"Old-fashioned strong-arm repression"

I’m working on a big ol’ post about the latest retail structured credit blowup in Singapore (no, it’s not a repeat from 2008). In the meantime, from the pages of National Geographic, here’s a cracking interview with none other than Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew (who “[looks] like a flint-eyed Asian Clint Eastwood circa Gran Torino”… uh, right, whatever).

The nut graf:

Singapore, maybe more than anywhere else, crystallizes an elemental question: What price prosperity and security? Are they worth living in a place that many contend is a socially engineered, nose-to-the-grindstone, workaholic rat race, where the self-perpetuating ruling party enforces draconian laws (your airport entry card informs you, in red letters, that the penalty for drug trafficking is “DEATH”), squashes press freedom, and offers a debatable level of financial transparency?

I was going to make a snide comment here, but… really I can’t. I’ve got nothing to add. That right there is the Faustian bargain that comes with every Singaporean passport and employment pass.

And not to put too fine a point on it, MM Lee comes across as an arrogant prick:

To lead a society, the MM says in his precise Victorian English, “one must understand human nature. I have always thought that humanity was animal-like. The Confucian theory was man could be improved, but I’m not sure he can be. He can be trained, he can be disciplined.”

Does this mean I’m a lab rat? Where’s my cheese?

[…] taking a typically Darwinian stance, the MM describes the country’s new subjects [first- and second-generation Chinese immigrants] as “hungry,” with parents who “pushed the children very hard.” If native Singaporeans are falling behind because “the spurs are not stuck into the hide,” that is their problem.

Charming bloke.

But on the lighter side, there’s this:

When Scape, a youth outreach group, opened a “graffiti wall,” youngsters were instructed to submit graffiti designs for consideration; those chosen would be painted on a designated wall at an assigned time.

It’d be hilarious if it weren’t completely true. That graffiti wall’s just down the road from my house; photos TK!

(If we’re nitpicking, the article says that Lee “made English the official language”. The official language of Singapore is still Malay - but it’s not the most commonly used language. I’d say it’s not even in the top three, depending on whether you count Singlish.)

You can read the piece online, or pick it up in the January 2010 issue of Nat Geo - which I’m guessing won’t be on sale in Singapore.