Advice from Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's leader

I read Lee Kuan Yew: The Grandmaster’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World.

You might call Yew a benevolent dictator. There’s no freedom of the press in Singapore, and people who criticized him usually ended up broke or in jail.  But Yew is considered a genius, for in one generation he turned Singapore from a third world city-state into an affluent, highly educated country.

Numerous world leaders (Clinton, Thatcher, Bush, Obama, Chirac, Blair, and son on)  have spoken highly of Yew, calling him “remarkable”, “penetrating”, “brilliant”, “smartest”, etc. Nicholas Kristof, opinion columnist for the New York Times, has said, “One can disagree with him. but intolerance and authoritarianism have never had so articulate or stimulating a spokesman.”

“I am not saying that everything I did was right, but everything I did was for an honorable purpose. I had to do some nasty things, locking fellows up without trial.”

“Human beings, regrettable though it may be, are inherently vicious and have to be restrained from their viciousness.”

One bad sign was that Henry Kissinger wrote the forward to the book.

Yew believes that China will eventually dominate the world and surpass the U.S. It is unclear whether they will become an international team player or will be chauvinist, imperialist and violent.

Yew thinks democracy doesn’t work well, especially in Asia. “They say people can think for themselves? Do you honestly believe that the chap who cannot pass elementary school knows the consequences of his choice when he answers a question viscerally, on language, culture and religion?”

“China is not going to become a liberal democracy; if it did it would collapse.”  Yew worries that Chinese youth will become restless and their nationalistic, patriotic fervor could lead China to premature war.  But a Chinese colleague at work said that nowadays most Chinese youth are just worried about paying off their exorbitant mortgages.

“To get good government, you must have good people in charge of government.” Yew is critical of the West’s concern with the personal life of politicians.

Yew is a deficit hawk and recommended that the U.S. avoid “entitlements” that suppress the incentive to work and innovate. Yew believes in the market system and competition, but also in a safety net and a strong government hand to direct things, to avoid unfair distribution of wealth.   He says he’s a pragmatist, not a dogmatist.

Yew thinks that “Multiculturalism will destroy America. There is a danger that large numbers of Mexicans and others from South and Central America will continue to come to America and spread their culture across the whole of the country. If they breed faster than the WASPs, whose culture will prevail?”

Here’s Yew the dictator’s voice: “I understood Deng Xiaoping when he said: if 200,000 students have to be shot, shoot them, because the alternative is China in chaos for another 100 years.”

On India, Yew believes that in the long run its democratic institutions give it an advantage over authoritarian China, but China can implement changes faster. Both countries suffer from corruption.  Many of the Asian countries aside from China and India fear China and want India or the US to be a counterweight to China, which will probably ultimately prevail.

If Islamic Jahidists succeed in kicking the US out of Iraq or Afghanistan, that will embolden them to attempt to set up Taliban-like caliphates, says Yew. [Bush, Cheney and the neocons have opened a Pandora’s box!]  Much of that extremism is encouraged by Saudi Arabia’s support of Wahhabism. Ultimately, such anti-modernist  mentality will fail, but in the short run it can do damage, especially if extremists get hold of weapons of mass destruction.  The extremists are motivated mostly by resentment of modernism but also by anger at US meddling in the Middle East and Palestine.

“The global financial crisis was caused by the excesses of the liberal system of regulations and the belief that a completely free market will allow enormous innovation and allocate capital to the most profitable enterprises with the highest returns.  Once the Federal Reserve Chairman decided it was not necessary to regulate derivatives and supervise them, the fuse was lit…. a Ponzi scheme which must come to an end sometime.”



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