The Fascism of Singapore

The first impression most foreigners get of Singapore is that it’s a harsh but successful state, dictatorial but developed and ultimately good for its people. One of the unspoken objectives of the ruling party, the PAP (People’s Action Party, no connection to communism) is to create an illusion of a first-world state by keeping the areas where there are tourists and Western expats clean to concentration camp standards.

Western conservatives, who have largely swallowed that illusion whole, keep talking up Singapore. To believe what they say, its educational system, its economy, its cultural policy, all the envy of conservatives who only wish democracy didn’t fear with their plans, work nearly perfectly.

In fact, that illusion is about as true as the illusion that the Soviet Union kept cultivating among Western socialists in the 1930s. The only way Singapore looks good is if you skew statistics to fit your agenda, which the PAP is not above doing. A few facts that Lee Kuan Yew, the de facto king, won’t mention in his interview, are:

– Singapore’s level of inequality is the highest in the developed world, except possibly for Hong Kong’s. Its bottom quintile is the poorest in the developed world except for Portugal’s.

– Only 25% of Singaporeans aged 16-17 go to junior college, the equivalent of high school. The rest don’t participate in the international reading and math tests; that’s how Singapore always places number 1 on these tests.

– Singapore’s per capita military spending is second only to Israel’s, even though Singapore is not at war nor will it ever be. That last fact doesn’t prevent the government from engaging in a propaganda campaign aimed at convincing the citizenry that it is.

– The combination of low wages, no social safety net, and a social security system that has no redistribution of wealth at all means that lower-class people often have to work into their 70s and 80s to survive.

– Singapore’s literacy rate is 92.5%, just above this of Palestine and just below this of Thailand.

– Despite the country’s cult of economic growth, its GDP per capita has stagnated since 2000.

– Despite draconian sentencing laws for violent crime, Singapore’s crime rate remains far higher than Japan’s.

Westerners who live in Singapore or who are familiar with it in passing usually complain about the small things, like the low-level censorship of movies, which, while heinous, at least doesn’t impoverish the population. Everything else – the systematic destruction of the livelihood of the poor, the impoverishment of the middle class, the plundering of the treasury – doesn’t even register in their minds, or gets rationalized.

Singapore is essentially a third-world country that has a developed business district that allows corporatists, expats, and the upper class to pretend they live in anything but a backward fascist state. In advanced countries, unions are permitted to strike; in Singapore, they’re not. In most advanced countries, the poor share in economic growth; in Singapore, they no longer do. In advanced countries, there’s a social security system that ensures that old people don’t have to choose between food and medicine, or clean floors into their 80s; in Singapore, there isn’t.

Whenever people criticize them, Lee Kuan Yew and his cohorts have two excuses for their behavior. The first is accusing the critics of libel; the laws that the PAP wrote and the judges the PAP appointed then conveniently find any opposition politician who’s insufficiently timid guilty of libel, and impose a fine just higher than the politician’s net worth. The other is accusing their critics of not understanding Asian values, which roughly mean, “Whatever is convenient for the ruling party” (Mahatir Mohamad, Lee Kuan Yew’s Malaysian counterpart, engages in the same tactic, while we’re at it).

There won’t be change in Singapore as long as Lee and his gang of plunderers – Singapore’s government salaries are among the highest in the world, with the Prime Minister netting a million US dollars a year – are allowed to determine what forms of dissent are allowed, and as long as the people acquiesce. Make no mistake about it: the periodic talk about reform is as serious as the American courts’ handling of segregation with all deliberate speed in the 1950s.

There won’t be change in Singapore until a civil rights movement of 300,000 people converge on Parliament and demand real democracy, a commitment to gender and ethnic equality, a social system that doesn’t throw the poor into gurneys, and the right of unions to collectively bargain.

