I had a fascinating on-air encounter with the Prime Minister of Singapore last night. I found the interview fascinating for many reasons, but mainly because of the tradeoffs the island nation has made–tradeoffs which have clearly been effective in giving the tiny country a prominent role in the world.
First, some background: Singapore is a former British colony and one of the world’s three sovereign city-states (Monaco and the Vatican are the others). It has a population of only 5 million and a land area just slightly larger than Chicago’s.
Yet it is a major world player in business, finance and shipping. It is rated one of the most corruption-free nations in the world and ranked the world’s best place to do business. It is famous for its corporate and banking transparency. Beyond that, it is known for being spotless and almost completely free of crime.
Some downsides from a Western perspective? A criminal justice system perceived by many as unyieldingly harsh (including death penalties for drug smugglers and the use of “caning” for other offenses.) Also, one political party is in charge and freedom of speech does not exist as it is known in the United States. Say something bad about a politician and you’re apt to be taken to court for libel; you most certainly will lose and have to pay damages. (Ask the New York Times.)
This summary just begins to scratch the surface. But think about it: would you sacrifice some political freedoms–and rights–for a safe and corruption-free place to live? Would you give up your right to criticize what is considered an honest government in exchange for personal safety and prosperity? Tantalizing questions.