Puerto Rico, Singapore of the Caribbean?

Andrew Biggs, an American Enterprise Institute Board Member, claimed that Puerto Rico can be the Singapore of the Caribbean. John Paulson has also used the phrase, as has Forbes magazine. What would that mean?

Singapore’s forced independence and economic growth

Many nations, including the United States, have demanded and fought for independence from the countries that owned them Singapore is not one of those nations. Singapore was expelled from Malaysia in 1965. At the time, the new Prime Minister tearfully described it as “a moment of anguish.”

Unemployment was close to 12%, but it fell to 3% by the 1980s. With no natural resources to speak of, Singapore emphasized manufacturing and financial services, and saw unprecedented economic growth in its first half century. Singapore is one of the richest nations per capita in the world and has one of the highest proportions of wealthy people. Singapore is ranked #1 in economic freedom

However, poverty is a problem in Singapore. Built on embracing meritocracy and accepting wealth inequities, Singapore has an estimated 14% poverty rate and no minimum wage. The tiny nation has no official poverty level and does not calculate a poverty rate, thus avoiding public announcement of its economic problems. Begging is illegal and severely punished, and people in poverty are not welcome in Singapore.

The government owns most of the land, and the majority of the population lives in government housing. Government websites are proud of their record on health and human services as well as quality of life. Central planning is key to the economic growth of the nation.

Human rights

Organizations from Freedom House to Amnesty International agree that Singapore has a poor record on individual freedoms and human rights. Freedom of speech, assembly, movement, and most other freedoms are severely limited. Academic freedom and freedom of the press are not available to the people of Singapore, and both violence and legal crackdowns are used to suppress political dissidence.

Government control over individuals extends to surprising lengths; for example, citizens are required to have savings accounts. Showing foreign flags or singing national anthems is forbidden by law. English must be used in school instruction. Presidential candidates are chosen by government committees and must be members of particular ethnic groups in each election year. These are by no means the most serious restrictions of personal freedom; they simply show how granular government control is under the law.

The State Department’s report on human rights in Singapore makes it clear that most of the listed human rights violations are legal in Singapore. They say that there is no sign that the government kills people or causes them to disappear contrary to the laws of the nation. However, the lack of personal liberty probably gives the government greater power over economic development than it would otherwise have.

Singapore of the Caribbean?

The phrase is most often used to suggest that Puerto Rico could be a haven for the super-rich, particularly the extremely wealthy who do not currently call Puerto Rico home. That is probably not on the wish list of the average resident of the Island.



Ángel Collado-Schwartz, a Puerto Rican, I believe, published a book titled Decolonization Models for America’s Last Colony: Puerto Rico in which he presents and discusses the viability of comparably small countries to Puerto Rico. Aside from Singapore, he visits Slovenia, Ireland, Israel, New Zealand and Estonia but he could have listed Lithuania, Latvia, Costa Rica and other small countries. Small countries can survive and strive if and when they are run by responsible governments. Staying in the shadow of the United States has not brought prosperity to Puerto Rico and being part of the United States is no guarantee that Puerto Rico would flourish. See Mississippi and some other poor states. The level of education and health-care are abysmal in many states. If the US didn’t colonize Puerto Rico, it would have bullied it like it did Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Panama, Guatemala and others.

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