Tag Archives: Singapore

IS THIS HOW DEMOCRACIES PERISH?

us-government-we-need-a-tow

It’s election season in both the United States and the United Kingdom.   People on both sides of the Atlantic are enduring the nightly trauma of electioneering.

The good news is that, in the UK, the election will be over in two weeks.   On the other side of the pond, we have another nineteen months and a few days to go.

Watching both elections on television, I’ve been asking myself:  Is this how democracies perish?

Every politician seems to promise the moon, while at the same time avoiding any issue of substance.

There was a time when government had only two responsibilities – national security, without which there would be no country, and the maintenance of a stable currency, without which there would be financial chaos.

That’s all changed in the last hundred years.   Now governments have their hands in everything – and the electorate responds by holding out their own hands begging for more.

Can we ever turn the clocks back to the big two?   Life would be a lot better all round if government got off our backs and concentrated on nothing but defense and currency stability.

For all its claims to be a “people’s republic” (a communist term), China’s government doesn’t seem to do anything except defend the people and ensure the stability of their currency.   Of course, the role of the military in China involves a great deal of oppression.   But, when it comes to the economy, they have a free enterprise system that is working a lot better than any of ours in the West.

The British government boasts of a growth rate that is less than 3%, while China laments theirs is down to only 7%.   Whose system works best?

The Chinese government is not likely to look to the Bible for inspiration, but they should heed the lessons contained in I Samuel, chapter 8.  In this chapter, the people asked Samuel for a king, like all the other nations.

God was not pleased with this and warned the people of what to expect:

10 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who asked him for a king.   11 And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you:   He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots.   12 He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.   13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers.   14 And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants.   15 He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants.   16 And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work.   17 He will take a tenth of your sheep.   And you will be his servants.   18 And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.” (vs 8-18)

You get the idea.   This is the first recording of Parkinson’s Law, that government inevitably expands, costing the tax-payer more and more money.   The problem in the US and UK is democracy, with the people wanting more and more.   Inevitably, this leads to government expanding.   It’s a warning to China not to democratize!

We have a special election in Michigan in a few days.   A proposal is being put before the people to raise the sales tax by another 1%.   It may not sound like much, but if you buy a used car for $10,000 right now, the tax will be $600.   After the vote, it would be $700.

The money is to be used to fix our roads, which would be a disgrace even in Africa.

While many will vote “yes” because they are tired of their cars hitting massive potholes, they are failing to look at the bigger picture.   Where has all the money gone that was previously allocated to roads?   If they look closely, they will find that it’s expanded the bureaucracy and given employees higher salaries and greater benefits, in the form of pensions and healthcare.   It has also been revealed that the state department responsible for roads has lost the warranties on roads that were previously fixed by private contractors, meaning that the taxpayer will have to pay again for the same repairs!

Additionally, the state has been wasteful.   Detroit was bailed out to the tune of $191 million.

A new “Welcome Center” is being built at the Capitol, costing an estimated $100 million.   A new State Police headquarters was built for $38 million, when the previous building was quite adequate and rented for $1 per year thanks to a generous donation.   The list goes on and on.   Waste, waste and even more waste.   It’s easy to spend other peoples’ money.

Government is inherently profligate.   The less we have of it the better.   Our ancestors understood that, which is one reason why Great Britain and the United States rose to great wealth and power.

Sadly, their descendants think that more government is the solution to every problem.   As we go down this road, the burdens on the taxpayer will only increase until we collapse under the weight of our own excess.

Perhaps we should all learn a lesson from HSBC, the world’s third biggest bank.   The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation moved its headquarters to London when Hong Kong reverted to China.   They are now thinking of moving back, to either Hong Kong or Singapore, both run by ethnic Chinese.   Taxes are lower and there is far less government regulation in these two city-states.

If they do move, it will be a big blow to London’s status as the world’s primary financial center.

This is one of those major issues the politicians are likely to avoid, as no government will stick its neck out to defend the banks.

How long our democracies last will be determined by how much government the people want.   On that score, things are not looking good on either side of the Atlantic.

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SINGAPORE LOSES ITS FOUNDING FATHER

Lee Kuan Yew

Singapore is one of the greatest success stories of the modern world.

The modern history of the country started in 1819, just under 200 years ago.  The British were looking for a strategic location to base their growing merchant and naval fleets and to thwart Dutch regional influence.

The then Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolan in Sumatra, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, landed in Singapore after surveying neighboring islands.   A colony was soon founded with a population of only 150. Today, the population is almost 5.5 million.   Singapore’s success was based on free trade, which made it a vibrant commercial center, attracting merchants from all over Asia, the Middle East and the United States, as well as Great Britain, which dominated the globe in the nineteenth century.

The port city saw its greatest period of growth after the British opened the Suez Canal in 1869.   Control of vital sea-gates around the globe contributed to the dominance of the British Empire.   It was possible for British vessels to sail from England to Gibraltar, Malta and Cyprus in the Mediterranean, before continuing their journey through the Suez Canal and Aden, then on to points east, including Singapore.   The naval base at Singapore enabled the British to dominate the Far East and Australasia.   Singapore was a vital sea-gate, one of the arteries of empire.   Many believe this fulfilled the prophecy in Genesis 22:17 that Abraham’s descendants would “possess the gates of their enemies.”

Everything went well until the Japanese attacked the city the day after Pearl Harbor.   Once regarded as an impregnable fortress, the city surrendered on 15th March, 1942.   It remained under Japanese occupation for three-and-a-half-years.   Looking back, it was a major turning point in the decline and fall of the British Empire, perhaps the biggest single turning point.   It showed that the seemingly invincible British, a white race that ruled the greatest empire in history, could be defeated by a non-white peoples considered backward and inferior.

