Why they hate Singapore

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Chua Lee Hoong cites Madam Yeong Yoon Ying, press secretary to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, on why the West hates Singapore:

Singapore is an example to other countries of how the free market plus the rule of law, and stable macro-economic policies, can lead to progress and success, but without Western-style “liberal” democracy.

Populations Expanding Where It Is Most Difficult to Grow Food

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

The New York Times notes that populations are expanding fastest where it is most difficult to grow food — and they’re not referring to Hong Kong and Singapore, but sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East:

The world’s population is projected to grow to 9 billion before 2050. Proportionally, the countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East are among the fastest growing. But those are the world’s driest regions, and by 2050, fresh water there will be twice as scarce.

We in the West may not be caught in a Malthusian Trap, but we seem determined to ignore the unintended side-effects of our aid to less developed countries that are.

The Inverted Pendulum of Whiggery

Monday, May 19th, 2008

In sharing his Jacobite history of the world, Mencius Moldbug suggests that the “W-force” of leftism — or Whiggery — behaves as an inverted pendulum, perhaps with a bit of a delay loop:

As an “absolute” monarch, the best strategy for maintaining your rule is to preserve your sovereignty entirely intact. Ripping off chunks of it and throwing them to the wolves only seems to encourage the critters.

Why was this not obvious to the kings and princes of old Europe? Perhaps it was obvious. The trouble was that absolute monarchy was always an ideal, never a reality. Every sovereign in history has been a creature of politics — not democratic politics, perhaps, but politics still. At the very least, a king who loses the support of the army is finished. So the pendulum is not quite vertical, and it’s all too easy to let it do what it obviously wants to do.

The inverted-pendulum model suggests that, for a stable and coherent nondemocratic state, eliminating politics requires very little repressive energy. Singapore, Dubai and China, for example, all have their secret police — as did the 19th-century Hapsburgs. Each of these governments is very different from the others, but they are all terrified of the W-force. Yet they manage to restrain it, without either falling prey to democracy or opening death camps.

Residents of these countries can think whatever they like. They can even say whatever they like. It is only when they actually organize that they get in trouble. If you don’t want the Ministry of Public Security to bother you, don’t start or join an antigovernment movement. Certainly this is not ideal — I don’t think this blog would be tolerated in China, and my image of the ideal state is one in which you can start all the antigovernment movements you want, as long as they don’t involve guns or bombs. However, when we compare this level of infringement of personal freedom to the experience of daily life under Stalin or Hitler, we are comparing peanuts to pumpkins.

Why does China not tolerate peaceful antigovernment politics? Because “people power” can defeat the People’s Liberation Army? No. Because China is not a perfectly stable state, and it knows that quite well. Within the Chinese Communist Party, there is politics galore. One move that is off-limits for contending figures within the Chinese regime, however, is imposing one’s will on one’s adversaries by means of mob politics. Almost everyone in any position of responsibility in the PRC today was personally scarred by the Cultural Revolution, in which China felt all the vices of democracy and none of its virtues. Only by outlawing politics can the Party hold itself together.

Note that in 1989 the Chinese government broke the cardinal rule of Whig government: never fire on a mob. As John F. Kennedy put it, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Not only did the Chinese government make peaceful revolution impossible — they made peaceful revolution violent. And the result? Violent revolution? No — twenty years of peace, unparalleled prosperity, and personal if not political freedom. As philosophers say, one white raven refutes the assertion that all ravens are black.

Nabi Studios

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

BusinessWeek has done a “game maker profile” on tiny niche developer Nabi Studios, creators of Toribash — which seemed tailor-made for someone like me, but which didn’t hold my attention when I took a look a while back:

In Toribash, an online fighting game populated by characters that resemble ball-and-stick rag dolls, players design their own black-belt martial arts moves. The resulting movements are hyperrealistic: Lithe fighters leap, cartwheel, and spin-kick one another, severing heads and limbs, notching points for each hit.

I question the use of “hyperrealistic” to describe “severing heads and limbs” in unarmed combat — but the movements are, or can be, hyperrealistic.

Here’s where things get more interesting, from a business perspective:

But Toribash’s founder, Hampus Söderström, didn’t want to make just another fighting game. He wanted to create an online community where users could design and share their own fighting techniques alongside the no-holds-barred brawling. So Söderström included a wide range of community building tools — including chat, wikis, and discussion boards — outside of the main game play. The developer’s site also hosts an active marketplace where users can sell and buy virtual additions for the game’s characters for cash or credits.

In the last two years, Toribash has become a virtual community with more than 42,000 members. Its members even flip-kick one another as they chat, exchange ideas in a public forums, and give direct feedback to the game’s developers. On meticulously maintained wiki pages and discussion boards, players collaborate, designing complex fighting moves and sharing combat tips. To date, the game has received almost 30 official updates while gamers have played Toribash more than 3 million times on the official servers, with top players racking up 20,000-plus games.
Söderström is a gaming newbie. After 10 years in his native Sweden as a Unix programmer at IBM (IBM) and Swedish telecom companies, he moved to Singapore in 2004. In his spare time, he worked on designing a game that combined simple animation, physics, and user-generated martial arts. Eight months later, he had created Toribash (tori is the Japanese martial arts term for “the defender”). After completing the beta version, Söderström sensed he had come up with something that was both popular and potentially profitable.

