We Sail Tonight For Singapore

In the comments section to my last post, a user who identified themselves as Singaphile wrote the following:

Let’s pause for a moment, throw away abstract concepts, and speak only of the concrete. Here is a set of simple, tangible statements:

1) The city-state of Singapore does amazingly well along almost every objective dimension of socioeconomic well-being: it has low crime, low corruption, high GDP per capita, high life expectancy, high academic achievement, good public transportation, and high economic growth. This is in spite of the fact that it has virtually no natural resources and only about 700 km-sq of land area. Certainly it is much more successful than the US by many measures (eg. it has lower crime AND lower incarceration rates).
2) Thus, we should be more like Singapore.
3) Singapore is not a liberal democracy.
4) Thus, we should move away from liberal democracy.

I don’t believe this argument can be rejected in any comprehensive way except by asserting that liberal democratic values are intrinsically worthwhile, ie. by assuming what you set out to prove.

Singapore is the favorite modern day model government for Reactionaries, and with good reason. It follows sort of Reactionary-ish policies and is a very nice place to live. I totally agree that Singapore is an exceptionally well-run and pleasant country and have no objection to that part of the argument.

But can we conclude that its Reactionary policies cause its good government? Or might Singapore have just been an exceptionally well-run country that by coincidence chose to follow Reactionary policies, in the same way Sweden is an exceptionally well-run country that by coincidence chose to follow Progressive policies?

Since the same commenter later protested what ze considered “armchair philosophy”, let’s run an experiment. Heaven has supplied us with a perfect natural control group: Hong Kong. Hong Kong was also an island in southern Asia colonized by the British but mostly inhabited by Chinese people. It is also a city-state with high levels of self-government. Basically, it is Singapore without the Reaction (Hong Kong is probably still more Reactionary than average, but it’s certainly not the poster child for Reaction in the same way Singapore is).

If Hong Kong shares most of Singapore’s advantages, then we can assume Singapore did well because of other factors. The obvious choice for these other factors was a combination of Chinese people plus British people plus laissez-faire capitalism, all of which individually do pretty well for themselves and the combination of which ought to be very powerful indeed.

To perform the experiment I ran through Wikipedia’s List of Lists of Countries and pre-determined which lists I would include in the experiment before having looked at them. I mostly chose ones that seemed like good, relatively independent measures of a country’s success as a society. After looking at them, I threw out the ones that lacked data on either Singapore or Hong Kong. I also threw out one that had lists for 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 after noticing that Singapore’s position fluctuated wildly (by like forty countries) each year and frequently bounced between way ahead of Hong Kong to way behind Hong Kong. I decided not to throw out literacy and education, even though some numbers were clearly cooked (for example, Kyrzygystan and Belarus were near the top) because I trust all the countries in this experiment to be responsible in reporting true literacy rates and so their relative standing should be intact.

The ones I ended out with were homicide rate, literacy rate, life expectancy, infant mortality, suicide rate, unemployment rate, one of several measures of GDP per capita which I chose kinda randomly before looking at it, Ease of Doing Business Index, Education Index, Human Development Index, Legatum Prosperity Index, and Satisfaction With Life Index. Take a second to decide which of these are most important to you now, so you don’t choose only the ones that support your favorite country and then complain in the comments that I should only have focused on those.

Also, in order to keep things interesting I added two extra countries. Macau is another island city state inhabited by Chinese by run by Europeans on a laissez-faire system, so it seemed like a good second control group. About half the lists lacked good data for Macau but I decided that was okay. I also added Sweden, as an example of a well-run but notoriously Progressive country, which I thought would make a good comparison to Singapore as a well-run but notoriously Reactionary country.

Without further ado:

Statistic Singapore Hong Kong Macau Sweden Winner
Homicide Rate 4th (0.3) 3rd (0.2) 13th (0.7) 28th (1.0) Hong Kong
Literacy Rate 82nd (96.1%) 103rd (93.5%) 122nd (91.3%) 44th (99%) Sweden
Life Expectancy 10th (80.6) 3rd (81.61) 18th (80.00) 8th (80.88) Hong Kong
Infant Mortality Rate 4th (2.65) 6th (2.9) 7th (3.17) 5th (2.74) Singapore
Suicide Rate 91st (10.3) 113rd (14.6) No data 103rd (11.9) Singapore
Unemploymnt Rate ? (1.9%) ? (3.3%) ? (3.0%) ? (8.1%) Singapore
GDP Per Capita 4th ($61K) 9th ($51K) 3rd ($77K) 15th ($42K) Macau
Ease of Doing Business Index 1st 2nd No data 13th Singapore
Education Index 53rd (.913) 87th (.879) No data 18th (.974) Sweden
Human Development Index 26th (.866) 13th (.898) 23rd (.944) 10th (.904) Sweden
Legatum Prosperity Index 19th 18th No data 3rd Sweden
Satisfaction With Life 53rd 63rd No data 7th Sweden

