Lee family is not terribly libertarian. For example, in the early 1980s, they ordered all employers to raise wages 30% to drive Singapore out of low-wage industries like textiles and into higher wage industries like manufacturing.

david writes:

If you've got some time to spare, go to an MRT station - any one - and buy an EZLINK card (basically an electronic ticket for the trains and buses. And strangely, McDonald's...).

Then potter around the public housing areas a bit. The sense of sheer organisation is impressive, at least. I was told that the National Parks Board catalogues every tree outside the reserves for pruning and maintenance.

In any case studying the Lee family too closely is misleading; a better approach would be to examine the bureaucrats serving under them. The Goh and Lee HL administration. are much more decentralised than the Lee KY generation.

david writes:

[Comment removed for supplying false email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog.--Econlib Ed.]

Methinks writes:

Your suspicions mirror our suspicions (myself and my husband's). Our Singaporean friends are surprisingly statist - mostly because their government is so economically literate. If one must live with statism (and it seems one must), I think I would prefer Singapore's version. We have seriously discussed moving to Singapore.

It will be very interesting to read your impressions. Also, watch out for the giant flying roaches. Not pretty.

Eric writes:

Dang, I'll probably be away from Singapore in November.

In my experience, there is very little talk about government policy among Singaporeans except for griping about the road tax system.

Venkat writes:

I was born and brought up in India and came to Singapore a little over 10 years ago by way of U.S.A and Canada. Initially was dismissive of Singapore's spectacular success, as many from outside do, attributing it to what I thought were due to its benevolently totalitarian and economically enlightened regime. I don't hold that view anymore. What is going on here is a lot more nuanced and sophisticated for me to articulate reasonably here and I hope you can see that for yourself on your visit here. Do post your schedule of public talks in Singapore if any.

johnleemk writes:

Awww, just as I'd left KL to go back to the US. Do check out KL as well; as a Malaysian I like to think of us as what Singapore would be if it wasn't governed by terribly efficient bureaucrats. In particular, government subsidies of the auto manufacturing industry and equivalent tariffs on foreign auto imports mean that the cities are jammed with lousy local and overpriced cars.

I wonder how much Singapore's mythology helps their deference to experts and meritocratic assignment of bureacratic power. Breaking off from Malaysia because of Malaysian pro-Malay discrimination against more qualified Chinese and other ethnic numerical minorities.

tntlus writes:

to steve, I don't think it is possible to frame the policies in Singapore in a neat term (libertarian or any other term). In any case, the misguided policy of high wages in the 1980s backfired and resulted in a more flexible wage system. At least the leadership backed down when it had to.

bryan is probably right in that the leadership and bureaucrats have high economic literacy, while the populace do exhibit some deference. However the public is quite aware that some of the policies here are unique and support them because the results do show. The countries around the region here don't provide any better alternatives. While there are gripes on the details and efficiency, not much is heard on removing the policies as a whole.

Sundeep writes:

Is there any chance you'll be coming down to HK during the trip? Alex Tabarrok came over a few months ago and it'd be great to see another GMU econ blogger.

Anyway, have fun in Singapore. I wonder what your reaction will be to the ERP system.

Ian writes:

Some things that are not "uniquely efficient":

- no private buses
- high taxes on owning cars. A USD $30k car can cost around USD $80k in Singapore. As a result, Singaporeans own cars of poorer quality and safety than they might otherwise choose. The taxes should be on driving (the ERP is great, but underutilized), not on owning a car.
- 80-90% of Singaporeans live in public housing offered at deep discounts to housing built by private developers. Singaporeans scheme to get public housing like New Yorkers scheme to get rent-controlled apartments.
- There are three phone/cable/internet providers in Singapore. Their prices are all the same. I have no evidence, but I'm guessing the government doesn't allow new entrants.

Ian writes:

A couple more:

- two-year, full-time, mandatory military service upon turning 18, with periodic service requirements until age 40-50. This probably doesn't aid the efficient allocation of human capital in the labor market.

- tap water has no price even though Singapore is chronically short of it.

Eric writes:

>> high taxes on owning cars. A USD $30k car can cost around USD $80k in Singapore. As a result, Singaporeans own cars of poorer quality and safety than they might otherwise choose.

Nope. The large car registration fee makes new cars relatively cheaper than used cars. The registration last for ten years. By the tenth year, people buy new cars rather than buy a new registration for their old car. Most cars that are 10 years old are shipped overseas to other markets.

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