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As important: Economic freedom

We are told that “freedom of” is crucially important for a government and society that is best for the people. Freedom of the press is what keeps the government accountable. Freedom of speech allows for a vibrant participatory democracy. Freedom of assembly insures that the people can make their collective voice heard.

However, Singapore is considered by many to be a model state and its founding father, Prime Minster Lee Kuan Yew, an iconic leader. Yet, we know the devil is in the details. Singapore’s government regularly silences and even imprisons the political opposition. Censorship of both local and foreign press and media that cross the government red line of what is acceptable criticism is common. Freedom of assembly and public protest is only with the approval of the government.

The basic right of a citizen of Singapore in the past and right now is “The right to do what you are told.”

What makes Singapore the shining city on the hill is that in less than one generation from 1979, per capita economic output increased by 500 percent to $50,000, from $10,000.

Lee Kuan Yew said clearly what he attributed that economic growth to: “I do not believe democracy necessarily leads to development. I believe what a country needs to develop is discipline more than democracy.” Everyone must do what they are told to do.

In spite of curtailing civil liberties, the one area that Singapore has nearly absolute freedom is “economic freedom,” ranking No. 2 in the world behind Hong Kong in the 2017 Index of Economic Freedom. The Heritage Foundation describes it this way: “Economic freedom is the fundamental right of every human to control his or her own labor and property. In an economically free society, individuals are free to work, produce, consume and invest in any way they please.”

The Singapore government provided the foundation that would allow for wealth creation by way of economic freedom. A world-class educational system also meant telling the students that they do not have time for protests as they should be studying. If labor wanted higher wages, it should increase productivity, not go on a strike. If corporations wanted to maximize profits, then they had to adhere strictly to the rules or face severe government penalties.

The reality is that the Philippines has greater civil liberties than in Singapore. Yet, the Philippines ranks No. 58 in the world on economic freedom.

The Philippines ranks 110th in “judicial effectiveness,” slightly above Iran. Our property-rights ranking puts us below Tunisia. Turkey outscores the Philippines in business freedom. What does it say when Cambodia has a higher ranking than the Philippines for investment freedom?

The nation scores well in the government’s financial health and stability. We have moved beyond the old ways of being subservient to foreign aid and foreign borrowing. But we are still caught in not providing the legal protection necessary for the country to become prosperous.

The nation is making slow progress in some areas. However, survey after survey and year after year we are always told that, unless and until our judicial system enforces the rule of law effectively, without bias and throughout the country, then we are not going to have the economic freedom we need to increase wealth.

If Lee Kuan Yew was correct about democracy and discipline, then we will remain short of our wealth potential. If Lee was correct, then we are going to have to choose what is more important to us as a people.

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Editorial Cartoon January 29, 2018

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