Is Singapore Insufficiently Tribalistic?

|

Commentary blogger and China Hawk Arthur Waldron writes:

I had a strong sense of trouble lurking beneath the surface when a Singaporean colleague recently wrote me about the growing numbers of Chinese from the People's Republic who are coming to Singapore. The reason: to fill jobs left vacant as native born Singaporeans continue to emigrate at what is perhaps the second highest rate in the world (an estimated 26.11 per thousand, second only to East Timor.)

This seems like a good time to revisit the United Nations fallacy–the idea that two or more political jurisdictions may be usefully compared along any dimension simply because those jurisdictions are each recognized as sovereign states. Singapore does, in fact, have a high emigration rate. Singapore is also the size of Chicago. Would it shock you to know that San Marino has a higher out-migration rate than Brazil?

And yet the comparison of utterly incomparable jurisdictions is not the silliest thing about this paragraph. PRC immigrants are not coming to "fill jobs" left vacant by footloose, disloyal Singaporeans. Singapore is a strong economy. It thus has the magical power to create new jobs, especially at the very top (engineers) and very bottom (domestic workers) of the spectrum. Singaporeans are becoming increasingly wealthy, the structure of consumer demand is changing, and native willingness to accept low-status jobs is steadily decreasing. Meanwhile, Singaporeans realize that the best universities in the world are outside the city-state, so they send their kids to schools abroad, where they often settle. The country has both a high emigration rate and one of the highest net migration rates in the world. Horrible, isn't it?

After relating a story about badly behaving Chinese immigrants in Singapore (which is itself over 70 percent Chinese, but is especially prejudiced against recent PRC immigrants), Waldron continues:

A looming internal problem would be solved, and a potential external disaster avoided, if that government would begin to democratize, and to allow its people to develop their talents–in Singapore, not abroad.

Let Singapore democratize, by all means, but it's completely bizarre to claim that the Singaporean government, which presides over one of the wealthiest societies in Asia, is preventing citizens from "developing their talents." Singapore is a cosmopolitan, educated society. Cosmopolitan, educated people are unlikely to cling to a single tiny plot of land for the entirety of their lives. If you have a quarrel with mobility, you have a quarrel with prosperity.

Hat Tip: Matt Zeitlin.

Advertisement

NEXT: Mississippi Moves Toward First DNA Exoneration

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. First post!

  2. If you have a quarrel with mobility, you have a quarrel with prosperity.

    Excellent punchline!

  3. Singapore is a cosmopolitan, educated society.

    translation: Their libertarians aren’t racist hicks.

  4. If I’m a young, skilled Singaporan who has noted the greater political and human rights situation in other parts of the developed world, isn’t it a rational decision to emigrate?

    Isn’t it rational for Singapore to import workers if the economy is booming and labor shortages are popping up?

    If I’m a PRC citizen, isn’t it rational to work in Singapore for a time and build up a nest egg for me and mine?

    IOW, is anybody declaring this a problem? I can’t discern a loser in any of the above scenarios.

  5. Kerry,

    You seem to have misread the article. Waldron is claiming that opening Singapore only to PRC migrants is going to inflame native non-Chinese and make relations with neighboring non-Chinese states worse. Malaysia and Indonesia are right there and have lots of poor people willing to work in Singapore, which is already a pretty tribalistic state and which to date has done a good job of balancing the different groups and he is suggesting that turning Singapore into the southern outpost of Greater China would probably mess that up.

  6. Common sense says to earn your wages in a high economy (high wages, usually also meaning high costs), and “retire” (at whatever age) to a low economy (low wages, usually low costs) to enjoy the fruits of your labor (and inject money into the local economy as well).

  7. Singapore is a cosmopolitan, educated society.

    So Ron Paul won’t win the Singapore primary?

  8. Alan is correct,

    They Key sentences…

    Instead of permitting immigration from Malaysia and Indonesia, Singapore appears to be seeking guest workers from China. This is already causing ill-feeling inside Singapore, as the Singaporeans have only the remotest connections with China. My colleague emailed me:

    If PRC Chinese become a significant presence in Singapore, then that country’s ties with its immediate neighbors, always delicate, will be inflamed. Furthermore, friends such as the United States will have to think twice about sharing intelligence and technology.

  9. They = the

  10. Kerry,

    You seem to have misread the article. Waldron is claiming that opening Singapore only to PRC migrants is going to inflame native non-Chinese and make relations with neighboring non-Chinese states worse.

