Hitting a nerve in Singapore

The following is an excerpt from the Econlog

Bryan Caplan responds to the TOC Community.

(Top: Thousands of Supporters turned up at WP’s Rally for Aljunied GRC during GE2006,
Photo Credit: Calvin Teo)

After Singapore’s Law Minister used my article in Ethos to rebut international criticism, Singapore’s The Online Citizen asked permission to run a longer version of “Two Paradoxes of Singaporean Political Economy.” Reactions were… mixed.


1. While I did spent a lot of time talking to civil servants, they were happy to distinguish between their own views and the broader public’s. When I tested their claims against the available Singaporean public opinion data, they held up. The data show that that Singaporean “commoners” are very satisfied, not “suffering.”

2. The civil servants I met in Singapore were much more willing to criticize their government and entertain contrarian views that they would be in the U.S.

Other readers accused me of ignoring important undemocratic features of Singaporean politics.


[T]he PAP has created a thought-control system that Goebbels would be proud of. By controlling the media and most forms of input, the PAP can shape the thoughts of the young. This is manifested through simple things like singing national day songs, equating Singapore with the PAP and the muzzling of dissenting views.

My reply: Even if Singapore used to have a Nazi-level system of thought-control (and it certainly didn’t), the internet has destroyed it. It is now easy for Singaporeans to hear and voice anti-PAP views. But this doesn’t seem to have made a dent in the PAP’s dominance. So how important could this thought control have been in the place?


5.) The use of fear. By putting numbers on voting slip, some who wants to vote for opposition are afraid to do so for fear that it would be tracked and they will suffer consequences for it. Also scaring voters to think that if PAP is no longer government, Armageddon will happen the next day or if their constituency is managed by opposition, it will become slums.

I’m skeptical about the first fear. If I asked random Singaporeans off the record, how many would actually tell me they’re afraid of being “tracked”? The second fear is more credible. But it’s just another way of saying, “Voters believe that the PAP will do a much better job than the opposition.”

Meta-question: How should the fact that Singaporeans are even having this conversation affect your evaluation of our arguments?

Read the rest of the write-up at the Econlog

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