At the National Museum of Singapore, we learned about the islands history from the time of the Melaka Empire to European colonialism, Japanese occupation and finally independence. The story goes that because Singapore was an island country with no natural resources to speak of, it needed visionary guidance from the “Founding Fathers” (this is actually what they’re referred to as here) of the People’s Action Party led by Lee Kuan Yew and his English and American educated Peranakan technocrats to develop it’s economy and provide all the people with a first world standard of living.
I find this myth fascinating, mostly because everyone believes it, but also because of two related observations:
In mainland China right around the time Singapore was struggling for independence and then climbing to first world status, the idea of economic guidance by benevolent central planners was being tried and failing miserably. There, the excuse was that China had been exploited by a series of colonial and external players not to mention left purposefully backwards by the Qing rulers so a strong central government was needed to push a modernization effort.
Why did this fail in China but succeed wonderfully in Singapore?
Here’s my other observation. The town where I come from is not economically self-sufficient and is also on the ocean. We too do not have an abundance of natural resources and must trade with others to survive.
But no one used that as an excuse for establishing sovereignty or central planning by a one-party state.
So what makes us different if a lack of abundant natural resources is not the issue?