Hong Kong: The Envy of Lee Kuan Yew

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

I’ve been meaning to read “Harry” Lee Kuan Yew’s From Third World to First. In it, Bryan Caplan explains, there is only one country that he positively seems to envy — Hong Kong:

Hong Kong had a bleaker economic and political environment in 1949, totally dependent on the mainland’s restraint. China’s People’s Liberation Army could march in any time they were ordered to. But despite uncertainty and the fear of a disastrous tomorrow, or the day after, Hong Kong thrived.

Singapore did not then face such dire prospects… Only in 1965, after we were asked to leave Malaysia, did we face as bleak a future. But unlike Hong Kong we did not have a million and a half refugees from the mainland.
People in Hong Kong depended not on the government but on themselves and their families… The drive to succeed was intense; family and extended family ties were strong. Long before Milton Friedman held up Hong Kong as a model of a free-enterprise economy, I had seen the advantage of having little or no safety net. It spurred Hong Kong’s people to strive to succeed. There was no social contract between the colonial government and them. Unlike Singaporeans, they could not and did not defend themselves or their collective interests. They were not a nation — indeed, were not allowed to become a nation…

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