How Lee Kuan Yew transformed Singapore from small town into global financial hub

Bowing out: former prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, has died at the age of 91. Image: Getty.

This week, we're looking at different perspectives on Lee Kuan Yew's governance of Singapore. This piece examines the positives. 

Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of one of Asia’s smallest but most developed economies, has died. Lee led Singapore after its separation from Malaysia to emerge as one of the world’s most powerful financial centres.

The tiny nation, whose main industry was manufacturing when it became an independent republic in 1965, saw its GDP per capita skyrocket under Lee to one of the highest in the world in 2013. Its population has doubled to more than 5m.

Singapore flourished thanks to Lee's foresight and skill to join the ranks of New York, London and Switzerland as a global financial hub. Singapore has no natural resources of its own to exploit, so Lee used its port to increase trading activity. 

Even though Lee was criticised by many for leading the country in an authoritarian style that stifled political dissent and press freedoms, his firm grip on power and maintenance of stability gave little scope for corrupt financial practices. The orderliness that Singapore became known for was attractive to foreign investment – billions of dollars poured in, ensuring the country’s economic success.

Lee maintained a tight grip on domestic finance by preventing the internationalisation of the Singapore dollar and limiting the operations of foreign banks. This meant international firms saw an opportunity to establish themselves in the tiny island nation. Sound financial and economic policy coupled with a corruption-free environment and technological advancement meant many multinational firms chose Singapore as a regional hub. Lee championed free trade, which helped Singapore attract a free flow of foreign investment and multinational giants such as General Electric.

Singapore’s central business district, a hub for international business. Image: Limtohhan at Wikimedia Commons.

One clear factor in Singapore’s rise was Lee’s ability to take consistent advantage of global financial upheavals. This began in 1971 when America de-linked the dollar from gold. Lee was quick to grasp this opportunity and established Singapore as a regional centre for foreign exchange.

Indeed, since 1968, the Singapore government has provided incentives and preferential tax treatments to cultivate an Asian Dollar Market. This initiative proved instrumental in helping Singapore to develop as a financial centre and maintain a lead over its nearest rival, Hong Kong.

Keeping locals happy

Lee knew that for Singapore to compete with global giants, he needed to provide Singaporeans with housing and employment opportunities that would bring the nation economic stability. To this end, he established the Housing Development Board and Economic Development Board. The housing board transformed this space-constrained island into a world class metropolis that helped its citizens to move out of small ghettos into carefully planned mixed townships and provided superior living conditions for its citizens.

Source: World Bank.

Meanwhile, the development board slowly built up Singaporean industries and businesses to provide job opportunities for both locals and expats. These efforts of the premier saw Singapore’s per capita GDP jump from around US$500 in 1965 by a staggering 2800% to US$14,500 by 1991. Building on Lee’s economic model, it has since continued to grow to US$55,000.

Singapore under Lee also adopted a two-pronged strategy with regards to its financial sector. As well as making Singapore an international financial hub, it wanted the financial sector to play a key supporting role to the growing industries located in Singapore such as manufacturing and shipping.

Lee’s style of running Singapore earned him many accolades. He was once described by Richard Nixon as “A big man on a small stage who in other times and other places, might have attained the world stature of a Churchill, Disraeli or a Gladstone”.

He was a man with a mission to transform a small seaside town into a financial giant. The size of the country’s GDP per capita compared to its tiny size and lack of resources is testament to his success at doing so.

Nafis Alam is an Associate Professor of Finance and Director of the Centre for Islamic Business and Finance Research at the University of Nottingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

The smartphone app placing virtual statues of women on the map

A virtual Edith Wharton in Central Park, New York City. Image: The Whole Story Project.

If you’re a woman, then in order for you to be immortalised in stone, bronze or whatever once you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, you should either have royal blood or be willing to be sculpted naked. That is the rule of thumb.

A statue that actually celebrates a woman’s achievements is a rare sight. Writing in the New Statesman last year, equality campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez found that out of 925 statues in Britain, as listed by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, only 158 are of solo women. Of these, 46 are of royalty, including 29 of Queen Victoria. Fourteen depict the Virgin Mary.

There are signs of change, albeit slow. The suffragist Millicent Fawcett is set to be honoured with a statue in Parliament Square, where currently all 11 of the statues are of men. (They include Nelson Mandela and a nine-foot Gandhi.) The monument is to be unveiled next year to celebrate the centenary of British women receiving the right to vote.

Elsewhere, the late comedian Victoria Wood is being honoured with a statue that’ll be erected in Bury, Greater Manchester. In the Moss Side area of the city, a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst will be unveiled in 2019. Unlike the Fawcett one, neither of these is expected to receive public money, relying on crowdfunding and other sources instead.

So how many more statues of women, regardless of how they’re funded, would we need to build in order to reduce the gender gap? Well, according to Jonathan Jones, art critic at the Guardian, the magic number is: zero.

Jones’s argument, back in March, was that building statues doesn’t advance feminism, but simply traps us in the past. He wrote:

Statues don’t hold public memory. They politely bury it. These well-meaning images melt into the background scenery of our lives.

Whether this is empirically true is questionable, but it’s true that we tend not to erect them as often as we used to anyway. This is partly because there is less space available for such monuments – a noticeable disadvantage cities of the present have compared to those of the past. In order to reduce the imbalance, statues of men would probably have to be removed; many would no doubt be okay with that, but it would mean erasing history.

One partial answer to the problem is augmented reality. It can’t close the gender gap, but it could shine a spotlight on it.

To that end, an advertising agency in New York launched an app at the beginning of May. The Whole Story allows users to place virtual statues of women on a map; other uses can then view and find out more about the individuals depicted at their real-world locations, using their smartphone cameras.


Currently, users have to upload their own virtual statues using 3D-modelling software. But going forward, the project aims for an open collaboration between designers, developers and organisations, which it hopes will lead to more people getting involved.

Contributions submitted so far include a few dozen in New York, several in Washington and one of Jane Austen in Hyde Park. There are others in Italy and the Czech Republic.

Okay, it’s an app created by a marketing firm, but there are legitimate arguments for it. First, the agency’s chief creative office has herself said that it’s important to address the gender imbalance in a visual way in order to inspire current and future generations: you can’t be what you can’t see, as the saying going.

Second, if the physical presence of statues really is diminishing and they don’t hold public memory, as Jones argues, then smartphones could bridge the gap. We live our lives through our devices, capturing, snapping and storing moments, only to forget about them but then return to and share them at a later date. These memories may melt away, but they’ll always be there, backed up to the cloud even. If smartphones can be used to capture and share the message that a gender imbalance exists then that’s arguably a positive thing.  

Third, with the success of Pokemon Go, augmented reality has shown that it can encourage us to explore public spaces and heighten our appreciation for architectural landmarks. It can also prove useful as a tool for learning about historical monuments.

Of course no app will replace statues altogether. But at the very least it could highlight the fact that women’s achievements are more than just sitting on a throne or giving birth to the son of God.

Rich McEachran tweets as @richmceachran.

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