Leader vaunts S'pore's Unique Political System - Authoritarian Capitalism
- Leader vaunts Singapore's political system
Monday, June 28, 2004
SINGAPORE Singapore's unique political system must be maintained for
at least another 30 years to avoid South-Asian-style disunity, Prime
Minister Goh Chok Tong said in remarks published Monday.
Shortly after returning from a week-long visit to Pakistan,
Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, Goh told members of his People's Action
Party that the trip had renewed his conviction in Singapore's
"I come back even more determined that we should keep our system of
political self-renewal," The Straits Times quoted him as saying late
Goh, who has led the country since 1990, has said he will hand over
power this year to Lee Hsien Loong, the son of Singapore's only other
prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew.
The transition is expected to be smooth and maintain the vise-like
grip on power that the party has held since the British introduced
self-rule in 1959, followed by independence in 1965.
Singapore practices a form of democracy in which the press has to
report in the "national interest," rallies are mostly banned and
elections inevitably end in crushing majorities for the governing
Goh said his trip to South Asia, which coincided with the abrupt
resignation of Pakistan's prime minister, Zafarullah Khan Jamali, had
shown him how politicians can pull their countries apart.
Date: Mon Jun 14, 2004 8:20 pm
Subject: Singapore and Authoritarian Capitalism
Amidst the renewed interest in Entrepreneurship, we circulate below
an old article by Christopher Lingle which confirms what we all know,
that "State Managed" enterprises will fail.
The Bottom Line is that creativit(and romance for that matter) is a spontaneous
process which cannot blossom in a dictatorial styled regime.
Singapore and Authoritarian Capitalism
by Christopher Lingle
Publisher: The Locke Institute, ISBN: 8485809521
Despite the impressive growth rates in the region, there are some
serious questions about the policies and institutions in the high
performing East Asian economies. Indeed, several of the traditional
institutions can be expected to impose a binding constraint upon the
continuation of the rapid economic growth in Singapore and in other
countries in the region.
In particular, many of these institutions militate against
individuality and individual rights and freedoms. In
turn, "authoritarian capitalism" describes the operational elements
of this particular development model. On one hand, authoritarian-
capitalist regimes place a limited and selective set of persistent
policy interventions into market activities. On the other hand, these
same regimes impose heavy restrictions on political activity.
Whereas, Soviet economies contrived to have an economy without
prices, authoritarian capitalism presides over markets without the
guarantee of individual freedoms or rights. As a result, there are
conflicting and misleading signals about a relatively free economy
whereas political freedoms are repressed within an authoritarian-
based government. Singapore's single-party regime offers a model of
authoritarian capitalism that may be followed by other single-party
regimes in the region.
Although this economic development model bears strong similarities
to "authoritarian socialism," authoritarian capitalism has been so
far immune to the criticisms of their shared potential for failure.
Apparently, the strong economic performance has led many observers to
ignore the ill effects and the long run costs associated with
Acceptance of authoritarian capitalism as a viable and exportable
model for development depends upon an understanding that economic and
political liberties are not interdependent. However, similar faulty
reasoning induced promoters of authoritarian socialism (communism) to
overlook its most fatal contradiction. The collapse of communism
provides evidence that repression of political freedoms will
eventually undermine the activities that support economic growth.
While authoritarianism can be consistent with short run economic
gains, there are logical and economic limits to these results.
On the economic side, authoritarian capitalism involves the
politicization of commerce and the commercialization of politics.
Commerce is politicized when the profitability of economic actors
depends more heavily upon relationships with the ruling party than
the efficient use of scarce resources. Commercial politics describes
the actions by ruling parties to develop their own sources of
revenues through business transactions to decrease their dependency
upon the electorate. These activities are likely to involve
privileged, insider access to economic data that benefit the party
and also allow party functionaries to enjoy private gains.
Despite the impressions to the contrary, authoritarian capitalist
regimes employ extensive, if not always deep, interventions in the
economy. Most of them have highly interventionist foreign exchange
policies. These are implemented in support of industrial policies
that target specific industries as leaders in their export-orientated
industrialization (EOI) strategies. Investment funds and subsidies
are directed toward selective areas of economic activity and,
conversely, are diverted from use in other areas. Many of those
countries applying EOI policies tend to be highly dependent upon
foreign investment funds or technology or both, as well as access to
foreign markets for their exports. This dependency on outsiders is
exacerabated by the institutionalized restrictions upon the
formations of domestic entrepreneurs to provide an indigenous source
of economic growth.
