Bryan Caplan  

Singaporean Pragmatism

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Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has joined the club of Singaporean officials who enlist me in the defense of their status quo.  From The Straits Times:

IT WAS on his first visit here in 2008 that American economist Bryan Caplan discovered a peculiarly Singaporean flavour to the word 'pragmatism'.

In the United States, he said, pragmatism was synonymous with populism. The pragmatist does not commit political suicide by force-feeding policies, no matter how sound, to a hostile public.

In Singapore, however, pragmatism takes on the exact opposite meaning. No matter what the polls say, a programme will be implemented based on a sober assessment of its merits.

The piece continues:

Mr Teo reminded his audience that, for the Government, policy came first; persuasion, second. This was its brand of pragmatism. Returning to Dr Caplan's example, he noted that in the US, not implementing congestion pricing is 'pragmatic', because it is politically difficult to do.

In Singapore however, congestion pricing is done - and it is 'pragmatic' because it is the correct thing to do, as it solves a problem. 'Then (the Government tries) to persuade the people about it.'

As I've said before, I'm no apologist for the House of Lee.  There's plenty rotten in Singapore.  They've even got conscription - which is not just unpragmatic, but barbaric.  Still, as you can see, Teo accurately explains my position.  In fact, it looks like he pulled it straight off of EconLog!


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COMMENTS (4 to date)
Philo writes:

"Teo accurately explains my position," which is that a politically dominant elite should force down the throats of the public those measures that are good for it. Now if only we could arrange for that dominant elite to consist of philosopher-kings, or the GMU Economics Department, all would be well: Plato's Republic would exist, at last!

david writes:

The PAP has been going through an ideological soul-search lately, so your contribution comes just in time. I expect your name to bounce around for a while.

JPIrving writes:

Singapore seems like such a unique place. On the one hand, I am saddened there aren't more city states like it. On the other hand I guess we should feel lucky to have it as an example of something close to real capitalism.

It will certainly be interesting in 20 years time, when Singapore has become substantially more developed than any western city. It will be like viewing an example of what could have been...

Tracy W writes:

Roughly, this was what Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson respectively did during their reform periods in NZ.

And what many people want to be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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