by John Cobin
This column is the first segment of a two-part series commenting on the lack of liberty in Singapore.
Amid its pristine spires, economic prosperity, efficient subway and infrastructure, and the almost perfect cleanliness and crime-free environment of Singapore lurks an eerie fiend: slavish oppression. After serving as a British colonial outpost in Southeast Asia from 1819, the small “Parliamentary Republic” of Singapore attained peaceful independence from Britain in 1958 and set up its own government linked with Malaysia. The tropical city-state attained complete independence in 1965, and has since grown to a population of 4.24 million. The nation has virtually no agricultural production and relies completely on tourism, banking, manufacturing, and trade (imports) for survival. It has blossomed into an offshore tax haven in recent years and many multinational firms have their Asian headquarters in Singapore. Singapore is ranked second in the world (behind Hong Kong) in the Cato Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World 2005 index. During our December 2005 visit, my wife and I experienced favorable first impressions to say the least.
With the world’s second busiest port, first world shopping malls, and top-notch public services, one might be tempted to think that Singapore is a bastion of capitalism and freedom. However, upon closer scrutiny, one can see that Singapore more closely resembles Hitler’s Germany overflowing with its Brown Shirt regiment. Let’s not forget that Germany emerged from the Great Depression earlier under Hitler’s rule and began to enjoy economic prosperity under him. Some have labeled Singapore’s socioeconomic system as “neomercantilist”; others as simply “fascist”. And fascism seems to fit Singapore’s model well: a regime that (1) exalts the nation above the individual, (2) uses violence, propaganda and censorship to forcibly suppress political opposition, (3) engages in severe economic and social regimentation, and (4) engages in corporatism. When it comes to freedom, money simply isn’t everything.
In her online article in “Happy-face fascism”, Sue Ann Tellman rightly calls Singapore’s civil society “parental authority institutionalized in a nation-state.” Judging from reports during our recent trip to Singapore, things have not changed much in the last eleven years. The single-party nanny state has produced dire proactive policies. For example, public toilets are monitored and non-flushers are fined, jaywalkers are resolutely fined, personal grooming standards (e.g., hair length) have been regulated, the sex industry is severely regulated (with prostitutes being licensed and routinely cleaned up by state-approved doctors), the press is not free and import of foreign publications is restricted. The importation, manufacture, possession, and sale of chewing gum have been banned since 1992 (except for medical purposes).
Breaking the rules can result in beatings (with a bamboo cane), large fines, imprisonment, expulsion, and, in extreme situations, capital punishment. Hanging is the mandatory punishment for drug dealers, as one Australian teen found out in December 2005. Criminals like rapists and vandals are stripped naked and caned until their buttocks are hideously bruised and bloodied. There is no “cruel and unusual punishments” proscription like the American Constitution’s Eighth Amendment in Singapore. My wife’s cousin Russell Compton was only in Singapore—which he referred to as a “Lego city”—for six hours. While sitting on a city bench he noticed that someone had left a piece of trash there. Fearful lest he be accused, he picked up the litter and disposed of it.
Tellman comments: “the Government promotes ‘family values’ to provide the social stability needed for continued economic growth. In the Singaporean context this means complete subservience to the state and its social dictates.” One such dictate provided for government housing on a 99 year lease basis. The leaseholds are not cheap and the majority of Singaporeans have no hope of passing on their homestead to future generations. (Only the very wealthy can afford an inheritable, non-time constrained freehold in Singapore.) At least the Singapore state is honest about who really owns the land and buildings. Social stability is also “enhanced” by tight regulation of industry and trade, often including stiff payments for the privilege of doing business. If you think this sounds a little like what America is becoming you are correct, both in terms of policies pertaining to real property “ownership” and individual liberties.
 Singapore’s per capital GNP was nearly $25,000 in 2004.
 Singapore is merely 264 square miles in area.
 http://www.cato.org/pubs/efw/ says: “Economic Freedom of the World measures the degree to which the policies and institutions of countries are supportive of economic freedom. The cornerstones of economic freedom are personal choice, voluntary exchange, freedom to compete, and security of privately owned property.” Out of a possible 10 points, Hong Kong scored 8.7, Singapore 8.5, and the USA, Switzerland, and New Zealand were tied for third place with 8.2.
 The world's busiest port is Hong Kong.
 Sue Ann Tellman (1995), “Happy-face fascism,” New Internationalist, issue 263 (January). The author wrote under a pseudonym so as to preserve the ability to re-enter Singapore.
 The penalty for smuggling gum into the country is a year in jail, and a 10,000 Singapore dollar (US$6,000) fine. The ban was imposed to keep the subway running on time. Used wads of gum had been disposed of on subway train doors, preventing them from closing and disrupting service.
 Rapists suffer severe beatings. American teenager Michael Fay experienced a notorious caning in August 1993 for vandalism.