Tag Archives: data

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.