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Stiglitz on the Singapore Miracle

Joseph Stiglitz writes an economic valentine to Singapore that is full of interesting facts and conclusions. In a nutshell: for the past few decades, Singapore has pursued a strong economy that is also concerned with equality from top to bottom. The piece is interesting throughout, especially for anyone whose mind still summons the words “chewing gum” as soon as the word Singapore appears. The piece is hard to excerpt — you should read the whole thing — because there are so many discrete points. But here are a few samples:

Singapore has had the distinction of having prioritized social and economic equity while achieving very high rates of growth over the past 30 years — an example par excellence that inequality is not just a matter of social justice but of economic performance. Societies with fewer economic disparities perform better — not just for those at the bottom or the middle, but over all.


The government mandated that individuals save into a “provident fund” — 36 percent of the wages of young workers — to be used to pay for adequate health care, housing and retirement benefits. It provided universal education, sent some of its best students abroad, and did what it could to make sure they returned. (Some of my brightest students came from Singapore.)


Some argue that all of this was possible only because Mr. Lee, who left office in 1990, was not firmly committed to democratic processes. It’s true that Singapore, a highly centralized state, has been ruled for decades by Mr. Lee’s People’s Action Party. Critics say it has authoritarian aspects: limitations on civil liberties; harsh criminal penalties; insufficient multiparty competition; and a judiciary that is not fully independent. But it’s also true that Singapore is routinely rated one of the world’s least corrupt and most transparent governments, and that its leaders have taken steps toward expanding democratic participation.