Sweden wins in five categories, Singapore in four, Hong Kong in two, and Macau in one. This is not exactly a resounding victory for the Reaction.

If we throw out Sweden and Macau, Singapore wins in eight categories and Hong Kong in four. This is a little better, but only until you look at the numbers. Singapore’s victories are a lot of things like “Singapore is 4th worldwide in low infant mortality with only 2.65 deaths per 100,000, but that horrible horrible Hong Kong is 6th worldwide in low infant mortality with a practically genocidal 2.9 deaths per 100,000.” (for comparison: USA has an infant mortality of 6/100,000).

This seems to provide very strong confirmation of our hypothesis that supercapitalist Chinese-British city-states just do really really well regardless of whether they’re notably Reactionary or not. Maybe not quite as well as Sweden, but you can’t have everything.

EDIT: For everyone complaining in the comments that Sweden has this or that unfair advantage over Singapore, I am totally not above bringing up that Singapore is a single city with a beautiful natural harbor right smack in the middle of a fantastic chokepoint in one of the biggest trade routes in the world.

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52 Responses to We Sail Tonight For Singapore

  1. Oligopsony says:

    I imagine the Reactionary retort is that if you think things are explained by having The Right Ethnicities + Lassiez-Faire capitalism, you’ve conceded the important bits. And they would also say, probably correctly, that in order to cleanse society of the untermenschen and summon the free market down the the Prime Material Plane you’d need reactionary policies, and that in order to get those reactionary policies you’d need to throw out democracy.

    • Fnord says:

      The Right Ethnicities explains Sweden, too, but laissez faire capitalism doesn’t seem like the right description.

      Also, while I agree with you that, ultimately, for most (or at least many) states the odds of implementing a set a policies similar to Singapore by the democratic process are slim, I think it’s a long way from a sure thing that non-democratic governments would do so either.

    • Damien says:

      Yeah, well, they’d still be wrong. It’s not just that Singapore and Hong Kong are “laissez-faire” (I suspect Singapore’s a lot closer to business friendly than “laissez faire”), it’s that they’re economically well-run when the surrounding area *isn’t*. Plus Singapore being on the trade bottleneck. An older comment was that if Malaysia were run like Singapore it still wouldn’t be as rich; missing was that if Malaysia were run like Singapore then *Singapore* probably wouldn’t be as rich, having lost some of its competitive advantage. (Caveat: wealthier neighbors would also mean more total wealth and trade, so that might counteract the loss.)

  2. im says:

    Lassiez-faire reaction?…

  3. Athrelon says:

    Worth noting that governing Singapore well is governing on Hard Mode, since the country is highly multiethnic AND a democracy, in a region where that combination has not fared well.

    Sweden is remarkable for being not-sucky while pursuing socialist policies to an extent that other countries haven’t been able to manage (although it is significantly more free-market than its stereotype suggests). But it started from a much richer base than Singapore (and the other Asian countries on your list). “Guarding your inherited wealth well” is definitely laudable but seems less impressive than “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps [with an assist from multinationals].”

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “Sweden is remarkable for being not-sucky while pursuing socialist policies to an extent that other countries haven’t been able to manage,”

      Except Norway, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, and really anywhere else in Northern Europe.

      “But it started from a much richer base than Singapore (and the other Asian countries on your list).”

      How about Finland, then? Random forest inhabited by barbarian tribes until Swedish colonization in 1700s, now right around Sweden-level of civilization. And while we’re talking unfair advantages, one could point out Singapore’s gigantic unfair advantage in having 100% of its cities be beautiful natural harbors right smack in the middle of the biggest chokepoint in one of the most important trade routes in the world.