Singapore has a decent GDP per capita; there’s nothing wrong with it that a revolution – preferably peaceful – won’t fix. Changing government spending priorities from the military to schools and increasing taxes to create a serious social safety net will only improve the country’s economic situation by not dooming most people who were born poor to work more degrading than McJobs. Abolishing political censorship will make the government more accountable to the people. Abolishing moralistic restrictions on people’s lives (gay sex is illegal in Singapore; so is hetero oral sex) will do nothing but give the people more freedom, and annoy a few conservative old fuds, which is a good thing.

Obviously, there are a lot of fascist countries in the world, many of which do far worse things than Singapore. But nobody in the West worships their educational systems or their economic development, and nobody in the first world considers them anything but fascist states. And, as far as I know, no first-world state has signed a free trade agreement with any such fascist state the way the US has signed a free trade agreement with Singapore.

43 Responses to The Fascism of Singapore

  1. SLC says:

    Gee, you mean that Singapore is even worse then Israel? I shudder to think what your opinion of the USA will be when you finish graduate school.

  2. parse says:

    reate an illusion of a first-world state by keeping the areas where there are tourists and Western expats clean to concentration camp standards.

    This sounds snarky, but it’s a genuine question–were concentration camps kept especially clean?

  3. Alon Levy says:

    Apparently, they were. At least, that’s what the brochures said at the Dachau memorial.

    Gee, you mean that Singapore is even worse then Israel?

    In my experience, the most convincing excuse for evil is making the conversation about who is worse.

  4. SLC says:

    The Government of Israel is evil? I would appreciate it if you could point me to a government which is not evil.

  5. Alon Levy says:

    Well, in a trivial sense, I can’t. In a nontrivial one, killing civilians is evil, period. This includes Singapore’s obsession with executing poor people who were at the wrong place at the wrong time (if you unknowingly possess drugs, you’ll be executed there just the same), Britain’s shooting brown-skinned civilians, and India’s encouragement of pogroms against Muslims.

    A good rule of thumb is that if your system of criticizing governments would give the mafia a free pass if you lived in New York in the 1930s (“is there any don who doesn’t extort money and kill people?”), you should opt for a new system.

  6. SLC says:

    Isn’t the evilness of Governments a reflection of the savage animal nature of human beings?

  7. Alon Levy says:

    No, it’s a reflection of the fact that power corrupts. It’s no coincidence that the governments that are least corrupt and extort the people the least are also the most democratic ones (although Singapore’s non-corruption index is stellar, it’s a reflection of popular perception rather than reality, and at any rate when the Prime Minister makes a million dollars a year, it’s robbery).

  8. rupert says:

    correction: the other 75% of the students go to a 3 year education at specialised instituitions where they learn skills and subjects which can be directly applied to thier careers or university. their top 25% junior college counterparts attend more generic classes ala high school but undergo a shorter 2 year education, which also means a faster route to further studies.

  9. Alon Levy says:

    Rupert, it’s less than 75%. If I remember correctly, only two thirds of students go to secondary school, up from 50% a few years ago; of these two thirds, most will then go to non-academic schools, yes.

    But my main point here is that the international tests only measure the best students in Singapore, which explains how Singapore consistently tops them.

  10. Chris says:

    Seems like you have a vendetta against the country more than anything else.

  11. Alon Levy says:

    A vendetta is something I have against category theory, or linear algebra. What I have against Singapore’s government is facts.

  12. Alex says:

    Bravo..I lived almost a year in Singapore. It is truly a fascist country. Even western expats tend not to talk about politics and more meaningful issues about life. Everything is sterile, especially relationships between people. Like living in a daylight nightmare. Just shopping, money, credit cards, bmw’s.. This guy, Lee Kuan Yew, I think he is now minister mentor to his son, is one of the last true Hitlers in this world. This country should be marginalized as North Korea is.

  13. Sim says:

    Hey, if you don’t like it here, beat it. Marginalizing a country only hurts a population, not the rulers, so don’t be a self-righteous prick. Do not judge others with your own set of value, other people have their own world view. I’ve lived in America, and basically I think its sucks. Freedom my ass, its all just a facade to make dumb people feel good about living in the “free-est” country in the world.

