Dear White (Racist UK Leave) People. Everything you think you know about Singapore is wrong.
On Sunday morning in the UK on a weekly BBC TV show about politics a British Conservative politician came out with an astounding figure for Singapore’s trade. He was intending to reassure British viewers that leaving Europe wouldn’t harm their economy. Look, he was suggesting, Singapore is also a tiny island nation and their trade expanded exponentially when they left the Malaysian Federation and now they’re so rich! We can just copy those cheerful oriental fellows.
The only problem with his argument is that his figures were off by a factor of 100 and everything else he believes about Singapore is a myth. On air the politician Iain Duncan Smith said our total trade grew by US$50 trillion when in fact it’s less than half a trillion. Neither the Labour Lord Mandelson brought in for balance, nor the BBC anchor Marr, challenged this figure which shows how much they know. (Unfortunately for the UK they have democratically elected politicians rather than the self-selected meritocracy that we enjoy in our dictatorship and surprisingly they seem to be just as thick as the ones the Familee select to run their fiefdom).
‘Leavers’ as they are known in the UK, seem to believe that Singapore left the Federation with Malaya of its own accord in order to take back control or some such nonsense and that this independence is key to our wealth. If only they knew about LKY’s tears and how much he wanted to be part of a larger union. They can read more here.
So what is the key to our wealth? Well at this point I can hear you all screaming, “what wealth?”. Exactly. Singapore is held up by leavers as a successful model of a low-regulation, low-tax regime. Some simple facts that will astound the Brits are that our Government owns 80% of the land and most of the largest public companies. Our Prime Minister who is LKY’s son and no its not Nepotism if you have a double first from Cambridge, is chair of our first SWF, GIC and he appointed his wife to run Temasek, our second SWF which controls the majority of Singapore’s biggest companies. Again , its not nepotism if your wife etc etc. 90% of our population live in public housing (HDB) with a 99 year lease expiry date and can be made to relocate if a profitable development opportunity comes along for the Government. This I know is something that wouldn’t suit the “My home is my castle” Brits. Most Brits who’ve been in Singapore have never been in an HDB unit and so spread the myth that we all live in portered condos with swimming pools and gyms and servants. As many of us know from previous experience many Brits cannot even stomach our crowded public transport and the ripe aroma of sweaty humanity in the tropics(remember Anton Casey?).
So what about our GDP? Like Ireland, a large part of our GDP is driven by MNC tax-avoidance strategies so very high levels of GDP per capita do not translate into median incomes. Our seemingly miraculous levels of GDP growth are mostly due to the inputs of cheap foreign labour. Paul Krugman pointed this out in the 1990s when he wrote about “The Myth of Asia’s Miracle”. In fact output per hour worked is lower than most developed countries and much lower than other global cities to which Singapore should rightly be compared. Our GDP figures simply do not bear scrutiny.
Labour leavers who want to Remain hate only one thing more than Brexit and that’s Tory Austerity. With all this state ownership and control we must be a Socialist paradise right? No, because we have no Welfare State and our government has always said (and for Brits who don’t know we’ve only ever had one government in more than 50 years) that it will never allow welfare to take hold. LKY famously said that Singaporeans must not be allowed to develop a dependence mentality and that the spurs must be kept to our sides through mass immigration to keep us competitive. And so our country runs a heartless regime of self reliance. Not married? You can’t buy an HDB flat. elderly parents? You are obliged to move them in with you, they can sleep in the corridors. Sick? Don’t get sick you won’t be able to afford the medication (In fact the PM, himself a cancer survivor, said the best way to avoid high medical bills was to stay healthy) . Unemployed? That’s a shame, move in with your relatives. Those British people would be rioting on the streets if they had to endure even a tenth of the daily austerity that makes our lives so harsh. We would feel like millionaires if we had a tenth of their benefits and security.
The single sweetest irony in all of these anti immigrant Leavers citing Singapore as a model for Brexit is that 40% of our workforce is foreign labour, most of whom come from very poor countries and in the absence of a minimum wage earn as little as £1 an hour. I’m convinced “immigration” is a major reason if not the reason why UK voters voted for Brexit. You see the Labour Government under Tony Blair in 2004 thought it could emulate the secret of Singapore’s success and create a miracle of fast economic growth by allowing workers from Eastern European countries that had joined the EU like Poland and later Rumania to work in the UK without any restrictions other than those already applying to UK workers.
Not surprisingly to an economist, although it took the UK by surprise, there was an immediate influx of some 3 million Poles because Polish wages were about a quarter of UK levels. Labour thought this would be acceptable to UK voters because all the newly admitted workers were white and they naively thought that racism was mostly about skin colour. As a result of the influx of migrant workers Labour lost the 2010 election. The PM contesting that election was Gordon Brown. His famous “bigot woman incident” is cited as a key contributor to that election loss and by the way proof that the root cause of racism is economic competition not skin colour. The phenomenon of white on white racism seemed to have eluded the Labour Party of the time. The video is here but in brief Gordon Brown left his microphone on in his car after a walkabout and was recorded calling a woman he’d spoken to a bigot because she was complaining about high levels of immigration from Eastern Europe). The Tory’s David Cameron similarly underestimated white on white racism because bigotry and anti immigrant sentiment again led the UK to vote for Brexit against all expectations in 2016. Singapore has seen about 2.5 million immigrants added to our population since the 1990s. Migrants make up 40% of our population yet levels of just 5% immigration have brought governments down in the UK and sparked a constitutional crisis.
Brexiteers are deluding themselves and others by claiming that all the UK has to do is follow the Singapore model to achieve undreamt of levels of economic prosperity. Or that separating themselves from a trade federation is a wise move. First UK voters, and particularly the industrial heartlands and working classes, voted for Brexit because they did not want a Singapore-style low-wage non-existent labour protection type of economy, Secondly, emulating Singapore will not bring prosperity to the bulk of the population but wages on a par with Kuala Lumpur. ( A UBS survey in 2011 comparing purchasing power between global cities put Singapore workers on a par with those in Kuala Lumpur. After this was pointed out and discussed in Singapore’s Parliament with much Government embarrassment and feeble excuses, the PAP Government got UBS to drop Singapore from the survey in future.)
Singapore cannot fail to prosper because of its incomparable strategic location at the crossroads of world trade as well as its fine natural harbour. This fact was recognised as early as the fifteenth century by the Portuguese when they seized Malacca in an effort to control the eponymous Straits and grab the spice trade from the Venetians. Most of Singapore’s growth post-1965 is fully explained by the growth in world trade. Whatever prosperity we do have has nothing whatsoever to do with trade tariffs or tax regimes or independence. It has everything to do with immigration, with austerity and with the pure luck of our location. The UK as a whole enjoys no such advantage so it is a waste of time trying to emulate our model which in any case would be deeply unattractive to any free people.