    • Damien says:

      “In 2009, the government census reports that 74.2% of residents were of Chinese, 13.4% of Malay, and 9.2% of Indian descent,[144] while Eurasians and other groups form 3.2%”

      That’s highly multi-ethnic? No more so than the US.

      • Oligopsony says:

        The US is highly multiethnic, yes. (I suppose, for purposes of constructing a scalar variable, one could use a Herfindahl Index or something.)

    • Damien says:

      ” But it started from a much richer base than Singapore (and the other Asian countries on your list)”

      What’s your basis for saying that?

    • chris y says:

      But it started from a much richer base than Singapore

      The initial development of Singapore was funded by the British East India Company, which was as close to being an infinite resource as you could get at the start of the 19th century. Certainly the place had been a provincial backwater for a few centuries before that, but it succeeded after its re-foundation because enormous business interests poured vast sums of money into it in a very short space of time. It was one big entrepreneurial initiative from the get go. Not really comparable at all to Sweden.

  4. Kaj Sotala says:

    Your site doesn’t have an upvote button, but I won’t let that stop me from saying “upvoted for empiricism”.

  5. Fnord says:

    For comparison, the Anglosphere:

    Murder Rate: New Zealand (0.9), Australia (1.0), UK/Ireland tie (1.2), Canada (1.6), US (4.2)
    Literacy Rate: 6-way tie at 99%
    Life Expectancy: Australia (81.44), Canada (80.54), New Zealand (80.13), UK (79.91), Ireland (79.68), US (77.97)
    Infant Mortality: Ireland (4.04), Australia (4.66), UK (4.91), New Zealand (5.07), Canada (5.22), US (6.81)
    Suicide Rate: Australia (9.7), Canada (11.5), UK/Ireland tie (11.8) US (12.0), New Zealand (13.2)
    Unemployment Rate: Australia (5.4), New Zealand (7.3), Canada (7.4), UK (7.7), US (7.9), Ireland (14.7)
    GDP per capita (World Bank): US (48K), Ireland (42K), Canada (40K), Australia (40K), UK (36K), New Zealand (30K)
    Ease of doing business index: New Zealand (3rd), US (4th), UK (7th), Australia (10th), Ireland (15th), Canada (17th)
    Education Index: New Zealand/Australia tie (1st, .993), Canada (6th, .991), Ireland (9th, .985), US (13th, .978), UK (31st, .957)
    Human Development Index: Australia (2nd, .929), US (3rd, .910), New Zealand/Canada/Ireland tie (5th, .908), UK (28th, .863)
    Legatum Prosperity Index: Australia (4th), New Zealand (5th), Canada (6th), Ireland (10th), US (12th), UK (13th)
    Satisfaction with Life index: Canada/Ireland tie (8th, 253), New Zealand/US tie (16th, 247), Australia (26th, 243), UK (41st, 237)

    A few observations:
    The Anglosphere actually does pretty well compared to the “supercapitalist Chinese-British city-states” on many measures. Murder rate and infant mortality are worse, but actual life expectancy is in the same ballpark. They seem to do better on the human development/education type indices and worse on the economic ones, which is probably about what you’d expect comparing with “supercapitalist” states.

    The Satisfaction with Life index doesn’t seem to be particularly correlated with anything else. I’m not sure whether to take that as “self-reported measures of happiness are unreliable” or “traditional measures of well-being are a poor measure of subjective happiness”.

    At first I thought Life Expectancy at Birth and Infant Mortality might be double-counting. They might be for third-world countries, but they don’t see to be here.

    Apparently, if you’re living in the Anglosphere, you really don’t want to be living in the UK itself. Which colony wins is a slightly harder question, but Australia and Ireland look pretty good.

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      The Satisfaction with Life index doesn’t seem to be particularly correlated with anything else. I’m not sure whether to take that as “self-reported measures of happiness are unreliable” or “traditional measures of well-being are a poor measure of subjective happiness”.

      Or you could take it as evidence for the “subjective happiness doesn’t really correlate strongly with most of the things we’d intuitively expect it to correlate with, and people eventually get used to anything” claim that happiness research in general seems to suggest.

    • Medivh says:

      The satisfaction with life index does correlate with the human development index, if you correlate all countries of the world.

  6. Sarah says:

    I don’t know if you’ve ever hung out with anarchocapitalists. But there are really only a few things they like to do.

