How is Authoritarian Singapore More Free Than America?

September 21st, 2011 at 12:28 am | 31 Comments |

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There is a new study out which shows that the US is suffering from a decline of “Economic Freedom”. The study was produced by the Economic Freedom Network, which is a project of the Canadian-based Fraser Institute.

Studies like this can be useful because they reveal the cognitive dissonance taking place on the libertarian right. It turns out that some policies which libertarians assume to be incompatible with freedom actually exist in many free societies, and vice versa. Here are two examples from the study:

1. Singapore is ranked very high on the index thanks to it’s support of free trade, lack of burdensome business regulations, and its respect of property rights. So what sort of healthcare system does Singapore have?

It turns out they use mandatory health savings accounts. Cato institute scholar Bryan Caplan notes that “Singapore is no libertarian health care paradise”. Singapore provides universal coverage and makes extensive use of price controls in its healthcare sector. Yet these policies are compatible with an “economically free” nation.

2. The study reveals its libertarian bias by having countries ranked on “Sound Money”. This study prefers countries which practice “low and stable inflation.” Now let me be clear, low inflation and price stability is desirable in many circumstances, but not necessarily in all circumstances.

Which country ranks #1 in “Sound Money” for the study? Japan! The country which has suffered from crippling deflation and a lost decade of growth. A lost decade that many blame on the Bank of Japan’s lack of monetary stimulus.

Even more ironically, Japan also happens to be ranked #22 in the study, way below America’s ranking of #10. Sound money does not seem to be helping Japan out of its economic malaise.

Recent Posts by Noah Kristula-Green

31 Comments so far ↓

  • Arms Merchant

    The ignorance and illogic shown here are breathtaking.

    1. So Noah, how is a savings account less free than a purchase mandate? OK, Singapore is no “libertarian paradise.” So what? That doesn’t invalidate the proposition that it’s more free than the U.S.

    2. “…low inflation and price stability is desirable in many circumstances, but not necessarily in all circumstances.” Please name those circumstances, and why you think that under them it would be good to have volatile prices and inflation, which robs people of the value of their money and typically outpaces the rise in wages.

    3. Noah: If A is good, and B is ranked number one in A, why isn’t B good? Brilliant!!

    • nickthap

      What is it with people that comment on blogs? The writer was pointing out that libertarian studies on comparative freedom are bunk, not that Singapore is a paradise and more/less free than the US. Jesus.

      • Balsack

        You are correct. Living in Singapore, one is just bound to feel hemmed in by a general feeling of lack of freedom, maybe only perceived. But then, many years ago, before Singapore became a business hub, then so many were speaking about the Singapore RenYao. But I never understood what the excitement was about. Maybe you do?

        Basically, regarding Singapore RenYao, I just think this must be a form of Chinese Opera gone awry!

        The most important consideration is whether or not one might be able to live in Singapore for life and do business. I personally would not. Just too much control over the people and not enough chewing gum.

        The great thing about living in Hong Kong, years ago, was that there was not so much overt regimentation of the society, such as in Singapore. One could do business and still live in a free great city, having ones cake and eating it too. It was paradise. Far better than NYC.

        Hong Kong has ALWAYS been the greatest city in East Asia, bar none.
        FRUMPLE definitely does know what he professes when he says HK is NUMBER 1.

        But then, Hong Kong hit the Red Chinese Great Wall around 1993. And got fckd up for sure.
        Sorry, Noah, but it really did.

      • Balsack

        Sorry for posting the same stupid comment here, twice, yet. I have removed it.

  • Russnet

    So this is. . . comparative analysis of a Canadian think tank’s study on economic freedoms which trends libertarian? Accompanied by a picture of Singaporean soldiers with automatic rifles in military formation? I’m ignoring the Giants-Dodgers game for this?? The only cognitive dissonance here is in this piece. Singapore is a fine country; they’re smart and they know how to live. Comparing Singapore to the United States is like comparing a grape to a watermelon. Can’t be rationally done. Or maybe, interestingly done.

    Let a little air out of your head there, Noah. Sssssssss. It’ll feel good. You’re a fine young writer. The pressure of being a FrumForum columnist must be getting intense.

    • valkayec

      Interesting. I got a different interpretation of Noah’s post. What I got out his post was that these libertarian “freedom” surveys are irrational conclusions…and…well…largely bupkiss.

