Was Lee Kuan Yew The Greatest Leader Of The 20th Century?

Anatoly Karlin writes: Singapore is a small state, a city-state, and space is at a premium. So new cars face exorbitant taxes so that only the superwealthy can afford them. In this sense, it is heavily regulated and unapologetically pro-oligarchic. But that doesn’t preclude Singapore’s ordinary citizens from enjoying one of the best public transport systems on the planet. It is also rated by the World Bank as the world’s easiest country in which to do business, so at least getting rich is perfectly within everyone’s reach – provided he has the requisite ability, of course. Not everyone does, as Lee pointed out with brutal honesty:

If I tell Singaporeans – we are all equal regardless of race, language, religion, culture. Then they will say,”Look, I’m doing poorly. You are responsible.” But I can show that from British times, certain groups have always done poorly, in mathematics and in science. But I’m not God, I can’t change you. But I can encourage you, give you extra help to make you do, say maybe, 20% better.

If you think this hints at a dangerously un-PC worldview, you would be correct. Here are some more quotes that you will not see in the glowing obituaries of him in the mainstream press:

On evolution and human biodiversity:

I started off believing all men were equal. I now know that’s the most unlikely thing ever to have been, because millions of years have passed over evolution, people have scattered across the face of this earth, been isolated from each other, developed independently, had different intermixtures between races, peoples, climates, soils… I didn’t start off with that knowledge. But by observation, reading, watching, arguing, asking, that is the conclusion I’ve come to.

Against equality:

There are some flaws in the assumptions made for democracy. It is assumed that all men and women are equal or should be equal. Hence, one-man-one-vote. But is equality realistic? If it is not, to insist on equality must lead to regression.

Contempt for demotism:

I ignore polling as a method of government. I think that shows a certain weakness of mind – an inability to chart a course whichever way the wind blows, whichever way the media encourages the people to go, you follow. You are not a leader.

On the necessity of pro-eugenic policies:

If you don’t include your women graduates in your breeding pool and leave them on the shelf, you would end up a more stupid society… So what happens? There will be less bright people to support dumb people in the next generation. That’s a problem.

On IQ and black people:

The Bell curve is a fact of life. The blacks on average score 85 per cent on IQ and it is accurate, nothing to do with culture. The whites score on average 100. Asians score more… the Bell curve authors put it at least 10 points higher. These are realities that, if you do not accept, will lead to frustration because you will be spending money on wrong assumptions and the results cannot follow.

Had he dared express any of these ideas as an American politician, he would have been hounded out of public life by any of the newspapers who now sing his praises. Instead, to the extent racial issues are at all raised, he gets praised for creating a functioning multicultural society, with some of its less “wholesome” aspects, such as a cognitively elitist immigration policy that specifically targetted ethnic Han, getting glossed over. Part of the reason for this is surely the banal fact that he is a non-white foreigner who can says that which is forbidden to others. But an even bigger reason, and one that helps enable the former, is simply success; it is success, not so much cannons, that is the last argument of kings.


* How about a universal healthcare system that is the most financially efficient in the industrialized world? Western cultural amenities have been bought on credit. How about the development of a culture that is both conservative and enlightened? (Of course, many “neo-reactionaries” and conservatives are unenlightened, for instance, about the reality of global warming, which proves my point.)

Lee Kuan Yew is the most consequential leader since Hitler. He convinced China to open its economy. He convinced the US to prevent the Domino Theory from coming true by fighting in Vietnam for years, while newly independent countries like Singapore and Malaysia dealt with their internal Communist threats and developed military forces. Lee Kuan Yew solved Communism.

* Singapore is orders of magnitude safer, cleaner and more pleasant than London, or any Western city plagued with leftist agitation, Third-Worlders, rampant criminality and anarcho-tyranny.

* Singapore’s failings are very small indeed when measured against what it has accomplished. Not as wealthy as San Francisco and New York? Lower level of patents per capita than Korea and Japan? No Jackie Chan movies? These lack of accomplishments seem trivial when considering that five decades ago Singapore’s future as an independent polity was in doubt. It had to build a national economy, raise an army that could make swallowing the city-state a problem for its much larger neighbors, quell racial unrest, and set up the political infrastructure of a state – and it had to do all of this within a very short period of time.

Consider Singapore’s impressive infrastructure.

Its airport is over thirty years old and still considered among the very best in the world.

Compare that to Denver, which is considered the best new major airport in the U.S., and yet can’t crack the top thirty on the same list above, even though it opened more than a decade after Changi.

The World Bank annually ranks the quality of port infrastructure, and Singapore comes in first or second every year. The U.S. struggles to stay ahead of Malaysia.

Singapore’s subway is also typically ranked among the best in the world, although its administrators prize functionality and efficiency over style.

The World Bank also ranks Singapore fifth in its Logistical Performance Index, ahead of Switzerland, the U.S., Canada, Sweden, and Hong Kong. In the sub-category of Infrastructure, the city-state was second behind Germany.


Most of this is well-known, but what isn’t as well-known is that Singapore also has built an incredibly professional and capable military. Here are a few surprising facts about Singapore’s military.

* It was the fifth largest arms importer in the world from 2007 to 2011. (Only India, China, South Korea and Pakistan imported more arms.)

* 8 percent of Singapore’s population is in either the armed forces or its reserves.

* One-fourth of Singapore’s budget is spent on the military.

* Singapore’s 2009 military budget was larger than Malaysia and Indonesia’s combined.

* Singapore has the largest air force in southeast Asia.

* The quality of Singapore’s navy is well respected.

It’s important to realize that many small states in Europe and Asia do not have to worry about building or maintaining a serious military. For Hong Kong, it was never an option, and for states like Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands, American security guarantees have lessened the need.