    1.) Drink.
    2.) Eat barbecue.
    3.) Decide where they’re going to move.

    [oh, there are other common quirks, like Vibrams and alternative currencies. At some point I should do a “you might be an ancap if” list.]

    So, Singapore is kind of the boring default option among that crowd. But I kind of like it as my notional Plan B. It’s the least “foreign” East Asian country (and I don’t know Chinese, and I get homesick for butter, blue skies, traffic laws, and Western music after a week in China.) It’s allegedly dull for young people, better for parents of small children, but that’s not the worst thing in the world. And I’d be *warm enough.* Y’know that <a href="https://sindeloke.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/37/&quot; parable about privilege and the lizard and the dog? I am *literally* the lizard.

    • Romeo Stevens says:

      I take the tony robbins tack on these things. People are largely responsible for their feelings. The parable wrongly equates feelings with actual physical impositions.

  7. Fnord says:

    And, for more comparison, the Nordosphere (note: may not actually be a word):
    Murder Rate: Iceland (0.3), Norway (0.6), Denmark (0.9), Sweden (1.0), Finland (2.2)
    Literacy Rate: Norway (100%), 4-way tie at 99%
    Life Expectancy: Iceland (81.28), Sweden (80.88), Norway (80.45), Finland (79.34), Denmark (78.25)
    Infant Mortality: Iceland (2.07), Sweden (2.56), Finland (2.81), Norway (3.00), Denmark (4.03)
    Suicides: Iceland/Denmark tie (11.3), Sweden/Norway tie (11.9), Finland (16.8)
    Unemployment: Norway (3.0), Iceland (5.7), Denmark (7.7), Finland (7.9), Sweden (8.1)
    GDP per capita: Norway (60k), Sweden (41k), Denmark (41k), Finland (37k), Iceland (37k)
    Ease of doing business index: Denmark (5th), Norway (6th), Finland (11th), Sweden (13th), Iceland (14th).
    Education index: Finland/Denmark tie (1st, .993), Norway (7th, .989), Iceland (12th, .980), Sweden (18th, .974)
    Human Development Index: Norway (1st, .943), Sweden (10th, .904), Iceland (14th, .898), Denmark (16th, .895), Finland (22nd, .882).
    Legatum Prosperity Index: Norway (1st), Denmark (2nd), Sweden (3rd), Finland (7th), Iceland (15th).
    Satisfaction with Life Index: Denmark (1st, 273), Iceland (3rd, 260), Finland/Sweden tie (5th, 257), Norway (16th, 247)

    A few observations:
    Iceland only had a single murder in the study period, so the rate given may not be a particularly precise measure of the actual murder rate in Iceland over time.

    What the hell is up with that suicide rate, Finland?

    • Army1987 says:

      What the hell is up with that suicide rate, Finland?

      I have heard that having few hours of sunlight during winter can trigger depression — but if that was the reason we’d expect Sweden and Norway to be similar and Iceland to be worse.

    • Romeo Stevens says:

      I’ve heard that NOT being an alcoholic in Finland will get you odd looks.

    • nydwracu says:

      My first guess would be Russian influence; what else so cleanly separates it from the rest of Scandinavia? Russia itself has the fourth highest suicide rate in Europe, behind Hungary, Belarus, and Lithuania, which has the third-highest suicide rate in the world.

      (Behind South Korea and Greenland, neither of which are surprising: Southeast Asia tends to be miserable, and native populations in places that are still European colonies tend to have high suicide rates. The ones I don’t understand are Guyana and Kazakhstan, which are right between Lithuania and Belarus.)

  8. Medivh says:

    On a sidenote:
    Countries with the population seize of sweden or singapure seem to be governed much better than big countries. So comparing singapure to the united states does not tell us a lot.

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      I have a working hypothesis that large countries are much more likely to be corrupted by various vested interests: if a country has 100 million as opposed to 5 million inhabitants, it gets much more profitable for a company to lobby for a law which is expected to earn them a dollar per inhabitant per year, say. Also, there’s a limit to how large you can make a parliament, so as the population grows, the citizens-per-MP ratio is going get bigger, making it easier for the MPs to start living in their own world separate from everyone else. That would suggest that liberatarianism or absolutism is a better solution for big countries, with liberal democracy working fine for smaller ones.

      Somebody in the public choice field has probably studied this.

