Thomas Sowell has a fine tribute to the leader of Singapore who died yesterday.
It is not often that the leader of a small city-state — in this case, Singapore — gets an international reputation. But no one deserved it more than Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of Singapore as an independent country in 1959, and its prime minister from 1959 to 1990. With his death, he leaves behind a legacy valuable not only to Singapore but to the world.
Born in Singapore in 1923, when it was a British colony, Lee Kuan Yew studied at Cambridge University after World War II, and was much impressed by the orderly, law-abiding England of that day. It was a great contrast with the poverty-stricken and crime-ridden Singapore of that era.
Today Singapore has a per capita Gross Domestic Product more than 50 percent higher than that of the United Kingdom and a crime rate a small fraction of that in England. A 2010 study showed more patents and patent applications from the small city-state of Singapore than from Russia. Few places in the world can match Singapore for cleanliness and orderliness.
Mr Lee had an impressive life story, himself.
Lee graduated from Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge University, with a double starred-first-class honours in law. In 1950, he became a barrister of the Middle Temple and practised law until 1959. He co-founded and was the first secretary-general of the People’s Action Party (PAP), leading it to eight consecutive victories. He campaigned for merger with Malaysia, a move deemed crucial to persuading Britain to relinquish its colonial rule in 1963; but racial strife and political tensions led to Singapore’s separation from the Federation two years later. Leading a newly independent Singapore from 1965, with overwhelming parliamentary control, Lee oversaw the nation’s transformation from a relatively underdeveloped colonial outpost with no natural resources into an Asian Tiger economy. In the process, he forged a widely admired system of meritocratic, clean, self-reliant and efficient government and civil service, much of which is now taught at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
He was a great man and his legacy is being maintained in spite of faint praise from the NY Times.
Pragmatic even about death and averse to a cult of personality, Mr. Lee, who died Monday at age 91, said the house would cost too much to maintain and would become a shambles when “people trudge through.”
There was no wrecking ball on Mr. Lee’s quiet street on Tuesday, and the official memorial does not begin until the public viewing of his coffin in Parliament on Wednesday.
But Singaporeans are asking the same questions about the larger house that Lee Kuan Yew built — modern Singapore and the vaunted “Singapore model.” Will it survive him, or has the sleek Asian financial hub outgrown his father-knows-best style of government?
Among members of the country’s increasingly assertive and demanding electorate, there are calls for a new social contract, a more consultative government and participatory rule-making.
They may be ready for democracy now but there was no question about it then.