  14. Singaporean says says:

    Always interesting to hear the outsiders’ views since our only newspaper is only fit for my doggie poo….

    Many of us share sentiments abt lack of social security, ministers’ pay, materialism and absence of certain freedoms but then we get by because things could be worse……..as what Lee Kuan Yew said, in his fit of brilliance, we could subside to our environment! and that our women would become maids……………scary eh?

  15. Amitabho Asok Kumar Ngau Seng Kheng Chattopadhyay says:

    I agree with your views, excluding a few things: 1. Singapore is the dirtiest urban country in the world, but it has lots of cleaners. That’s how they get the title. 2. Parents can actually sue their sons and daughters on the grounds of not supporting them in their old age (And win). Those who don’t because of tradition are retards. 3. The people are just as likely to revolt as the proles of 1984. If you ask a gay person why they don’t protest against the illegality of homosexualism, s/he will likely say “That’s the way it’s always been.” And other things I won’t bother to mention. At least Singapore is not preventing me from posting this. Yet. Also, nothing stops me from going to another country forever, leaving this lost case behind…

  16. Dan says:

    Note, Junior College in Singapore is not the equivalent of High School as most users are familiar with. Completing Junior College actually gives you advanced placement in American, Australian and possibly some British Universities. The same applies for polytechnics, which are the 3 year programs mentioned by another user. These 3 year programs also equate to Advanced Placement classes or College Credit in American, Australian and some British Universities. For example, a student who has completed the 3 year program may take only a year to obtain a bachelor’s degree in a American or Australian university. Oddly enough, these post secondary schools do not count for advanced placement in most of Singapore’s own universities. It is in fact possible for Singaporean students to go to American, Australian or British universities at the age of 16 years old to begin their undergraduate programs. However, some schools require these students to take an extra year in doing preparatory work before embarking on their undergraduate work. However, this still means they graduate at least a year earlier than students who enter a university at the age of 18 years old. The system of education is somewhat different, hence secondary education actually concludes at the age of 16.

    Additionally, if you look at the TIMSS studies, they are held at the 4th, 8th grade 12th grade levels, therefore, post secondary top 25% are not involved. From my experience with the TIMSS, they’re required to look at a group of students from different grade and performance levels in order to offer an accurate picture. This obviously does not preclude countries from stacking the odds for themselves by selecting brilliant students. I cannot say as to whether Singapore has chosen to stack the odds in its favor any more than I could say other countries have done so. I can only assume that the TIMSS study has precautions to prevent such incidents from happening. If you are talking about Olympiads, it’s only understandable that all countries competing send their best performers to the competition. Would a nation send a second rate athlete to the Olympics even though you had better athletes available?

    The 92.5% literacy rate is also somewhat skewed by the fact that older generations of Singaporeans tend to have less education, particularly females. If you look at the scores of Thailand and Singapore, you will notice that Thailand’s male rate is almost 2% lower than Singapore’s, but its female rate is about 2% higher. I would imagine this figure to have changed substantially by the next census. Another reason for this is Singapore’s relatively young establishment as a country and developing its own education system. As time goes on, the literacy rate will go up, partly due to the greater level of education available to students as well as the passing of the less educated older generation.

    And yes, sodomy and oral sex was illegal in Singapore, due to the peculiarities of the old British law system we adapted for our own use. No one has been arrested for being gay in Singapore in recent years and the government updated these laws in 2007 to exclude heterosexual couples. However, gay couples can still be charged. As I recall, under the old oral sex law, it was only illegal if it did not culminate in sexual intercourse. How the police intended to police that is beyond me.

    http://www.gaynewswatch.com/Page.cfm?PageID=3&SID=2941

  17. Eric says:

    Eh, i think you should learn some of our languages and experience the life and culture here before making any comments, because seriously i don’t think you really understand Singapore and most importanly the people here.