      • Medivh says:

        “That would suggest that liberatarianism or absolutism is a better solution for big countries, with liberal democracy working fine for smaller ones”

        Big centralistic/absolutistic countries have terrible problems with corruption. Example: Sowjet union, china

        • Kaj Sotala says:

          I’ll grant the Soviet Union, but I’ve gotten the impression that China would be relatively well-run as compared to what you’d expect from a democratic state of the same size. I know very little about China, though, so I could be entirely wrong on that.

        • Medivh says:

          @ kai:

          I have to admitt that my sources on chinas corruption are just a handful of news somewhere on the net, that may have been not that accurate and reliable.

          The Transparency International perceived Corruption index shows China a little bit better than India, pretty bad but still far from the bottom.
          But this Index does measure perceived corruption instead of actual corruption.

      • Oligopsony says:

        Certainly this was the classical view – you can find it in Montesquieu and Rousseau alongside climactic theories of optimal government.

        Modern researchers have looked into the corruption-size link: pro, pro, anti.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Countries with the population seize of sweden or singapure seem to be governed much better than big countries. So comparing singapure to the united states does not tell us a lot.

      It depends why small countries are better-governed. Three hypotheses leap to mind as to why it might be (supposing for the sake of argument that small countries are generally better-governed):

      1. Natural selection. Poorly-governed small countries may tend to get taken over by larger countries, while poorly-governed large countries can persist through sheer mass.

      2. Internal feedback mechanisms. The consequences of poor governance may be more keenly felt in smaller countries, so smaller countries can right themselves faster when quality of governance starts slipping.

      3. Diseconomies of scale. Size may make a large country inherently more difficult to govern well than a smaller country.

      #1 and #2 point towards using small countries as natural experiments, whose lessons should be seriously considered for adoption by larger countries looking for better ways to govern. #3 points towards large countries splitting themselves up into dozens of more-easily-governed small countries.

      • nydwracu says:

        Smaller scita-scienda gap? A king of America would have to keep track of everything going on in America, and a king of Mauritius would have to keep track of everything going on in Mauritius. But there’s a lot less going on in Mauritius than in America. And then take that and apply it to democracy.

  9. Just FYI, Macau was run by the Portuguese.

  10. Douglas Knight says:

    What Singapore policies do you use to label more reactionary than Hong Kong?

  11. asdf says:

    “Basically, it is Singapore without the Reaction ”

    I reject this conclusion. What is it based on?

    Hong Kong doesn’t even allow one man one vote.

    “Elections are held in Hong Kong when certain offices in the government need to be filled. Every four years, half of the unicameral Legislative Council of Hong Kong’s sixty seats representing the geographical constituencies are filled by the electorate; the other thirty seats representing the functional constituencies are elected through smaller closed elections within business sectors.”

    1/3 of Hong Kong’s legislature is elected by elites without anyone voting.

  12. asdf says:

    I think we all agree the Nordics do very well. However, all the same small country stuff can be lobbed at them.

    A lot of people already mentioned that 90% of the equation is “The Right Ethnicities + Lassiez-Faire capitalism”. Those countries have that. Even on the capitalism point while taxes are high they have much freer business climates based on all number of metrics.

    I would also say that most of the programs they spend money on are better. For instance is universal healthcare really to the “left” of America. The American government spends the same % of GDP on healthcare as these people. It’s not a size issue, its good government issue.

    I think the better comparisons are large country to large country. So I’d compare countries like Brittian, France, etc as European progressives (in fact I’d include America). Then the picture doesn’t look as good as the Nordics. Similairly I’d include Japan as a large country reactionary state (which doesn’t do as good as Singapore, but the drop off is a lot lower).

    Of course the major problems with progressives is the long term effects. Progressivism is great at drawing down capital (both physical and social). That shows up in the long term. How will France look when its majority Muslim rather then minority Muslim? Probably a lot like it does in the Muslim slums that nobody will go to.

    A note on Germany:

    Germany is an interesting progressive/reactionary mix. The culture is reactionary in many ways, and many of their government policies (especially the education and industrial policy) are reactionary.

    One reason I don’t consider liberal democracy as inevitable is because had the Germans won WWI we would be living in a much more reactionary world.

  13. suntzuanime says:

    Have you considered using cuts in your articles on the main blog page that link to the full article? You write long posts and I love you for it, but it has the side-effect of making the main blog page difficult to navigate.

