The death of one of the greatest modern statesmen didn’t touch me emotionally. I’ve never been to Singapore, have no desire to go there and have little sympathy for the kind of money-obsessed, sterile, excruciatingly modern country Lee created.
Yet Lee’s death made me think about Britain, the country that does touch me emotionally – even though most Brits now subscribe to the same philistine values Lee championed with such thundering success.
I am well aware that my contempt for a society that measures its success mostly in monetary terms puts me in a small minority that can never have any political, social or even cultural influence. Not any longer.
That’s fair enough and, having spent my life outside the mainstream in three different countries, I don’t at all mind. If most people want to have wealth above all else, by all means they should pursue it, and more power to their elbow.
Obviously in historical terms Britain is indeed very wealthy. Yet much of our prosperity is phoney, financed by money we don’t really have. Our economy is a giant pyramid scheme, and the pyramid is inverted, tottering on its sharp end.
Sooner or later it’ll collapse, burying under the rubble several generations to come. It may even collapse sooner rather than later, in which case those living today won’t escape the fallout either.
Many Brits, even those lacking in the knowledge of recondite economic concepts, sense this intuitively, which is why the Tory party isn’t the runaway success in the polls that it ought to be on the strength of its apparent economic competence.
Actually, the knowledge of recondite economic concepts isn’t so much essential as antithetical to economic wisdom. All it really takes is basic common sense and the kind of pragmatic intelligence measurable by IQ scores.
Lee had it, and I suspect at least some of our politicians do as well, though these days this isn’t the way to bet. However, Lee managed to use those fine qualities to create real prosperity for his nation, while the best our rulers can manage, regardless of the qualities they may or may not possess, is the phoney kind.
Why? The answer is obvious: democracy won’t let our government govern intelligently. Even if our officials knew what produces economic success, they wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Their heads would be banging against the brick wall of democracy run riot.
It’s against this background that one should read the Times article Quitting EU Could Cost Britain £56bn. The article is yet another diatribe against Ukip’s putative desire to “shut the borders and shut the world out, which would mean a net loss in terms of the UK’s GDP.”
This is all par for the pre-electoral course: Ukip could take votes away from the Tories, which makes anything The Times says against Farage perfectly acceptable, no matter how false or slanderous it is.
I suspect I know more Ukip politicians and supporters than the author does, yet I’ve never heard one of them express any such desires. All they are saying is that any sovereign nation should decide whom and how many to admit to its shores. And, if Britain has no such right, she is no longer sovereign, which, in view of thousands of years of British history, is rather regrettable.
But the usual Ukip baiting apart, the article does make an interesting point. It quotes the Open Europe think tank as saying that, rather than losing £56 billion from leaving the EU, Britain could actually gain £35 billion, and don’t you just admire such precise figures in such a notoriously imprecise science.
However, to turn such a precise loss into an equally precise gain, says Open Europe, Britain would have to put through measures that anyone with half a brain knows make sense anyway.
We’d have to sign free-trade agreements with the US, India and China and “rip up workers’ rights and green legislation”. In other words, we should do what Lee Kuan Yew did so effectively in Singapore.
We’d also have to follow Lee’s lead in other areas, which the article leaves out. Specifically, we should lower taxes to the point where the state’s take is no higher than 25 per cent of GDP, drastically roll back the welfare state, replace our socialist NHS with a combination system that gave Singapore the world’s most effective healthcare system – in short, do all those things that alone can give us a healthy economy.
All those things, in other words, that we’ll never do, EU or no EU, Ukip or no Ukip. Our cherished, unlimited democracy of one-man-one-vote or, to be pernickety about it, one-man-one-woman-and-increasingly-one-child-one-vote, makes economic sanity impossible.
Since the passage of the Reform Act (1832) and repeal of the Corn Laws (1846), Britain has needed no lessons in free trade from Singapore or anyone else. Nor does she need to be taught the benefits of free and open labour markets, which are indeed as essential to prosperity as Open Europe claims.
But imagine a political party standing on a platform of measures designed to turn Britain into another Singapore economically, while retaining the cultural advantages of being a Western, which is to say residually Christian, nation.
What do you suppose the electoral chances of such a party would be? I’d say that on a scale of one to 10 they’d be about -20.
Unfortunately our democracy is egalitarian, in that it corrupts both the government and the governed equally. Lee Kuan Yew – who incidentally was educated at Cambridge – succeeded so spectacularly because he counterbalanced his country’s parliamentary democracy with his own quasi-monarchical power, not letting people’s desires get in the way of their interests.
He learned the lessons taught by Edmund Burke and our other great political thinkers, the lessons that we ourselves have forgotten. That’s why our politics is reduced to scoring cheap party-specific points, of the kind in which The Times specialises.
And that’s why we’ll never match Singapore’s economic success, in the EU or out of it. We may, however, reclaim our sovereignty by leaving the EU – even if this costs us £56 billion (which I personally don’t believe for a second).
A principle isn’t a principle until it costs you money, says a conventional wisdom.
Our politicos would disagree because they have no principles and don’t really know what the word means. Lee would have disagreed too – he believed in the kind of principles that made money rather than lost it.
Lee Kuan Yew, RIP.