But Singapore had to take its security seriously from the beginning because it was surrounded by numerous larger neighbors who didn’t much like it.


You can’t ask a city-state of five million people to do everything. Singapore has been remarkably successful, and Lee Kuan Yew is the major reason for that success.

* As a Singaporean I must say you cannot have the best of both worlds. He was focused on creating a modern affluent society fast and the only way was to social engineer a society as deemed necessary and fit during those epochal times. Very little thought went into creating a creative or bohemian society as our country was at it’s infancy stage. One thing the great LKY detested was chaos and having too many chefs at the cauldron. He was merciless and rightly so in squashing political opponents who were too liberal for his likings as he viewed these people as mere agent provocateur . We miss him dearly and while Singapore is far from perfect, we have come a long way and still doing well.

* GDP PPP: Singapore’s GDP is phenomenal despite so much of its energy must go towards maintaining a standing army against massively larger neighbours, like Israel. If more of its human capital, land, and capital flowed towards economic areas I have no doubt it would have a higher GDP PPP than all the US cities in your list.
Also, many of the East Asian tigers rose on the backs of an export model based on cheap labour. SG did not have that luxury and basically leaped from fishermen to capital-intensive industries on the strength of the State making smart bets.

Fertility of 1.3: Its not like SG hasn’t noticed this problem. For decades SG tried every trick to increase fertility, but nothing worked so they resigned themselves to immigration. This isn’t a flaw of SG but a broader problem for our times. As far as I know, I have not seen successful fertility campaigns.

Culture and Nobel Prizes: I group these together because they are both luxuries. Lee Kuan Yew regularly faced comments from Western journalists asking if Asians could be as creative or show genius like Europeans. LKY shut these down hard. He saw it is as baseless and wishful thinking by the West. The past 50 years has been catchup for East Asian countries, people forget how nascent their economies are. Only now are new Asian generations growing up with plentiful capital and wealth. It is those with plentiful capital who will be able to take advantage of opportunities that do not directly translate into the material wealth to raise a family, ie Culture and Nobel Prizes.

Finally, you failed to mention SG’s civil service. It pays as good or better than the private sector so that the best and brightest lead the nation. Due to this, it is also incredibly meritocratic.

* A man builds a city-state consistently ranked as #1 or #2 economic zone in the world, alongside having the lowest crime, in an area of the world that’s populated by 3rd world Muslim nations. Yes if you litter, chew gum, do graffiti, discuss openly about race, then you’ll get caned or taken to court. He often silenced his critics by taking them to court, but other leaders do much worse.

There’s plenty of LKY’s interviews online where he addresses these criticisms. He’s not a perfect leader, but people discrediting him are not properly accounting what he was working with. Even the other Asian tigers: Korea, Taiwan, and Japan have many advantages over Singapore.

Those are homogenous populations in the tens to over a hundred million (ie. Japan) to draw talent from. Singapore is a 3-race country, Chinese, Indian and Malay with many ancient traditions, languages and religions that do not overlap. The other countries also don’t have to worry about finding a water supply. Singapore is surrounded countries where the majority of the people are Muslims.

Even Hong Kong did not have the disadvantages that Singapore did. While it doesn’t have a great population, it has a couple million more. HK is homogeneous and shares it’s border with other Han Chinese, not Muslims, and it isn’t a dirty swamp. HK also doesn’t have the constant threat of radicalized Islam as Singapore does.

If Singapore is a 3rd world country in some ways, then almost every country in the world is a 3rd world country in some ways. What government injustices are we comparing caning to? The US’s legal and prison system?

15% of their people are Muslims. LKY’s government has to consistently foil terrorists plans, some of which we’ve learned publicly since. Every ruling crew creates laws to protect itself. Singapore or HK consistently rank #1 or #2 in every economic freedom indicator. It has a GDP PPP per capita of $78,000.

In 2011, Singapore’s median household income was $55,357 (in USD) and after taxes they keep $50,307 of that. So the median household only pays 9.1% income tax. If we multiply $50,307 by 1.427325692 (the ratio between Singapore’s GDP per capita PPP and the nominal GDP per capita), then we can estimate the median Singapore household income in PPP terms resulting in $71,804 USD.

Ideally there would be many other competitive city-states with their own rulers vying for citizens. That would’ve given us more opportunities to test political theories. However, given the state of current political systems, there has not been a comparable national leader. Singapore has been a de facto autocracy with LKY playing the role of a benevolent dictator, trying to create a stable, peaceful society. Singapore’s success shows us that a superior model for political rule exists. This is not to say LKY is the ideal leader, but his accomplishment gives us a data point that refutes the Cathedral.

Many times, he sat down and discussed openly his viewpoints against criticisms. Here’s one video of a group of young people questioning him. Even with a supposed free press, how many countries allow such an open and honest dialogue with their leaders?

* Steve Sailer writes: As for cultural creativity, dynastic authoritarian regimes in Europe didn’t seem to get in the way of artistry. But Paris had dynastic authoritarian rulers for much of its history, and was almost always a magnet for talent. Charles Murray tried to quantify a correlation between liberty and artistry in European history, but couldn’t come up with much of one other than that extreme totalitarianism tended to drive great artists into exile.

By the way, Hong Kong’s influential movie directors John Woo and Wong Kar-Wai are refugees from mainland China: Wong puts forward a sort of Nabokov-in-exile air of how, much as he appreciates Hong Kong, the Wongs really should have been a leading Shanghai family.

I suspect that if LKY had been a ruler in, say, the 17th Century, he would have made sure to get his city-state some artists. But in the modernist 20th Century, he didn’t really see the need.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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