      I’d still rather live in the US where I know that the food I buy (from the US) will be safe to eat or feed to my baby grandchild; where I meds I take won’t kill me; where the water I drink I can reasonably expect won’t go up in flames when I turn on the tap or won’t be poisoned with life threatening toxins; where I can reasonably expect contracts to be honest; and so much more. The rules and regs that send libertarians up the wall on a so-called “freedom scale” are just fine with me. They prevent me from having to worry about things I’d rather take for granted as a time and energy saver.

      • balconesfault

        One of the things that bothers me most about many libertarians, is the rejection of a regulatory state … then the embrace of demagogues who rant against the perfidy of trial lawyers and call for “tort reform” that tilts the playing field away from overly aggressive plaintiffs.

        Of course, whatever one might feel about lawsuit abuse, if the regulatory state is neutered, and the ability of individuals suffering harm to seek recourse in the courts without the fears of being facing financial ruin at the end of the process when a bill is handed to them for hundreds of hours of high-dollar Corporate lawyers working for the defense, I’m not quite sure how this exactly furthers “freedom”.

        Well, at least for the individual. It certainly furthers freedom for what sometimes seems to be the favorite “people” of some on the right, Corporate America.

  • balconesfault

    The Fraser Institute. How convenient.

    The Fraser Institute ceased disclosing its sources of corporate funding in the 1980s. However, documents were gathered during tobacco litigation which showed Fraser actively courted tobacco execs for donations with presentations of strategies for rolling out anti-anti-smoking campaigns including featuring John Stossel for guest speaking appearances, publication of anti-regulation literature, and funding studies to show that regulation wouldn’t be cost-effective. And the board of Fraser is loaded up with Canadian oil executives at the same time it heavily pushes anti-climate change literature.

    In short … with Fraser Institute reports, there is little question that donors get what they pay for.

    So freedom is measured based on “support of free trade and lack of burdensome business regulations”?

    Gee, what an unexpected outcome from what I’m sure was a totally unbiased research study design!

  • forgetn

    Noah, I’m sorry but you are a complete moron.

    I actually lived in Singapore for 6 years, lovely place — call it Asia lite if you will, or a real life version of Disney. First off, if you want to start a small business, go ahead, it is true it is very very easy, but don’t get in the way of Singapore Inc. they will crush you like a bed bug. this is a place who believes that election campaign should last 7 days (7 whole days…). where people are told if they vote for the opposition they will not get the goodies (no joking here, it is widely reported in the Singapore Press).

    Don’t get me wrong Singapore comes from the other side of the freedom equation than does America, now in America I did notice that many rights long assumed to be enshrined in the system have eroded. By the way, by law, Singaporean have to save a minimum of 40% of their income — many save much more, they also pay taxes (granted that these are low) but then Singapore has a very effective guest worker program — there are 35,000 state employed gardeners in Singapore (every one of them is a guest worker), once their contract is ended they get kicked out of the country.

    Finally, the government reads your mail (and email) at will, they are entitled to look into your financial affairs and there is nothing you can say about it (You can always leave!). Singapore has amazing qualities, especially when you compare it to its neighbors, but it’s not America, by any stretch of the imagination.

    • balconesfault

      Again … freedom is measured by “support of free trade and lack of burdensome business regulations”.

      Do you really believe that freedom involves some kind of right to privacy?

      • forgetn

        Funny enough you never think of freedoms until you don’t have them. BTW Singapore is not anti regulation. There are no polluting industries in Singapore, there is virtually no heavy industry. People are arrested in Singapore for having a car that smokes too much (cops comes by, gives you a nice $1,000 ticket and tows the car away — I’ve seen it done (taxis in particular).

        As for rights and freedom, its always when you don’t have them that you miss them the most!

  • forgetn

    Finally, Singapore has a phobia for drugs and guns. Long jail sentences for simple possession (7-10 years) of pot. Singaporian are rabid anti gun (America would love that). A friend who was transferred to Singapore had a Lucite (you not those deal commemoration for financings) from Smith and Wesson — and it had a fake colt 45 on it.

    You would not believe the trouble he got (almost kicked out of the country) — BTW the gun could not possibly function, but apparently according to Singapore some parts could be re machined to make a functioning gun…

  • Noah Kristula-Green

    Interesting. I got a different interpretation of Noah’s post. What I got out his post was that these libertarian “freedom” surveys HAVE irrational conclusions

    (executive edit by me)

    Someone gets my point!