  14. Eric Rall says:

    Is there good data available for some of these metrics for Swedish-Americans, Singaporean-Americans, etc?

  15. Federico says:

    A response to this series of posts.

    I appreciate the stimulus to discussion.

  16. Pleeppleep says:

    > “Sweden wins in five categories, Singapore in four, Hong Kong in two, and Macau in one. This is not exactly a resounding victory for the Reaction.”

    I think it might be prudent to consider *which* categories they win, instead of just the number of victories. Not counting Macau and Hong Kong, Sweden wins education and literacy, which is directly related to education. It also wins Legatum Prosperity, Human Development, Life Expectancy, and Life Satisfaction. This suggests that Sweden is better at promoting individual well being.

    Singapore wins GDP per capita, unemployment, ease of doing business, homicide, suicide, and infant mortality. This suggests that Singapore is more economically sound and overall is a safer place to live than Sweden.

    Whether this is due to the differences between reactionary and socialist policy or not, Singapore excels at somethings while Sweden excels at others. I don’t have a particular opinion on the ramifications, but I think that’s worth considering.

  17. BenSix says:

    There is a danger of creating a false dichotomy between “reactionary politics” and “liberal politics”. I like to think one can embrace aspects of both.

    Would Western fans of Singapore have any explanation for the fact that its citizens, by their own accounts, are among the least positive in the world? It is not a great standard to judge nations by, unless one truly feels that Saudi Arabia and Uganda would make for better homes than South Korea and Italy, but it is interesting that Thais and Hong Kongers seem far more cheerful.

    • nydwracu says:

      There’s a very simple explanation: Asians.

      Whether reactionaries can separate the good aspects of Asian culture (note that at least some of them tend toward Chinese philosophy) from the bad aspects (e.g. being antlike and depressed) is another question.

  18. nydwracu says:

    Rates, not states. How long has Sweden been progressive? How long can a state ride the inertia established by previous good governance before it collapses under the weight of its current bad governance? America suggests that it can last for a good long while that way alone. When was America well-governed? In the… what, fifties? Sixties? Many decades ago, with a likely upper limit at 1980 and arguably a brief resurgence during the Clinton years. If Sweden is doing so well now, how did it get there? And given what Sweden is doing now, where will it be fifty years from now?

    Are there any existing examples of societies further along on that path–societies that used to be well-governed but then became badly-governed and rode inertia until inertia gave out? I’m no historian, but Britain sounds like one. Maybe also Spain, but I know even less there.

    • Kaleberg says:

      Sweden was well behind most of Europe in the mid-19th century, less than half as wealthy per-capita than England. It was full of poor subsistence farmers with scattered plots of land under a medieval land allocation system. In the second half of the 19th Sweden reformed its land ownership system to improve agriculture and took control of the school system, such as it was, from the Roman Catholic Church. For a while, the nation was exporting poor, relatively uneducated Swedes. In fact, there is a “humorous” stereotype of the dumb, but basically decent Swedish immigrant, that still shows up now and then. (Check out Svenson in an Archie comic book.) Sweden moved towards democracy and established itself exporting lumber for industrializing England as anyone who read any Ibsen would know.

      Literacy rates rose, and the government built up the university system. There was a big government backed push towards education and industrialization, helped by neutrality in both world wars.

      In other words, Sweden has been progressive since the mid-19th century and remains progressive today.


      Spain was a progressive nation maybe in the 15th and early 16th century, but conquering the New World was much more lucrative than developing the Old World. The monarchy set its sights on more than Spain and wound up buying the Holy Roman Empire. Spain became a backwater until Franco started opening up a little in the late 1960s. England was also a major colonial power, but it was also the first nation to develop a modern industrial base. It paid a price for its colonial empire in that it diverted talent and capital from maintaining and advancing at home. If you were an ambitious Spaniard in 1520, you became a conquistador. If you were an ambitious Englishman in 1870, you joined the foreign service. By the end of the 2nd world war, England was in terrible economic shape, but the English working class had long fallen behind much of Europe.