After the defeat of Japan, the British returned, but it was impossible to return to the pre-war order.   New political parties were formed that campaigned for independence.

In 1963, the people of Singapore voted to join the new Malaysian Federation, which the British had created six years earlier.   Only two years later, Singapore, an island of mostly Chinese immigrants, had to leave the Moslem dominated federation and go it alone.

In 1965, at the time of independence, the total Gross National Product of Singapore was only $1 billion.   Fifty years later, it’s $300 billion.   Per capita income has grown from less than $500 per year to well over $55,000, second only to Japan in East Asia.   The island state has been transformed in fifty years from a Third World outpost to a thriving city-state that belongs proudly to the First World of wealthy, affluent countries.

This achievement was the work of one man, Lee Kuan Yew, the longest serving prime minister in the world (from 1959 to 1990). Singapore’s former prime minister died at the weekend.   The man who cried when the federation broke up and Singapore had to go it alone, had a clear vision of what was needed – a free enterprise system which would become a regional financial center.   This does not mean that government was not involved.   He was mildly authoritarian, with restrictions on freedom of speech and the press.   He also oversaw massive public housing projects, which contributed to a rising standard of living for the people. The US could learn from its medical system.

He leaves behind a wealthy, efficient and honest administration – one of the modern world’s greatest success stories.   Other developing nations, struggling to survive in the contemporary world, could learn a great deal from Singapore and the man who built its modern economy.

Singapore is also symbolic of Asia’s growing might, accompanied by the decline of its former imperial master Great Britain, and the West in general.

The world has changed a great deal in the fifty years since Singapore became an independent republic.   It’s experience should give many nations pause for thought and reflection.

 

COMMENTARY

Dollar

I want to begin by clarifying something I wrote in yesterday’s post.     I shared a quote from Eleanor Clift on the McLaughlin Group, “The dollar is the indispensable currency,” she said. I added that, on this point, she is correct.

I should have added two words to that comment, “for now.”

The dollar right now is riding high and doing better than other major currencies.  But that does not mean the dollar is really strong. In fact, just yesterday Singapore and China announced the start of direct currency trading, bypassing the US dollar, which has been volatile and is not backed by anything. It’s just paper and is held up by confidence and nothing else. Note the following from Channel News Asia.

“BEIJING:  China will allow direct trading between its currency and the Singapore dollar from Tuesday (Oct 28), making it easier for companies here to do business with their Chinese counterparts.

The Sing dollar will be added to the China Foreign Exchange Trade System (CFETS) platform, which currently offers transactions between the yuan and 10 foreign currencies. The announcement came on Monday (Oct 27), after an agreement at the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) in Suzhou, co-chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.

Previously, companies that wanted to convert a large amount of Sing dollars to renminbi (RMB) or vice versa had to do so via an intermediate currency such as the US dollar.

“This will lower foreign exchange transaction costs and encourage greater use of the two currencies in cross-border trade and investments,” the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said in a news release on Monday.

DPM Teo called this is a “major and significant” development which will reduce the cost of doing business and make it more convenient.”

Singapore is a major hub for the internationalization of the Chinese currency.   Some predict China will overtake America as the number one economy next year.   This means China can take on the burden of being a trading currency just as the US dollar has been.

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I’ve been reading a novel by Brad Thor set in Afghanistan. The 2009 book is titled “The Apostle.” The author clearly knows the country well and I’ve learned a lot about Afghanistan from it. Frankly, the book is as close to the country as I want to get!

I would like to share two paragraphs with you. The subject is not Afghanistan. The main character is Harvath.

“Harvath just couldn’t understand the liberal mindset. He was convinced that they believed deeply in what they said and what they did; his only problem was that it so often flew in the face of reality. They continually focused their rage on their protectors rather than their enemy. They denigrated their country, believing it was the source of all evil in the world. The truth was, when it came to Islam, it had been violent since its inception. Its clearly stated goal was worldwide conquest. And while Harvath believed there were peaceful and moderate Muslims, he knew from studying the religion that there was no such thing as peaceful and moderate Islam.

“The entire religion was a mess and needed a complete gut-rehab. And though he had a good feeling his country’s new president would probably not agree with him, he also knew that until the politically correct crowd stopped making excuses for them and undercutting any motivation to reform their religion themselves, the majority of Muslims wouldn’t do anything . . . Islam had been Islam for fourteen hundred years and what it had been was violent.”

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Which reminds me of the three teenage girls, all born in the USA and from the Denver area, who were detained in Frankfurt en route to Syria to fight with ISIS. All three were of Sudanese and Somali descent. It is not necessarily the case any more that second generations born in America become more American. It seems that, when it comes to Islam, assimilation doesn’t work any more.

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This is certainly the case in Tower Hamlets, a rundown poverty stricken area of east London, profiled this morning on PBS’ Focus on Europe. Tower Hamlets has the UK’s highest percentage of Muslims, over 30%. They are mostly from Bangladesh and Somalia.   A recent election there has led to accusations of corruption, including vote rigging. This is unheard of in British elections. Or was, until a significant percentage of Muslims took over an area and introduced their own brand of politics, just like home.

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It may seem a big jump from ISIS to Downton Abbey but it’s appropriate at this point.   The fifth series is already showing in the UK on ITV. It starts in the US on January 4th. Apparently, Lord Grantham is going to lose his dog in this series. The reason is quite simple – the dog is named Isis. Lord Grantham has had his dog for four seasons of the show, while the terrorist group is quite new. But viewers do not want to be reminded of terrorism when watching the series in their living rooms. Besides, Isis joined the family in 1912 and the series is now up to 1924. That’s about it for a Labrador’s lifespan.   Ours only made it to five.