Matt Forney
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A Competent Government


This is a guest post by Tim.

I’ve been reading From Third World to First by Lee Kuan Yew. He was the Prime Minister of Singapore during the time it went from a poor city to its current position as a finance capital of the world.

One thing that struck me about him and his government was how competent his government seemed to be. (It is a book written by himself, and he undoubtedly has written the book in a way that is flattering to himself. But Singapore did go from poor to wealthy and is usually cited among the freest countries in the world.) It seems to me that our American Democratic Party should more resemble Lee’s political party.

His party ran the government as a tool to improve the lives of its people, just like our Democrats claim to do. The government of Singapore has, for example, built public housing, run public schools, cleaned up pollution, run a greening campaign, has encouraged men to marry well educated women, and so on. All of these things and more were done by the government of Singapore, and they’ve done so while spending less than 20% of their GDP each year, having a balanced budget nearly every year, and usually being placed second in the world for the amount of freedoms its citizens enjoy.

All of the schools, welfare, green campaigns, and whatnot are things that the Democratic Party in this country claims to be trying to accomplish. But instead of being free, having a balanced budget, and good schools, good roads, the Democrats have, with Republican help, given us bad overpriced schools, huge amounts of debt, unimaginable budget deficits, green energy subsidy failures, and more.

Our Democrats should be more like Singapore’s government.

Lee Kuan Yew often cited in his book that he thought some welfare was necessary but he always feared people becoming dependent on welfare. If people are dependent on welfare, then they will not produce wealth or even provide for themselves.

The story from the book that struck me most was about a Hong Kong businessman who invested in Singapore. The story goes that the businessman had executives from Hong Kong and Singapore. After fifteen years, all of the executives from Singapore were still working for him but his executives from Hong Kong had all gone and started their own competing businesses. Despite his support for some welfare, Lee realized that welfare reduced the entrepreneurial spirit of Singapore’s citizens.

I am no Democrat, nor do I like all of what Singapore’s government does, but you cannot argue with their success in Singapore and the failure of our Democrats despite their having the same goals.

To explain this further, let me point out that we Americans think of ourselves as living in the freest country in the world. We do not. Another book I’ve recently read is Arthur Brooks’ The Road to Freedom. Arthur Brooks is an American conservative working for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). He is probably a staunch Republican and, while he calls for limited government, the places where he wants to see government are the same as what Lee Kuan Yew supports. When I read From Third World to First I thought that his government was a socialist one, albeit a competent, less intrusive socialist government.

All of us Americans need to rethink how free we actually are.  We are the leading country in the world because of how free we used to be, not how free we still are.

The Democrats could mollify most of their critics not by changing their stated goals (even though I’d like that) but by doing what the government of Singapore did:

  1. Balancing the budget.
  2. Spending as little as possible and still achieving their goals.
  3. Fixing the government programs that do not work.

The Democrats should try harder to become competent. The reason so many of us on the right are upset about Obama getting re-elected is not because he’s a Democrat, not because he’s half black, not because we are unsure about his religion or where he was born, but because we will now have four more years of an incompetent government executive. If the Democrats favored being responsible with our spending and fixed or removed the government programs and bureaucracies that do not work, then those of us on the right would have much less to complain about.

For just one example, our public schools get more money per student than nearly anywhere else on earth, and yet our kids’ education is merely average amongst other countries. The founder of Khan Academy says our education system is still the Prussian model. You remember the Prussians right? Prussia was a country that existed before Germany and Poland. The way they educated their kids is the same way we still do in America today. This is not the way things work in Singapore. In Singapore their public education has quality and they get what they pay for.

I am no Democrat, socialist, or supporter of Singapore’s government, but our Democrats need to favor the government of Singapore if we want America to prosper.

Democrats: become responsible with our budget, fix what does not work in government. You currently don’t even have a vague hope of doing either.

I still prefer Hong Kong and traditional America’s economic system. Those systems existed to protect citizens from outsiders and violent crime from within. In those systems most people prosper, and the ones that don’t get back up and try again.

Hong Kong is really cool. It is a city comparable to any in the world. They achieved their present level of prosperity with nothing to start with except a rock island, a harbor, and proximity to China. When America was the greatest place in the history of the world, it was one of the most populous countries in the world and one blessed with all sorts of natural resources.

Remember that story about the Hong Kong entrepreneurs? We were once an entire large country that had people like that. Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Ford, and Carnegie were some of the many successful entrepreneurs who became wealthy and created our modern standard of living. Imagine a whole country of more than 300 million citizens many of whom acting like those executives from Hong Kong! We had that once we can have it again.

A quote from Grover Cleveland:

I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that though the people support the Government the Government should not support the people.

Milton Friedman:

There is a sure-fire way to predict the consequences of a government social program adopted to achieve worthy ends. Find out what the well-meaning, public-interested persons who advocated its adoption expected it to accomplish. Then reverse those expectations. You will have an accurate prediction of actual results.

One more thing: I pointed out that Singapore is often ranked at second in the world for freedom. Guess which place is first.

Tim blogs at Spootville.

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