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The Upside Of Living In A Disciplined Socialist Society

No, I’m not talking about California, and definitely not the United States! I’m in Singapore this week, speaking at a conference. It’s been almost a decade since I was last here and, like many parts of Asia, the building boom is still in full swing. The port, as always, is bustling and there is construction activity in every part of the city. Singapore is always fun to visit, especially if you like Asian food, which I definitely do. The population’s mix of Chinese, Malaysian and Indian ethnicities, together with the strong influence that still remains from British Colonial days, means that there is good food to be had everywhere.

Most of the old street stalls have gone, moved to “hawker” courts, where a good meal costs a few Dollars. However, the food is just as good as it ever was, served in spotless surroundings. Everything in Singapore is squeaky clean and there’s very little crime, making it a great place to get a gentle introduction to Asia. You can even get a taste of India in one small area, with the hustling from market stall owners, but without the begging that still pervades much of Southern Asia. A few streets away you can enjoy fish and chips and a good beer with British ex-pats, or wander over for a Singapore Sling at Raffles, still one of my favorite hotels in the World.

Verna insisted that I get another haircut before my visit, despite a failed attempt at getting a decent one just a couple of weeks ago. It’s just as well that I did, because long hair is frowned on in Singapore. Most people think that Singapore is a police state, especially when they hear about people being caned for vandalism that would probably go unpunished in the United States. There’s a death sentence for being in possession of large quantities of illegal drugs. Illegal possession of weapons can lead to caning and imprisonment for life. You can be fined $1000 for spitting in the street and jaywalkers and drunks don’t stand a chance here. They’ll be caught and fined. Chewing gum is completely banned and smoking in public places, other than bars and clubs, is banned, which I must say makes me happy. Don’t expect your American lawyer to get you off lightly if caught do anything illegal. Although the Singaporean legal system is based on English Common Law, judges, not juries, now determine cases as well as sentences. That seems very worrying, until you compare the fairness of the system with other countries. Singapore comes out looking pretty good. The socialist government runs an extremely tight ship, but is regarded as very competent and fair.

So, what do the law-abiding citizens get in return from these, mainly trivial and understandable, losses of “privileges”? An extremely low crime rate, free health care and many other social benefits, and a place that is very pleasant to visit and live in. The Republicans would hate the fact that low tax rates (a 14.2% revenue versus Gross Domestic Product, against 26.9% in the U.S.) can support a superb socialized welfare system, plus the notion that no corporations are making huge profits out of people’s health problems. The thought of the GOP and Tea Party’s anguish and frustration at those plain facts makes me very happy indeed. :-)

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