    @forgetn: You don’t get my argument at all. I am well aware about those features of life in Singapore. My point is that in spite of those authoritarian tendencies, Singapore ranks higher than America according to this libertarian index.

    This suggests a lot of cognitive dissonance on what Libertarians think promotes “Economic Freedom”.

    • nickthap

      I feel your pain, man. It’s probably best not to read comments on your articles (or any comments on the internet, for that matter). What I can’t tell is if the average blog commenter’s reading comprehension is just super poor, or if they read into an article what they want.

    • forgetn

      Ok first off I know what Liberterian is all about, there is no cognitive dissonance on my part, I think that the Fraser don’t understand Singapore — they took the country at face value (rule of law), but took no notice of the the reality on the ground.

      (1) there are no polluting industries in Singapore, they’ve all been shut down (drive a car with excess smoke from the tail pipe and get a $1,000 fine).
      (2) Don’t screw around with Singapore Inc. You get in their way and they will pulverize you — rules have no place in Singapore for that — they go the the extreme (and always have done so).
      (3) Country has a very specific development plan — this dates back to the foundation of the country in 1965 — this is a dirigiste economy

      I just don’t understand the Fraser’s view its completely at odds with Singapore’s on the ground reality — my guess is that the compared “rules” in both jurisdiction

      • Russnet

        Noah jabs! Fine with me, all I was saying is the exercise of blogging can become quite encumbered with uninteresting argument. I guess I could have just written, so what? Cognitive dissonance is widespread. If this forum spent as much energy highlighting cognitive dissonance on the left, I’d spend less time watching baseball. As for this argument, I am curious, having lived there myself, have you ever been to Singapore Noah? And if so, do you think a picture of soldiers with guns in formation fairly well frames a discussion of its economic freedoms?

    • Balsack

      Noah, this would be really nice, if it were not for the fact that this twit does not know what the meaning of cog dis might be. We should not help to further bastardize this important terminology on FrumForum.

      ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ should not be slung around so cavalierly on FrumForum, of all places.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    I am with Noah on this, Hong Kong is ranked number 1 as the most economically free place, but free for whom? The Chicoms select a number of winners and losers by contracts on the mainland, if you have good guanxi on the mainland you will be a lot “freer” than a businessman who advocated for Democracy. On top of that report judges by size of Government, but Hong Kong is not a country, it is an economic zone, they have no military of their own so right off the bat the size of their government will be less because of that.
    I am not saying the report is totally worthless, its ranking on corruption has some value but I don’t need a report to tell me that Zimbabwe is totally screwed up.

  • weiwentg

    From personal experience (having been born there), the rules for consumer credit were also a LOT tighter in Singapore. You had to have a steady income to get a credit card, for example. And while it’s true that healthcare financing on the consumer side was a lot more laissez faire in some ways, government representatives were deeply involved in actually running the hospitals. That should give the good folks at Fraser the shivers, imo.

  • Graychin

    Sounds like a pretty stupid study.

    If personal liberty is important to you, Singapore probably isn’t your cup of tea. But if you want total Randian economic freedom for your business, maybe it is.

    I know several right-wing bloviators who would love Singapore. Or so they say.

  • jg bennet

    It is not just sound money it is sound business & you are wrong about Singapore & free trade…………….

    There is a model that is working just fine. Call it the Chinese model or the German, or the Swiss, or the South Korean, or the Singaporean model.

    Of course, these countries all differ in various ways in their economic policies. But what they share is a focus on saving, investment, and production rather than consumption.

    They also don’t believe in laissez faire. Rather they embrace economic strategy.

    Indeed, they see economic strategy as akin to national security strategy because they accept the words of former Japanese Finance Minister Korekiyo Takahashi that “an economic defeat is much more difficult to reverse than a military defeat.”

    They care about the structure of their economies and what they make and engage in careful analysis of industries to determine what set of regulatory, tax, investment, and R&D policies and practices will encourage the optimal production and services base.

    ****These countries believe in open trade but not in free trade in the unilateral sense in which Americans define it.****

    They pursue aggressive export led economic growth strategies that often involve aggressive investment subsidies and currency undervaluation policies on behalf of export industries.

    As a matter of policy, ****they strive to achieve continuing trade surpluses.**** In short, this paradigm is the opposite of the American model…………………………

    You are still following a dying fad & should listen to your Republican elders……………

    “I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws, or crafts its advanced treatises, if I can write its economics textbooks.” Paul Samuelson.

