Politics and Environment

How Asia should be best governed?

26 November 2014

The world national flags

Edwin Sim shares some thoughts from the “The Fourth Revolution”

Hong Kong’s current student-led political unrest is forcing many of us to reevaluate how Asia should be best governed. For decades, Western democracies have been held up as bell-weathers of good governance.

In their new best seller, “The Fourth Revolution, the global race to reinvent the state”, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge said the West’s ability to reinvent the state, which has enabled it to lead the world is in danger of being eclipsed.

Many of the West’s current democratic governments are dysfunctional and weighed down by largely self-induced bloated entitlements and self-indulgent citizens.

Political gridlock and bloated entitlements

The authors note that political gridlock has left the US with an unsustainable fiscal position and a chronic lack of investment in basic infrastructures.

At the same time, European governments are battling simultaneously large deficits and sky-high unemployment.

Increasingly demanding aging populations are also consuming more healthcare and welfare.

If these bloated Western democracies don’t slim down, the authors said the appeal of more innovative authoritarian regimes, notably in Asia, could increase.

Keeping state small and no free lunches

The Singaporean model of authoritarian modernization, the authors said represents a direct challenge to basic Western state tenets: that governments should be democratic and that it should be generous.

Although Singapore’s nanny state seems to always be telling people what to do, the authors that it has also concentrated on keeping the state small and making people responsible for own welfare.

“Singapore’s world-class education only consumes about 3.3 per cent of GDP. But the biggest savings comes from restricting social transfers and refusing to indulge the middle-class.”

The West’s greatest mistake, Lee said was setting up all-you-can-eat welfare states where because everything is free, everybody stuffs their faces.

Consequently, Singapore’s mandatory defined-contribution and defined-benefit social insurance model is in direct contrast with the West’s social assistance welfare state system, Singapore, the authors said eschews any social subsidies because they realize that once given they are difficult to withdraw.

“In the East, we start with self-reliance. In the West today, it is the opposite,” quoting Lee.

Moreover, by allowing people to blame everything on society, rather than accepting their own responsibility, Lee said Western leaders have allowed charity to become an entitlement.

Democracy big part of West’s problem

Lee has also said that democracy is a big part of the West’s problem, “When you have popular democracy, to win votes you have to give more. And to beat your opponent in the next election you have to give more away.”

“Consequently the process becomes a never-ending auction process wherein the costs are ultimately paid by the next generation.”

Importance of meritocracy

The authors also note that Lee and the current Chinese elite believe that meritocracy can provide the benefits of democracy, such as regular change-of-guard at the top, without democracy’s vices such short-termism and potential social breakdown.

“Its leaders can think in terms of decades rather than the next election cycle while also preventing the country from disintegrating under the pressure of seismic social change.

What the West must do?

According to the authors, the West must realize that if governments keep overpromising, cynicism will grow and democracy will be damaged.

Moreover, unless ballooning state entitlements are punctured, the West’s wealth and power will shrink and less democratic regimes will grab the mantle.

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