      Colonial empires can be a bane. Look at the Soviet Union’s old empire. It was making up profit into the early 1970s, but by the 1980, it didn’t make sense to invade Poland on the usual invade-your-allies-every-12-years plan. By 1992, the Soviet Union had collapsed. The US has been paying a big price for our empire. It may be more loosely organized, but it’s costs include the long term drain of outsourcing, or bloated financial sector and our bloated military. I don’t think we are likely to collapse as did the Soviet Union, but we have been paying a serious price.

  19. Singaphile says:

    Thanks for taking the time to reply to my comment. For the sake of logical clarity, I’ve divided my response into separate comments.

    First of all, I did not bring up Singapore to prove my own reactionary theory – I’m not even really a reactionary – but because it serves as a Black Swan counterexample that falsifies the theories you developed in your previous post.
    Let’s review some of the claims you made:

    “Countries that avoid liberal democracy usually regret it” : yeah, look at all those sad, sad Singaporeans, crying in their cups about how they should have become liberal democrats.

    “Features of liberal democracy are adaptations to our current technological climate” : Singapore seems pretty well-adapted to me!

    “Reaction is somewhere between wrong and impossible” : apparently not in Singapore!

    I think the only intellectually honest thing to do in this situation is to adopt a position of epistemic humility and admit that you don’t have tenable theory of history and socioeconomics. This isn’t something to be ashamed of – no one else has a tenable theory of history and socioeconomics.

    • MRMANDIAS says:

      Yeah, that’s more or less what I come up with when I think seriously about the implications of this test.

    • Kaleberg says:

      Singapore has a 1.2% birth rate. Russia has a 1.5% birth rate. Sweden has a 2% birth rate. Women, and to a lesser extent men, are voting their confidence, or lack thereof, in their nation’s future. I don’t think Singaporeans are crying for liberal democracy, but they are crying. Given the effectiveness of so many of the Singaporean governments interventions in the economy, the low birth rate is telling. (For all I know, Singaporeans are crying for liberal democracy, but we’d never know it. It’s a repressive police state. A lot of Spaniards were closet democrats in the 1950s, but they had the good sense to keep their yaps shut.)

  20. Singaphile says:

    Your counterargument relating to Hong Kong would be strong if I were making a positive affirmation of the superiority of Reactionary political philosophy in comparison to other candidate philosophies (liberal democracy, communism, supercapitalism, etc). However, my point was primarily negative: I am just disputing your claims about the superiority of liberal democracy (“countries that avoid
    liberal democracy usually regret it”). Seen in the proper light, the success of Hong Kong is actually evidence on my side of the debate, because Hong Kong isn’t a liberal democracy either, as several other commenters have noted. Let me rewrite my original argument:

    1. Hong Kong and Singapore are amazingly successful, doing much better than the Western democracies in several important, objective ways.
    2. Thus, we should be more like Hong Kong and Singapore.
    3. Hong Kong and Singapore are not liberal democracies.
    4. Thus, we should move away from liberal democracy.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Sorry, I guess I totally missed that point of yours!

      I do think Singapore is close enough to liberal democracy that it doesn’t quite contract my “non-liberal-democracy societies tend towards it” – for example, Singapore seems much more liberal-democratic than Burma or even China. But I get your point and I’m sorry.

  21. Singaphile says:

    As a final point, I think that the comparison you presented above actually shows a decisive advantage for Singapore when you look at the data the right way.

    The dimensions of comparison shown above can be separated into three groups. In the first group, Singapore and Sweden are effectively tied. The second group is made up of synthetic, qualitative indices of dubious value. To the extent that Singapore lags in some areas, this is probably just because the evaluation was carried out by Westernized institutions that are biased towards Western cultures and lifestyles. Also, I am highly skeptical of the “Education Index” that shows Singapore lagging in education; Singapore is usually near the very top in the PISA rankings.

    In the remaining two dimensions of comparison, Singapore wins dramatically. The unemployment rate in Singapore is 4x lower than in Sweden. To frame that, the difference between a 2% and a 8% unemployment rate in the US would correspond to ten million jobs. Singapore also wins in GDP per capita by an astonishing margin – nearly $20K. That difference is about as large in absolute terms as the gap between Mexico ($15K) and the UK ($35K).

  22. MRMANDIAS says:

    I imagine about a million other people have made this point in the thread already, but isn’t this more a rebuttal of political systems than of Reaction? But the idea that political systems don’t matter much seems like its generally more corrosive of progressivism than it is of reaction, though corrosive of both.

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