Inside the Capitol

Monday, October 29, 2012

Two countries

103112 2 govts.

SINGAPORE – Here we are in the tropics again. This time we're halfway around the world – about as far from home as we can get. It is hot – 95 degrees and humidity sometimes reaching 100 per cent – without rain. It will cool as we head north to Japan.
I've done a little reading. We have attended some excellent lectures onboard and have taken all the tours available. So any of you who have read more than two books or been here more than once may be far more knowledgeable than I. Let me know if I am too far off.
Countries in this part of the world have experienced tremendous political change in the past century as empires around the globe shed or lost their colonies. Some have done well. Most haven't. Democracy has been an unfamiliar concept.
Thailand, which we visited first, is a constitutional monarchy. It has had 17 different constitutions in the past 16 years. It currently is experiencing what is termed a delicate peace.
It is peaceful enough that the cruise line we are sailing felt it sufficiently safe for us. Rand McNally readers recently voted Bangkok the most interesting place in the world. We disagree. It still is New Mexico.
Then it was down to Singapore, 60 miles from the equator. It is a constitutional monarchy that has worked. Whereas many democracies have a proliferation of parties, Singapore has only one. That may sound like a dictatorship and it comes close but the people are happy and they are proud of having gone from a Third World country to one of the top economies in the world in less than a generation. In some circles this is called democracy-lite.
As I have written before, Singapore has an education system that produces some of the world's best students. Recent efforts by the United States and many other countries have tried to copy the Singaporean emphasis on testing. It hasn't worked well here or in most other countries.
But in Singapore there is almost total buy in. Students not only are tested, they are ranked. Students who rank low are encouraged to study harder and their parents are encouraged to help. Students are tracked into areas that seem most appropriate.
The government doesn't have to work particularly hard to obtain maximum parental involvement in each child's education. The birth rate is far less than one child per family so couples have plenty of time to encourage their child. Tiger moms are everywhere.
None of this seems particularly appropriate in our country but it has worked for Singapore, a city-state of many people and little land. The nation already has expanded out, forming new coastal areas. It also has expanded up. New it is busy going down.
The country has absolutely no natural resources so it had to look around for the most promising opportunities. Believe it or not; oil is number one. Singapore has none but nearby countries with much oil need rigs and refineries. Singapore says only three percent of its economy is from tourism.
Singapore officials don't have to spend much time encouraging new businesses. The country is so business friendly that it is said a person can fly into Singapore in the morning, visit all the public officials necessary and leave that evening with a business license.
Government officials worry about the country's constantly declining birthrate. Some years ago, it shortened the work week from six days to five to encourage more family time. That didn't work so the government started paying $10,000 for extra babies.
That isn't working either. The thought is that the cost of living is so high that parents just can't afford many children. The only savoir may be the high immigration rate. Forty percent of the population are immigrants.
Visiting Singapore was an interesting experience. English is the language of business in the country. Don't worry about our language disappearing.


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