    Have you ever come here? Or did you just got ur information from websites or libraries?

    There’s so many things I don’t agree with, in your writings. For example, only 25% of Singaporeans aged 16-17 go to junior college, the equivalent of high school. The rest don’t participate in the international reading and math tests; that’s how Singapore always places number 1 on these tests. —– The rest of us have the freedom to participate if they are able to get into junior college, just like not everyone can get into university in States. What is wrong with that?

    Singapore’s literacy rate is 92.5%, just above this of Palestine and just below this of Thailand—- I’ve been to thailand and most of them in the tourism line don’t understand simple english. Most of us picked up simple thai language before going there. Eh, do u mean literacy in thai?? lol, well i think i will take my hat off for ya.

    For this : Despite draconian sentencing laws for violent crime, Singapore’s crime rate remains far higher than Japan’s—– Seriously, i think you should stay here and visit japan and compare because i really cannot digest this sentence. It is not easy to get rob here. You can be 24hrs straying on street anywhere on the island for days and you will still remain a piece. Its so freaking safe here, we don’t have senseless people going around with guns to shoot people. Life is so much insured here than in America.

    Since you are from America, I think you should focus your concern on Obama because I think he will just be another George Bush, as in not helping to save the Dollar. I’ve heard some real good solutions from Ron Paul on youtube. Go help him out or whatever because I just cannot believe that you guys actually voted for a salesman instead of a true president. LOL, Americians are the dumbest people in the world or am i still watching AFHV?

    One last thing, I can never forget Bill Clinton had oral sex in the office during his days. Seriously, if you wanna compare with Singapore’s leaders, it is really disgusting to hear it. You should write something like, My dear President did bla bla bla… And then u compare with ours. Worst of all, Bill Clinton lied about it. Where is the integrity? You funny Americian are just living in your own world.

    • zztop says:

      You’ve bought into the snobbery that Singaporeans are better than other S.E. Asians because they can speak English. Literacy in Thai is still literacy, you colonial houseboy.

    • SingaporeIsaShitHole says:

      singapore is safe? do you live in a normal neighbourhood? or are you a million dollar ministers’ offspring staying in some protected condo?

      Singapore and freedom just dont go in the same sentence, i shall not dispute your ignornance in this matter.

      Even you haven’t grasped the english language well enough, please stop embaressing yourself by thinking you are superior to a thai speaking person.

      PAP is robbing the country dry and you are comparing them to bill clintons’ ‘oral tryst’? At least he had the decency to accept a normal pay and not demand absurd amounts, like LKYs govt does.

      You ‘spineless’ singaporeans live in your own world w/o even fundamental human rights. You call americans stupid? how demure…

    • Anon says:

      You’ve just demonstrated the failure of Singapore’s education system. You don’t even understand the meaning of literacy. You are the typical Singaporean who can’t even string a sentence grammatically. You obviously did not study at Raffles Institution, ACS, SJI or St Andrews. You’re the ignorant fool the PAP can count on for electoral votes, just like they have for the past 40 years.

  18. david says:

    well to all the anti-americans in this thread, go to hell. I am a singaporean and i heck know how much Singapore relies on export to USA to survive. All america needs to do to screw us over is to revoke the FTA , halt the F15 sale and deny all the brightest and most aspiring students each year from the top JCs a place in the Ivy league. Hello! Wake up Singaporeans! Read nytimes or IHT for enlightenment!

  19. Mark Skinner says:

    Singapore is actually a full-scale communist state – ie. a society run as one huge corporation, where people are just products. This is why the CEO and directors care about their ‘citizens’: the way a farmer cares about a large flock of sheep! Singapore may not be as totalitarian as the Soviet Union, but it doesn’t have to be. The human merchandise is now so tame, that you don’t even have to castrate them to prevent them from wanting to fuck!