An equally problematic issue relating to Singapore's growth is that
it can be explained in large measure by the massive increases in
input of labor and capital instead of from increases in efficiency or
productivity. Most economists readily recognize that such input-
driven growth will be limited by the law of diminishing returns.
Following this logic, East Asia's "miracle economies" mirror the
early stages of growth in the Soviet Union that obviously proved to
be unsustainable. In all events, the necessary sources of increases
in productivity are inventiveness and free thinking. Unfortunately,
policies under authoritarian capitalism suppresses individualism and
intellectual freedom and will greatly impair the formation of
There are few signs that regimes such as Singapore's are willing or
able to undertake the necessary changes to modify their policies and
institutions that have generated the conditions of "parasite
economies" where they depend upon the financial capital or the
creativity and inventiveness of other countries. In the long run, the
economic arrangements associated with East Asian authoritarian
capitalism are unlikely to sustain the levels of high performance
recorded in recent years.
Singapore's authoritarian-capitalist regime has its own peculiar
political arrangements that mesh with its economic policies. By
combining a sense of national insecurity and dread of the unknown
with the fear of government retribution, Singapore's ruling party has
implemented a special form of "Asian democracy" that can be
identified as phobocracy. The rule-by-fear government of the People's
Action Party (PAP) regime judiciously combines a western democratic
vocabulary with a particular set of traditional values that it claims
are unique to Asia.
In order to maintain a disciplined and docile electorate, the PAP
rulers rely upon a beguiling combination of reason and force.
However, their idea of reasoning is limited to an unbalanced
insistence upon only the advantages of communitarian arrangements and
the necessity of consensus building. Their ability to construct these
incomplete images of political utopia is supported by a subservient
domestic media and a cowed international media. The passivity of the
media results from legislative and judicial actions that operate at
the behest of the PAP-controlled executive branch. In sum, the regime
exercises obsessive and complete control over all branches of
government and media as well as other elements of civil society. In
turn, there are few limits to the amount of force that can be wielded
as reprisal against critics or political rivals.
Singapore's regime practices a form of "soft authoritarianism"
without political murders or disappearances. Nonetheless, executive
control over the judiciary and the legislature means that law follows
the whims of the regime. One element of the illusion of the legal
system is the scrupulous application of justice in cases that involve
commerce, particularly when it affects the interests of multinational
corporations. The resulting system is one of rule by and for rulers
in place of the rule of law. The compliance of the courts leads
to "lawless order" and is a conspicuous contradiction of the
reputation for Singapore's corruption-free government.
The criminalization of politics and politicization of crime represent
several of the other institutional arrangements associated with
Singapore's authoritarian capitalism. Politics in Singapore is
criminalized in the evident pattern whereby opponents of the regime
are sued for criminal defamation after criticizing the actions of the
ruling party. Moreover, the authorities in Singapore use crime as a
political weapon. One aspect of this involves the manipulation of
perceptions and the apparent masking of crime statistics to provide
the illusion of a crime-free environment. Another aspect is to place
the blame for much of the crime that does occur on westerners and
their decadent influences.
Blindness to the shortcomings of the intricate and extensive elements
of their development strategies has left the PAP open to a
potentially serious crisis. It may not be the forces of
modernization, per se, that prompts political change in Singapore. A
failure in their economic structures may come first. A serious long
run challenge that must be faced is how to escape the entrenched
dependencies with the developed economies. However, the incentive
structures associated with authoritarian capitalism work against the
necessary emergence of local talent to serve either as entrepreneurs
or as researchers capable of doing original research.
Of more immediate concern is the stability of Singapore's economy
that exhibits the classic symptoms of a property and stock market
bubble. There is no reason to expect that the record of centuries of
the collapse of bubbles can be changed even by Singapore's famously
efficient bureaucrats or its supposedly squeaky clean rulers. The
question of the bursting or deflating of the speculative bubble is a
matter of when, not if.
Happily, there is no doubt that the next century will witness a
continuation in the rising fortunes and growing political importance
of East Asia. Even so, it may be premature to anticipate that a
simplistic extrapolation of the recent economic performance in the
region will be an accurate harbinger of its post-millennial
achievements. It may be just as likely that the authoritarian-
capitalist regimes will set another record. Perhaps they will match
their rapid pace of economic development by consigning themselves to
the dustbin of history more quickly than was their predecessor,
© Christopher Lingle