    “The largest cultural menace in America is the conformity of the intellectual cliques which, in education as well as the arts, are out to impose upon the nation their modish fads and fallacies, and have nearly succeeded in doing so.”
    National Review 19 November 1955
 William F. Buckley Jr.

  • balconesfault

    I suspect what it comes down to is that Singapore is some kind of libertarian shorthand for “a place far enough away that most people won’t figure it out when we pick and choose examples and misrepresent some key facts in order to hold it up as some kind of Randian paradise”. See Costa Rica.

    • jg bennet

      or it is evidence of the effects of propaganda on educated people who forgot to eat their critical thinking veggies. i am the only person that even says the word neoliberal policy on this forum and i find it amazing that the dogma they live by they never mention by name.

      they call it conservative, free market, free trade, anti tax, anti infrastructure, no welfare clause etc. but they never call it by name.

      type in neoliberal in google news and you will see the fallacies buckley was talking about. it is not just over there it is here.

  • baw1064

    I’ll point out that it’s not only the Frasier Institute that seems to have a very high opinion of Singapore–the Heritage Foundation uses the same rankings. I’d always thought of Heritage as more of a social conservative outfit than a libertarian one, BTW. but maybe I had been mistaken.

    • Balsack

      The Heritage hedge hogs, or the Cato clique brewers, or vice versa, these foundations and their people must finally mimic the views and behavior of the money which funds their so-called “research”.

      It is only when we finally become sick to death, as in drinking China Melamine Milk, that guys who are running this Ferris Wheel finally get brought up short, by their short hairs. And then they are as surprised, just as much as the rest of us.

      • balconesfault


        Balsack finally said something coherent.

        Then he had to go and ruin it with a second paragraph suggestive of neurons firing without any particular sequence.

        • Balsack

          Dear Bacon,

          I have never been aware that I have truly expressed a thought, or half a thought, that was coherent. Please point it out to me.

  • Balsack

    Thank you, Noah, for your heads-up. In future, I will try to Curb my Enthusiasm.

    We should remind ourselves that what is considered permissible public written discourse today was in no way acceptable even 15 years ago, for better or for worse.

    But since you were very kind to first provide a warning, then here is a great Hal Holbrook/Twain segment which you might enjoy if you have not yet viewed it,

    There is a fat line between good and bad writing. But there is a fine line between acceptable written discourse and pushing it too far.

    I very much agree with you, Noah, that anyone posting on FrumForum, a private space, should abide by the rules. Still my only question to you might be whether or not the filter which FrumForum uses to judge acceptable posts might change during the next 10 years, by 2021? Or, is our vision of truth, beauty, acceptability and pornography written in concrete, immutable throughout the decades?

    Twain has always been a sassy old soul. But if any of us were a 10th of a Twain, we could post what we wished and no one would look at us askance in Europe, these days.

    Tks, again, Noah, for your heads-up.
    And pls, also, try to Curb your Enthusiasm.

  • Balsack

    Dear Noah,
    Speaking about Singapore, can you imagine Larry David in Singapore doing what he does, translated into English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil? Sure. Risque RenYao is fine in Singapore. But never touch the third rail of chewing gum truth.

    As old as you are, Noah, and your birth in Japan you may believe is almost ancient as the hills, still I was in Japan before you. If I had had my choice, I would have been in Japan far earlier.

    I just want to respectfully make mention of the fact that Japanese culture, Hong Kong culture, Chinese culture, has taken a truly major HIT during the past 40 or 50 years.

    And not to stray too far from the main topic at hand, doing business and trading in Asia would be far better if the west had not become involved.

    BUT HERE IS ONE QUESTION, Noah. Exactly how many years did you spend in Japan? Because this is a very interesting question. We like your very international perspective. But how many years was it that you spent in Japan?

  • Balsack

    “Since 2004, only chewing gum of therapeutic value is allowed into Singapore following the United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USS-FTA).”

    But the real reason for this chewing gum ban is not known, even on Wikipedia. Back in 1993, or earlier, some arse hole stuck a piece of chewing gum to cover one of the “light beams” that control the doors of the subways in Singapore. And this caused the whole system to come to a halt for some time.

    NO DOUBT, this is a apocryphal story that was widely reported in the Asian news about 20 years ago.

    Still. Who needs chewing gum? When one can have a RenYao in Singapore?

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