If someone from a third world country asked you why it is that the United States is so wealthy and prosperous, what would you say?
Maybe we are economically successful because we are a muli-party republic where no man can lead for more than eight years. Maybe it is because of our commitment to personal liberty and free enterprise. Maybe it is because we are so large and powerful. Maybe it is our Protestant work ethic.
Not true. Lee Kuan Yew (who died last month at age 91) proved it. During his 56 years in the top leadership of Singapore, Lee helped transform the tiny impoverished country with no natural resources into an economic powerhouse. And he did it by ignoring the American way at every turn.
When he and his People’s Action Party took power in the 1950s, he actively suppressed all competing political parties. In 1965, he severed ties with Malaysia and declared Singapore an independent state.
Lee believed that powerful, competent leadership was the key to a successful society. He made sure that top bureaucrats were paid as much as top businessmen to inspire talented citizens to work for the government.
Lee cared more about order than liberty. It is illegal to watch pornography, sell gum, and to spit in Singapore. Graffiti and vandalism are among the many petty crimes that are punishable by caning.
You may not care for the big brother brutality, but you can’t argue with the results. Singapore has a higher per capita income than the United States.
Based on the terrific little drama “Ilo Ilo,” Singaporeans are surprisingly similar to Americans – with the same hopes, dreams, and problems.
The film follows a few challenging months in the lives of a middle class Singapore family during the depths of the Asian financial crisis of late 90s.
The plummeting stock market and fear of layoffs are big problems affecting the Chens. But an even bigger cause of stress is the terrible behavior of their 10 year old son Jialer.
Jialer isn’t a cute, rambunctious scamp like Dennis The Menace. He is a selfish, mischievous little monster. Director Anthony Chen demonstrates that an unintended side effect of a wealthy society is a generation of entitled brats.
The Chens hire a Filipino maid/nanny named Terry to try to tame their unruly son.
At the first family dinner in her new home, Terry instinctually makes the Catholic sign of the cross before she eats. The atheist Chens quietly chuckle and roll their eyes. The scene is super relatable to American audiences. It could just as easily have been a Mexican housekeeper praying before dinner in her new home in San Diego.
While the domestic situations feel familiar and American, the law and order scenes definitely do not. Jialer’s misbehavior finally catches up to him and he is sentenced to a public caning in front of all of his classmates.
You might be surprised to learn that director Anthony Chen is in no way embarrassed by his country’s practice of caning children. Jialer absolutely deserves what he gets.
We could teach Singapore about the blessings of civil liberties and the dangers of one party rule. However, I think they could teach us about the disciplinary benefits of corporal punishment.
Maybe a key reason why Singapore is successful is that they have such a disciplined society. Without resorting to prison, the Singaporeans have found an effective way of shaming and scaring unruly youngsters into becoming humble, respectful, well-behaved citizens. I’m in favor of trying out caning here in America. Who’s with me?