    I guess being a cosmopolitan, educated person means never having to read your source material…

  11. I guess being a cosmopolitan, educated person means never having to read your source material

    I guess being Pig Mannix means you are, ipso facto, a dick.

  12. ” Furthermore, friends such as the United States will have to think twice about sharing intelligence and technology.”

    Like we do with the Saudies?

  13. Singapore is a cosmopolitan, educated society.

    CIA World Fact Book on Singapore: ” . . . drug abuse limited because of aggressive law enforcement efforts . . . . ”

    Cosmopolitian AND tough on drugs? According to Reasonoids, that can’t possibly be!

  14. Cosmopolitian [sic] AND tough on drugs? According to Reasonoids, that can’t possibly be!

    I see this cosmopolitan thing-y has got a lot of people bent out of shape.

    I suppose that you would suggest that New York City (nor any other major United States metropolis) can’t be cosmopolitan either. Last time I checked, drugs are still illegal there.

  15. Stoner, don’t you know by now that nearly all labels in politics are backwards in order to conceal the truth?

    The Democratic Party is against democracy. The Republican Party is against republicanism. A ‘Democratic People’s Republic’ is any of those things.

    Fair Trade Laws rig the marketplace. The Department of Education makes education worse. Campaign ‘reform’ laws ensure elections are bought and sold the same way they always have been.

    The Patriot Act betrays the country. The War on Terror creates terror. The ‘9-11 candidate’ screwed up on 9-11.

    And the one guy who is against war, oppression, and torture — they call him ‘Nazi.’ (“Pay no attention to that ongoing genocide — look at these newsletters from the early 1990s!”)

    Anyhow, if there was a magazine run by people unable to reason, what do you think it would be called?

  16. Singapore is cosmopolitan? Gee shucks, I wonder what it’s like. Someday I’ll make it to the big city.

  17. A song to the tune of Zep’s “Dazed and Confused”

    Been dazed and confused for so long it’s not true
    wanted a Republic, never bargained for you

    lot’s of people talking, but few of them know
    the soul of Dick Cheney was created below!!

    (famous page riff interlude)

    you hurt and abuse, tellin all of your lies
    run round sweet neo-con, lord! how you hypnotize

    sweet Alberto Gonzalez, I know where you’ve been

    listening to my phone calls, there you go again!

  18. Singapore is great on economic liberties, but absolutely sucks on civil liberties. Its very VERY big on “law and order”.

    Its basically an old-line conservative Republican’s dream state.

  19. Anyhow, if there was a magazine run by people unable to reason, what do you think it would be called?

    Modern Drunkard?

  20. Is this taking the thread off-topic? I’m curious as to what folks here think: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2008/01/singapores_heal.html

  21. CIA World Fact Book on Singapore: ” . . . drug abuse limited because of aggressive law enforcement efforts . . . . “

    But… but… but…. Prohibition only creates black markets!

  22. But… but… but…. Prohibition only creates black markets!

    When the penalty is summary public execution, it doesn’t. At least Singapore is honest about the drug war.

  23. I guess being Pig Mannix means you are, ipso facto, a dick.

    Dude, you’re never gonna score with Kerry so lose the faux* outrage.

    * just kidding, I’m sure your attempts to suck up to Kerry were very honest

  24. Marijuana will be rescheduled at the federal level around the year 2030… this will be preceded by a number of decriminalizations via the states that are brought before the SCOTUS. This will create veritable legal chaos as essential questions of Federalism are once again brought to the fore. In the ensuing mess, clarifications will be sought as more and more communities follow the scientific guidance that marijuana is relatively innocuous and move to lower or eliminate penalties. The feds, not wanting to relinquish their primacy, but under the increasing sway of budget crunches and re-prioritizations, will move to reschedule and basically decriminalize. That is my prediction.

  25. Marijuana will be rescheduled at the federal level around the year 2030…

    When I’m 75 if still kickin’. Yeah, that sounds like par for the course.

  26. Opposite Man:

    Don’t forget “cosmopolitans” are actually narrow minded provincials who are ignorant of most of the world outside their own.

    Their “province” is a knee-jerk lockstep faux-sophisticated privileged urban monoculture

  27. Have you guys even lived in Singapore????

  28. Have you guys even lived in Singapore????

  29. Preview is my friend.
    Preview is my friend.
    Preview is my friend.
    X100.

    Have you guys even lived in Singapore????

