Sunday, May 6, 2012

China For An Hour (a week)

Just had a lovely dinner with David Topolewski who runs a really interesting technology firm in Beijing ( and we talked a lot about what we saw as America's problems from a long way away here in Asia.

I brought up the Tom Friedman's idea of being "China for a day" - the ever smug Friedman's (in this case entirely valid) notion that China gets to make mandated smart decisions because of their complete lack of democracy and how, in small doses, it makes for some super smart plays. We agreed that America needs something radical like this to change because, as David said, "reform takes decades, innovation is far more immediate".

We then got on to Singapore politics and I pointed out that while many don't like the Singaporean system because it's far from democratic, it does work. David pointed out that in the 50's Singapore's GDP per cap was the same as Jamaica's, now look at us today. Like it or not, Singapore's mix of semi-democracy, nation building and ruthless single minded vision has worked pretty damn well.

I don't think Singapore is "China for a day". But, I do think Singapore is "China for an hour a week" and, like it or not, it's worked. The kinds of bold, long term strategies that real change demands, don't get done in this world of 49%/51% politics. Maybe it's not everyone's cup of tea, but right now my Singapore Dollar is higher than ever, the property market is on fire, GDP is higher than ever, unemployment is 2.1%, we just got voted the third most popular place in the world to live and we're about to overtake Macau in terms of gambling revenue.  This is a remarkable and interesting place, and people who still talk of us in terms of caning people and banning chewing gum would do well to think again!


David Cox said...

Quite right mate, what do Human Rights Watch know about progress? At least you both agree with the parallels to China ;)

"Election returns brought no changes to Singapore’s reliance on the Internal Security Act to hold, without charge or judicial review,those suspected of subversion, espionage, and terrorism. Laws requiring mandatory death sentences, judicial caning, and criminalization of male same-sex relations remain in force. Government authorities still curtail rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. They deny legitimacy to associations of ten or more, if they deem the groups “prejudicial to public peace, welfare or good order. ” The government requires police permits for five or more people planning a public event, and it uses contempt of court, criminal and civil defamation, and sedition charges to rein in critics."

neil @ GMT+8 said...

I've had a word with a couple of friends here and there's a nice little surprise waiting for you next time you come through Singapore customs!! Ha ha ha . . . .