What Singapore Does Right Part 1: Meritocracy

The ninth of August marks the 56th anniversary of Singaporean independence. The city-state back then would be nearly unrecognizable to any time traveler from the 21st century. Indeed, at the time of independence, Singapore was home to one of the world’s largest and most derelict slums which would have made Brazil’s favelas paradise in comparison. Yet, as of the writing of this piece, Singapore boasts a median household purchasing power 1.5 times that of the United States, despite hosting a population the size of Wisconsin on a piece of granite barely a quarter the size of Rhode Island.

The Jewel is the latest showpiece at Singapore’s Changi Airport

To make matters even more peculiar, Asia’s second smallest country (behind the Maldives) gained this independence against its will. At the time, Singapore was nearly two years into a merger with the Federation of Malaysia, which it thought imperative given how small and poor its own market was. This merger was not meant to be, however, due to several irreconcilable ideological differences between the little red dot and Kuala Lumpur. One of the most contentious of these faultlines was Singapore’s indignant insistence on a system of meritocracy in political and economic life.

Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, the late Lee Kuan Yew, saw meritocracy as the only way forward in such a multi-racial setting as theirs. Indeed, Singapore is famous in Southeast Asia for treating everyone with an almost militant meritocracy that ruthlessly separates the cream of the crop into positions of importance. But back in 1965, this was beyond the pale of the Malay Muslim leaders of Malaysia, who viewed Malay patronage and local supremacy as something beyond negotiable, going so far as to ban the questioning of these privileges even in its parliament. This, and several other major disagreements, was what led to Malaysia severing political ties with Singapore on the ninth of August over half a century ago.

Today, Singapore’s main imports include the best and brightest from Malaysia’s Chinese and Indian communities, well over a million of which have made the permanent move across the narrow Johor Straits to be treated equally in Singapore. While a significant achievement and socioeconomic gap exist between the Singaporean Chinese majority and the Malay and Indian minorities, the main goal of Singapore’s long-standing government is unwaveringly that of lifting all boats regardless of melanin content.

Meanwhile in America increasingly all over the West, the effects of decades of affirmative action and diversity quotas are bearing its rotten fruit. Instead of focusing on bringing academic standards up in communities that are lagging behind, standards are lowered to get more people from favored groups past the finish line and into universities as well as corporate offices. Instead of excellence and unity, two fundamental values Singapore assiduously strives for, America has been compelled by her corrupt leaders into worshipping diversity as an end in itself, even though everyone ends up spouting the same drivel their corporate masters wish them to spout.

Liberals derive great utility from using international examples of how America is supposedly an irredeemable mess, usually without seriously considering moving to the countries they put on these pedestals. However, since no country is perfect, there indeed exists a theoretical possibility that there is something to be learned from another country’s example. Rather than looking to Europe for fine examples of deftly handling diversity, perhaps Singapore can be studied in a bit more detail.