    This henious slavery must be stopped, and I just hope it all comes crumbling down, sooner rather than later. I wonder if Malaysia is in the market for a new modern looking city?

  20. Good Guy says:

    Sure, anything could be worse.. and maybe you right that singapore is better nowdays than before, but think about this question.. does slave in 17th century have a higher standard of living than slave in 18th century?
    An overwhelm nationalism arrogance is a sign of facist state. I don’t think any of singaporean should take this “outsider view” personally but objectively. Sun Tzu said that the best medicine always taste bitter.
    Another point is why the hell you should be proud to be born as singaporean, american, or martian? i think you should proud from what you have u done and achieve not from who you are.

  21. zztop says:

    As a Singaporean living abroad, I am going to give Levy the thumbs up for insightful observation. Well-off Singaporeans are arrogant and smug, less well off Singaporeans are kept occupied with trying to get ahead and stay afloat and keep away anyone and anything which might hurt them. The Ghamen uses xenophobia as it’s main boogeyman. It’s a mean mean society, with pretty shiny things. It wasn’t till I moved to the USA that I realized how much bigger the world could be without Gahmen telling what to think or do. The place will stifle itself into oblivion.

    The excuse is always ” we have to do this or that, pay this much to Foreign talent ( whatever that is) or ministers or else they will leave for greener pastures. They don’t realize people leave also because they are so damn oppressive and out of touch with the world. I can’t wait till the old man dies.

  22. Terence Koh says:

    Alon, you are one of the few foreigners I know who actually see Singapore for what it really is – a third world country trying to pass itself off as a developed one. Most non-citizens usually can’t see Singapore for what it really is cos they’re not really interested in what an ordinary Singapore citizen goes through. Kudos to you for your insight. You are in a distinct minority even among Singaporeans. As a Singaporean, born and bred, I’m always branded as a cynic whenever I try to talk to my friends about the way things are in Singapore. They somehow see Singapore the way the government tells it – prosperous and full of happy citizens. How is Israel compared to Singapore?

  23. Vassan says:

    Its a really interesting observation.

  24. PG says:

    At long last people who see Singapore’s government for what it is

  25. RL says:

    It’s up to individual opinion.

    Singaporeans do not need people carrying guns to protect themselves as part of freedom but yet schoolchildren are getting shot in schools.

    We feel safe walking on streets at night.

    Drugs are forbidden unless you want to mess with yourself and harm others.

    The country is not facing bankruptcy due to burdens of social security system paid for by tax.

    People here do not do things that causes unhappiness such as burning of religious books and yet the authorities can’t stop them all becos of so-call freedom-of-speech.

    Sg Government does not face shutdown all becos 2 parties are fighting over each other all in the name of democracy.

    People in Singapore are willing to stand up to others who try to impose their opinions on Singapore. Standing up for your own country and correct biase opinion is not wrong.

    We don’t judge other country with coloured vision so we do not like ppl trying to judge us with their narrowed, colour view.

    Imagine the next time someone start something about US. How would U.S citizens react? It’s a never ending debate.

  26. goelsewhereandhavealook says:

    Maybe some of the things you pointed out about the country is true but you make it sound as though all Singaporeans are zombies that do not know the real meaning of life or that we are suffering in concentration-camp-like conditions. Have you visited any other Southeast Asian countries before making your attacks? I for one visit Indonesia frequently. The state of living there is much worse. Some children can’t go to school, they sell snacks on the streets and income disparity there is one of the worst, much worse than Singapore. The government is even seen as corrupt by the country’s own people. Every country has a “clean and wow” area for the expats, I can find gorgeous looking places in Indonesia or Philippines and then turn to see slums at the side. Singapore has a whole is not that bad. At least as a Singaporean I don’t feel so. I don’t have amazing figures and political jargon to state my point, but I do believe my point of view is a rather human one which you have missed.

  27. I enjoy reading a post that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!

  28. spindles says:

    That was clever. I’ll be stopping back.

