Ah, intelligence: When last was I moved by the intelligence of an American public persona—the teletarts, the presstitutes, the egos in the anchor’s chair, the politicians? If you mean moved to vomit, then all the time. Conversely, I could not listen to Lee Kuan Yew without being impressed by his enormous intelligence. Singapore’s “prime minister for 31 years, widely respected as the architect of Singapore’s prosperity,” died at 91.
More than anything, Lee Kuan Yew, who retired in 1990, understood that human capital, not natural resources, makes a society thrive.
The Cambridge-educated lawyer led Singapore through merger with, and then separation from, Malaysia.
Speaking after the split in 1965, he pledged to build a meritocratic, multi-racial nation. But tiny Singapore – with no natural resources – needed a new economic model.
“We knew that if we were just like our neighbours, we would die,” Mr Lee told the New York Times in 2007.
“We had to produce something which is different and better than what they have.”
Lee’s role as the founding father of Singapore [is what] he will be most remembered for and which gave him that global status in the first place. His success in turning Singapore from a tiny third-world country – at the time of its independence separated from Malaysia and under threat from neighboring Indonesia – into a first-world city state is a feat to behold. While few expected Singapore to survive, it has thrived far beyond the wildest dreams of many, including Lee himself who once reportedly dismissed small island states as a political joke.
But we won’t speak ill of a man who loved his people and was genuinely loved by them, who didn’t spread democracy by force to nobody, kept his military mitts to himself, and did Americans a great favor by inspiring the public paddling of a visiting truant teenager, Michael Fay, when he spray-painted cars in Singapore of 1994.
UPDATE (3/23): Facebook thread:
Kerry Crowel: I’ve used a quote of his (“In multicultural societies, you don’t vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion.”) many times when arguing with open-border, amnesty advocates .
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Myron Robert Pauli: While perhaps too authoritarian for my standards (but how much better are Bloomberg and Guiliani??), Lee improved a lot of things to make a modern Singapore. Another interesting comparison would be to compare Abe Lincoln (from when he took office to when he died) with Deng Xiaoping (from when he took power to when he died) and ask who freed more people or lifted them from poverty and who butchered more people (how does Tienanmien Square casualties compare with Antietam?).
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Hastings Ragnarsson: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists; not so good when people obey and acclaim him; worst when they despise him.” ~ Laotzi /// Wo jing ni yi bei, Lingdao.