WASHINGTON – Lee Kuan Yew, the architect of modern Singapore is dead. He ruled Singapore for 30 years as a semi-dictator. And he continued to influence policy for many years after he retired from active government.
Almost single-handedly Lee transformed a sleepy former British colony from inconsequential Asian port into a modern jewel. And this was done mostly by developing a first class, highly educated, super productive (mostly Chinese) work force, supported by a pro-business government.
Admired by all
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger called Lee “one of the great men of our period. He established a competitive advantage based on the discipline and intelligence of his society.”
Asian values and capitalism
Lee’s mixture of Asian values, (strict discipline, reverence for education, filial piety, hard work), and free market capitalism produced an economic wonder. Singapore boomed. Its port blossomed. In time, the city-state added financial services to its manufacturing base. Given China’s pollution problems, many global multinational corporations are now moving their Asian headquarters to Singapore.
The regime built by Lee is a benevolent (or so we hope) fairly authoritarian state. Western style personal freedoms are not as important as in Europe or North America. In Singapore, the emphasis is on order and productivity, not on the protection of free expression.
That said, under Lee, tremendous progress took place. Singapore was ranked N. 9 in the world by the United Nations Human Development Index in 2014, and N. 1 in Asia. In comparison, Japan was only N. 17 in the world.