    I visited for three days in the late ’70s. Had a great time. No, I don’t believe I can opine on Singanporan life, politics or culture as a result. Still, I had a wonderful, too short, stay.

  30. I’m not referring to Singapore in the above comment. Political definition of “cosmotarians”.

  31. you may as well be……

  32. man the paleo/cosmo thing really gets peoples’ ire up.

    somewhere, in the effete urban cocktail party of their mind, someone they’ve never met is making fun them.

    mental!
    illness!

    mental illness! (stomp stomp)

  33. dhex –

    You misperceive whose flailing insecurity is being mocked.

  34. i’m more worried about the whole “inventing cocktail parties filled with sneering urban elites” thing, frankly.

    that’s worrisome!

  35. I’m going to imagine a cocktail party that’s far cooler than anything a paleo can imagine, just so I can be superior to him.

  36. the weird thing is, as a sneering urban elite myself, i’ve never been invited to a cocktail party.

    maybe my imagination just sucks?

  37. in singapore have joke. joke say why fat lazy american cross road? give up in try to guess? is to see nascar circle driving. this joke so funny, in singapore you say joke, whole room die.

  38. man the paleo/cosmo thing really gets peoples’ ire up.

    I’m a proud Cambrian libertarian.
    Those Ordovician and Silurian libertarians really make me angry! They should be flogged in the blogosphere square. Who’s with me?

  39. Rather lame ending (seriously, Howley actually thought that last sentence would be a good punchline?), but overall a good post. I just wish Reason would apply the same level of skepticism to our relationship with Cuba. (Lift the trade embargo against Cuba, and that’d be a first step towards the poor country’s democracy!)

  40. Have you guys even lived in Singapore????

    I spent a night there on a stop-over flight to the Mid East.

    The law and order was palpable so I felt very safe there and took a walk along the waterfront. I had never seen so many drag queens in one place before.

    Singapore would paradise to Rudy Giuliani.

  41. A cocktail party is when someone is having me to their home for a gathering and I have to dress nice, but they aren’t going to feed me anything more than snacks, right?

    Those suck. Give me dinner.

  42. mental illness! (stomp stomp)

    Are you saying that like Randy Watson introducing Sexual Chocolate?

  43. Common sense says to earn your wages in a high economy (high wages, usually also meaning high costs), and “retire” (at whatever age) to a low economy (low wages, usually low costs) to enjoy the fruits of your labor (and inject money into the local economy as well).

    Except that a high economy usually goes hand in hand with a more sophisticated and fascinating cosmopolitan lifestyle. For example, I could retire now if I were willing to relocate from the most justifiably smug city in America to some backwards place like Alabama.

    (Ah, hell. Ignore me. I’m just trying to throw fuel on the paleo/cosmo fire.)

  44. Its basically an old-line conservative Republican’s dream state.

    Well, except for the lack of white people.

  45. I could retire now if I were willing to relocate from the most justifiably smug city in America to some backwards place like Alabama.

    Mobile, Alabama is a beautiful town. Like Singapore, it also has a lot of drag queens openly parading about.

  46. All kidding aside, I have an aunt who lives near Pensacola. I haven’t had a chance to see it, but I hear from other members of my family that the “Redneck Riviera” is pretty nice.

  47. A cocktail party is when someone is having me to their home for a gathering and I have to dress nice, but they aren’t going to feed me anything more than snacks, right?

    No.

    A cocktail party is code for “jew”

  48. A cocktail party is code for “jew”

    I need a paleo translator ring. I thought “international banker” and “the media” meant “Jew.”

  49. Heaps of Indian, Malay and Indonesian immigrants still coming into Singapore; the tap has hardly been shut off. Lots of eg Indonesian maids. The construction industry is mostly staffed by Indians as Kerry’s earlier article pointed out … also plenty of Indian software engineers … I can believe the arrogance of some PRC Chinese but I haven’t hit any of this anecdotage yet myself. [Expat based in Singapore]

  50. The other importnat point missed is that China limits emigration to certain countries and is more liberal with emigration to others. Prior to Hong Kong becoming part of PRC, it was one of the toughest places for a native Chinese to emigrate to – whereas the PRC let people emigrate to Singapore without as much hassle. Heck, the PRC was more amenable to their people emigrating to the US than to Hong Kong. Don’t know what the current quotas are,

  51. I thought Virginia Postrel said that “cosmopolitan” is code for “Jew”.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.