# Lee Kuan Yew


Disclaimer: I don't condone or condemn any political positions in this article. I am interested in a person's mindset, especially when it diverges from my own.

# On assets vs subsidies

From "From Third World to First (opens new window)" by Lee Kuan Yew:

There were enormous problems, especially in the early stages when we resettled farmers and others from almost rent-free wooden squatter huts with no water, power, or modern sanitation, and therefore no utility bills, into high-rise dwellings with all these amenities but also a monthly bill to pay. It was a wrenching experience for them in personal, social, and economic terms.

Difficult adjustments were inevitable and there were comic, even absurd, results. Several pig farmers could not bear to part with their pigs and reared them in their high-rise apartments. Some were seen coaxing their pigs up the stairs! One family, a couple with 12 children moving from a hut to a new HDB apartment at Old Airport Road, brought a dozen chickens and ducks to rear in the kitchen . The mother built a wooden gate at the kitchen entrance to stop them from entering the living room. In the evenings, the children would look for earthworms and insects at the grass patches outdoors for feed . They did this for 10 years until they moved into another apartment.

The Malays preferred to be closer to the ground . They planted vegetables around the high-rise as they used to do in their kampongs. For a long while, many Chinese, Malays, and Indians walked up the stairs instead of taking the elevators, not because they wanted the exercise but because they were afraid of elevators. There were people who continued to use kerosene lamps instead of electric bulbs . Others carried on their old business as before, selling cigarettes, sweets, and sundry goods from their front rooms on the ground floor. They all suffered from culture shock.

Success brought new problems. Those waiting for their homes noticed that prices of apartments went up year by year with rising costs of labor and imported materials and appreciating land value . They became impatient and wanted their apartments as soon as possible. There was a limit to what we could do well. We made one of our more grievous mistakes in 1982- 1984 by more than doubling the number of apartments we had previously built. I had appointed Teh Cheang Wan minister for national development in 1979. Before that, he had been the CEO of the HOB. He assured me that he could meet the demand for more homes. He did, but the contractors could not cope with the enlarged workload, and poor workmanship caused great unhappiness.

Resettling farmers was the toughest. We paid compensation based on size of farm structures, the cemented area of open space within their farm holding, and the number of fruit trees and fishponds. As our economy thrived, we increased the amount, but even the most generous payment was not enough. Older farmers did not know what to do with themselves and their compensation money. Living in apartments, they missed their pigs, ducks, chickens, fruit trees, and vegetable plots which had provided them with free food. Fifteen to 20 years after being resettled in HOB new towns, many still voted against the PAP. They felt the government had destroyed their way of life.

After observing how differently people maintained their own apartments as against rented ones, I believed that a deep sense of property was instinctive in a person. During the riots of the 1950s and early 1960s, people would join in the rioting, stone windshields, overturn cars, and burn them. When riots broke out in the mid- 1 96os, after they owned homes and property, they acted differently. I saw young men carrying their scooters parked on the roads to safety up the stairs of their HOB blocks. I was strengthened in my resolve to give every family solid assets which I was confident they would protect and defend, especially their home. I was not wrong.

We chose to redistribute wealth by asset enhancement, not by subsidies for consumption. Those who are not winners of top prizes in the free market will still get valuable consolation prizes for competing in the marathon of life. Those who want to spend can sell some of their assets. Significantly, few have consumed their assets. Instead they have invested.

# On Pragmatism

From "Leadership (opens new window)" by Henry Kissinger:

Instead, he asked for the faculty's views on the war in Vietnam. My colleagues, voicing passionate opposition to the Conflict and to America's part in it, were divided primarily over whether President Lyndon B. Johnson was a 'war criminal' or merely a 'psychopath'. After a number of the professors had spoken, the dean of the Littauer faculty invited Lee to express his views, smiling in a way that clearly anticipated approbation.

With his first words, Lee went straight to the point: 'You make me sick'. Then, without making any attempt to ingratiate himself, he proceeded to explain that Singapore, as a small country in a tumultuous part of the world, depended for its survival on an America confident in its mission of providing global security and powerful enough to counter the communist guerrilla movements that were then seeking, with support from China, to undermine the young nations of Southeast Asia.

Neither a supplication for assistance nor an appeal to virtue, Lee's response was instead a dispassionate analysis of the geopolitical realities of his region. He described what he believed was Singapore's national interest: to achieve economic viability and security. He made clear that his country would do what it could in pursuit of both objectives, aware that America would make its own decisions about any assistance for its own reasons. He invited his interlocutors to join him less in a common ideology than in a joint exploration of the necessary.

To the astonished Harvard faculty, Lee articulated a worldview free of anti-American animus and post-imperial resentment. He neither blamed the United States for Singapore's challenges nor expected it to solve them. Rather, he sought American goodwill so that Singapore, lacking oil and other natural riches, could grow through the cultivation of what he said was its principal resource: the quality of its people, whose potential could develop only if they were not abandoned to communist insurgency, invasion by neighboring countries or Chinese hegemony. Earlier that year, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson had announced the withdrawal of all forces 'east of Suez', requiring the closure of the massive Royal Navy base that had been a pillar of Singapore's economy and security. Lee was therefore seeking an American hand to help counter the difficulties he saw looming. He framed this task less in terms of the prevailing moral categories of the Cold War than as a element in the construction of a regional order - in the sustaining of which America should develop its own national interest.

Last Updated: 11/27/2022, 1:13:15 PM