  29. Gautam says:

    I LIVE IN A FASCIST COUNTRY AND I AM ALIVE AND WELL!

    how do you think that bumper sticker will sell in china or singapore?
    as long as singapore is small and keeping there image clean on the surface of things no harm will be done to the west and there way of life. they know if they cross the line there image will be destroyed and relationship with the USA. without that relationship singapore will cease to exist. It’s a mosquito not a large dragon like China. CHINA THREATENS THE WAY OF LIFE IN THE WEST. This article written is a product of western probably American culture or English which the world has lived with, it’s a privilege and taken for granted. “Is this a fascist society?” is the wrong question. The question is: “will it effect the way of life in the West?”. people hold there own interest in mind. that is why no one will remember your name little boy.

  30. Mega video says:

    Hi, probably I will be a little bit off topic here, however I had been reading your blog and it looks great!. semenax I’m creating a site and attempting to make it appear clean, however each time I touch it I screw something up. Did you design and style the website by yourself? Can a person with very little experience do it, as well as add frequent updates without messing it up? Anyway, great information on here, very helpful. Totally new to me; provestra I didn’t know the many ramifications and depth to this story until I searched here through Yahoo! Good job.

  31. “- Singapore’s level of inequality is the highest in the developed world, except possibly for Hong Kong’s. Its bottom quintile is the poorest in the developed world except for Portugal’s.”
    So?

    “- Only 25% of Singaporeans aged 16-17 go to junior college, the equivalent of high school. The rest don’t participate in the international reading and math tests; that’s how Singapore always places number 1 on these tests.”
    So? Government schooling sucks and is largely pointless. Sending people to learn to do stuff that probably isn’t real, which won’t be talented or interested in, for which no jobs exist – leave that BS to Americans and Europeans.

    “- Singapore’s per capita military spending is second only to Israel’s, even though Singapore is not at war nor will it ever be. That last fact doesn’t prevent the government from engaging in a propaganda campaign aimed at convincing the citizenry that it is.”
    Unlike Israel, Singapore isn’t trying to start WW3 every ten days. I am no fan of any military, but considering their immensely larger (and poorer) neighbors, this is not unexpected.

    “- The combination of low wages, no social safety net, and a social security system that has no redistribution of wealth at all means that lower-class people often have to work into their 70s and 80s to survive.”
    OH NO! NO WELFARE?! EVERYONE STARVED BEFORE WELFARE!
    God forbid people have to work for pay, and that low wages allow the low-skilled Malay workers to be employed. Nope, we need to push it up to favor unionised white liberals at the expense of the rest of the country…ur, wait, wrong nation.

    “- Singapore’s literacy rate is 92.5%, just above this of Palestine and just below this of Thailand.”
    Given what most people read, and how they think, literacy is largely just a way to stupify and propagandize people. Most people have little use for literacy beyond basic communication and reading skills.

    “- Despite the country’s cult of economic growth, its GDP per capita has stagnated since 2000.”
    Yeah, because they’re interventionist and that ultimately undermines growth. Still, they’re better than Amurikah.

    “- Despite draconian sentencing laws for violent crime, Singapore’s crime rate remains far higher than Japan’s.”
    Weird how it’s also one of the safest places in the world.

  32. Norwegian says:

    what happens if someone criticize or say bad things about Lee Kuan Yew or his family or his cronies on the internet??

  33. continuously i used to read smaller articles which as well
    clear their motive, and that is also happening with this post
    which I am reading at this time.

  34. […] The Fascism of Singapore (by an Israeli Math PhD who studied in a Singapore […]

  35. […] “Singapore is essentially a third-world country that has a developed business district that allows corporatists, expats, and the upper class to pretend they live in anything but a backward fascist state.” (The Fascism of Singapore) […]

  36. tam says:

    This was a really interesting post! Could you elaborate further on “systematic destruction of the livelihood of the poor” exists in Singapore?

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