How I See Singapore
By Bryan Caplan
Scott Sumner returns from Singapore with many fascinating observations, including:
My guide told me that when western academics come to Singapore, the
leftists tend to love the place and the libertarians often go home in
I’m as libertarian as they come, and “disgust” certainly wasn’t my reaction after a one-week visit. If Singapore abolished conscription, I’d seriously entertain the idea that Singapore has the best overall policies in the world. If Singapore had an open border with Malaysia to create lots of convenient suburban housing, I’d seriously entertain the idea that Singapore is the best place in the world to live. (Yes, Singapore would be a “better place to live” if it were more convenient to live just outside of Singapore).
Strangely, Scott overlooks one of the greatest amenities Singapore has to offer: its intellectual elite. During my trip, I talked to a wide range of civil servants, professors, and engaged laymen. I was amazed by the quality of their thinking. So logical, so empirical, so curious, so unguarded. I felt right at home. Government officials in Singapore publicly quote me. A room full of Singaporean civil servants actually asked me a series of earnest questions about anarcho-capitalism. Can you imagine U.S. bureaucrats doing the same?
Unlike most observers, I guess, I barely noticed Singaporeans’ material egalitarianism. What struck me was their intellectual elitism. Many Americans would be horrified, but I was delighted. Singapore’s elites are (almost) as good as they think they are, so their self-confidence serves them well – and creates a shockingly high supply of intelligent conversation.