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Why has Singapore succeeded?

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COMMENTS

12 February 2014 14:54

singapore economy culture policy

A guest writer on Tyler Cowen's brilliant economics blog Marginal Revolution identified as Yana (Cowen's daughter, I think) takes a shot at answering that question. Points lost for quoting a cab driver, but the rest of the analysis is interesting. Still, I'd like to hear from our readers whether they agree:

People run in circles discussing whether Singapore is replicable based on its public and economic policies. It seems to me that a third set of institutions running in parallel is what actually makes Singapore so unique and probably impossible (or at least very difficult) to replicate: the Peranakan culture and its predilection for commerce and trade.

Peranakan culture is a pan-Asian blend of descendants of merchants and traders from China, Malaysia, Indonesia and India. It is the culture both of Lee Kwan Yew’s family as well as that of a sizeable percentage of Singaporeans. This culture is a very powerful conduit for passing down a relatively rare trait: a positive view of commercial activity as the machine of wealth creation and basis of improving one’s life. We see this in a rare few historical settings, including the Industrial Revolution in Scotland as well as the American founding. It comes through in Singapore’s public policy, casual discussions with cab drivers (one volunteered to me that “Singapore is the best managed city in Asia”), in the museums, and in daily interaction with a wide variety of merchants. Young Singaporeans love to complain that Singapore is too boring, too orderly, and too strict on personal freedoms, but I’ve yet to hear any complaints about commercial society.

So when Peranakan culture was combined with the British Enlightenment model of governance in the 19th century, the result was truly unique. A set of cultural institutions characterized by positive attitudes towards commerce, innovation and globalization was combined with robust political economy in the form of strong rule of law, property rights and free trade.

Yet unlike so many other former colonies (my current home of India comes to mind), Singapore did not reject these values during its transition to independence. Most other colonies reacted intellectually, if not downright violently, against many of the values promoted by the British. But in Singapore, the continuity of broadly liberal attitudes toward trade and commercial society following independence was supported by continuity in liberal economic policy and enforced by deep-seated cultural attitudes.

Photo by Flickr user Keng Susumpow.

People run in circles discussing whether Singapore is replicable based on its public and economic policies. It seems to me that a third set of institutions running in parallel is what actually makes Singapore so unique and probably impossible (or at least very difficult) to replicate: the Peranakan culture and its predilection for commerce and trade.

Peranakan culture is a pan-Asian blend of descendants of merchants and traders from China, Malaysia, Indonesia and India. It is the culture both of Lee Kwan Yew’s family as well as that of a sizeable percentage of Singaporeans. This culture is a very powerful conduit for passing down a relatively rare trait: a positive view of commercial activity as the machine of wealth creation and basis of improving one’s life. We see this in a rare few historical settings, including the Industrial Revolution in Scotland as well as the American founding. It comes through in Singapore’s public policy, casual discussions with cab drivers (one volunteered to me that “Singapore is the best managed city in Asia”), in the museums, and in daily interaction with a wide variety of merchants. Young Singoporeans love to complain that Singapore is too boring, too orderly, and too strict on personal freedoms, but I’ve yet to hear any complaints about commercial society.

So when Peranakan culture was combined with the British Enlightenment model of governance in the 19th century, the result was truly unique. A set of cultural institutions characterized by positive attitudes towards commerce, innovation and globalization was combined with robust political economy in the form of strong rule of law, property rights and free trade.

Yet unlike so many other former colonies (my current home of India comes to mind), Singapore did not reject these values during its transition to independence. Most other colonies reacted intellectually, if not downright violently, against many of the values promoted by the British. But in Singapore, the continuity of broadly liberal attitudes toward trade and commercial society following independence was supported by continuity in liberal economic policy and enforced by deep-seated cultural attitudes.

- See more at: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2014/02/yana-guest-post...

People run in circles discussing whether Singapore is replicable based on its public and economic policies. It seems to me that a third set of institutions running in parallel is what actually makes Singapore so unique and probably impossible (or at least very difficult) to replicate: the Peranakan culture and its predilection for commerce and trade.

Peranakan culture is a pan-Asian blend of descendants of merchants and traders from China, Malaysia, Indonesia and India. It is the culture both of Lee Kwan Yew’s family as well as that of a sizeable percentage of Singaporeans. This culture is a very powerful conduit for passing down a relatively rare trait: a positive view of commercial activity as the machine of wealth creation and basis of improving one’s life. We see this in a rare few historical settings, including the Industrial Revolution in Scotland as well as the American founding. It comes through in Singapore’s public policy, casual discussions with cab drivers (one volunteered to me that “Singapore is the best managed city in Asia”), in the museums, and in daily interaction with a wide variety of merchants. Young Singoporeans love to complain that Singapore is too boring, too orderly, and too strict on personal freedoms, but I’ve yet to hear any complaints about commercial society.

So when Peranakan culture was combined with the British Enlightenment model of governance in the 19th century, the result was truly unique. A set of cultural institutions characterized by positive attitudes towards commerce, innovation and globalization was combined with robust political economy in the form of strong rule of law, property rights and free trade.

Yet unlike so many other former colonies (my current home of India comes to mind), Singapore did not reject these values during its transition to independence. Most other colonies reacted intellectually, if not downright violently, against many of the values promoted by the British. But in Singapore, the continuity of broadly liberal attitudes toward trade and commercial society following independence was supported by continuity in liberal economic policy and enforced by deep-seated cultural attitudes.

- See more at: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2014/02/yana-guest-post...

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