But without game industry experience, Söderström also knew he needed help. In 2006, he brought in a community manager, a graphics designer, and a developer to form Nabi Studios. And he quickly adopted the business model of letting users play for free and encouraging them to pay for character enhancements that could fund the company. In Toribash, players win credits with each victory, but they can also buy additional credits with real cash. The average Toribash accessory sells for about $35 (or 35,000 Tori Credits), though Söderström says he recently sold special, limited-edition blood color (the game is often gruesome) for $500. This, says Söderström, is the company’s only source of revenue.

It’s lucrative, too. So far, Söderström has made enough money to hire four more staffers in Singapore as well as three part-timers around the world. His current challenge is managing the game’s virtual economy: So many users are playing games and winning credits—or converting their cash into more Tori Credits—that it’s created a glut of credits, driving down their value. “This definitely was not something we initially thought would be part of the game,” he says.

Pop-Up Cities

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

Rapidly growing China is looking to build Pop-Up Cities, “bright green metropolises” that don’t make the mistakes of existing cities:

These new megacities could evolve into sprawling, polluting megaslums. Or they could define a new species of world city. Unlike New York or London, they are blank slates — less affluent, perhaps, but also free from legacy designs and technologies tailored to the world of the 19th and 20th centuries. That is a huge advantage. It took Boston 20 years and more than $14 billion just to reroute a freeway underground. New York can hardly install a second network of water pipes. Most of Los Angeles is too spread out for fast public transit or combined heat and power plants. And because these cities are so isolated from agricultural land, most of the food that locals eat gets shipped hundreds of miles. “Shanghai today is making 90 percent of the mistakes that American cities made,” Burdett argues — spreading out, building up single-family homes, replacing naturally mixed-use neighborhoods with isolated zones for living, shopping, and working, and connecting it all with car travel. But fixing these problems is still possible.

Dongtan, outside of Shanghai, is meant to be such a green city:

Their first decision was big. Dongtan needed more people. Way more. Shanghai’s planning bureau figured 50,000 people should live on the site — they assumed a green island should not be crowded — and the other international architects had agreed, drafting Dongtan as an American-style suburb with low-rise condos scattered across the plot and lots of lawns and parks in between. “It’s all very nice to have little houses in a green field,” Gutierrez says. But that would be an environmental disaster. If neighborhoods are spread out, then people need cars to get around. If population is low, then public transportation is a money loser.

But how many more people? Double? Triple? The team found research on energy consumption in cities around the world, plotted on a curve according to population density. Up to about 50 residents per acre, roughly equivalent to Stockholm or Copenhagen, per capita energy use falls fast. People walk and bike more, public transit makes economic sense, and there are ways to make heating and cooling more efficient. But then the curve flattens out. Pack in 120 people per acre, like Singapore, or 300 people, like Hong Kong, and the energy savings are negligible. Dongtan, the team decided, should try to hit that sweet spot around Stockholm.

Next, they had to figure out how high to build. A density rate of 50 people per acre could mean a lot of low buildings, or a handful of skyscrapers, or something in between. Here, the land made the decision for them. Dongtan’s soil is squishy. Any building taller than about eight stories would need expensive work at the foundation to keep it upright. To give the place some variety and open up paths for summer wind and natural light, they settled on a range of four to eight stories across the city. Then, using CAD software, they started dropping blocks of buildings on the site and counting heads.

The results were startling. They could bump up Dongtan’s population 10 times, to 500,000, and still build on a smaller share of the site than any of the other planners had suggested, leaving 65 percent of the land open for farms, parks, and wildlife habitat. A rough outline of the city, a real eco-city, began to take shape: a reasonably dense urban middle, with smart breaks for green space, all surrounded by farms, parks, and unspoiled wetland. Instead of sprawling out, the city would grow in a line along a public transit corridor.

That was the easy part. From there they needed to design ways to make efficient use of resources:

A power scheme started to take shape. Dongtan’s plant would burn plant matter to drive a steam turbine and generate electricity. What to burn, though? They could have planted miscanthus, a tall, feathery grass. It sprouts fast and burns clean. But if Arup planted miscanthus fields, it would sacrifice lots of land to a single purpose. Then it struck them: rice husks. China already grows mountains of rice, and farmers just trash the husks. Dongtan could take a useless byproduct and use it to light the city.

Instead of building the plant far away and out of sight, Arup would put it up near the city center, capture waste heat, and pipe it throughout the town. With good insulation and smart design, the plant could heat and cool every building in Dongtan. “We can get something like 80 percent efficiency in our fuel conversion,” says Chris Twinn, the Dongtan team’s energy chief. “The Prius is probably only 20 percent efficient. The rest is wasted. Why are we satisfied with that?”

I’m not sure how burning rice husks for energy will work out, but piping heat makes good sense in a dense, urban environment — as long as you maintain the pipes.

Some of the additional ideas seem perfectly reasonable; some do not:

Arup investigated hollowing out the hills at the edge of the city and installing underground “plant factories” — stacked trays of organic crops, growing under solar-powered LEDs, that seem to yield as much as six times more produce per acre than conventional farming. Arup would run twin water networks throughout the city: one that supplies drinking water to kitchens and another that supplies treated waste water for toilet flushing and farm irrigation. Trucks delivering goods from across China would park at consolidation warehouses on the edge of the city, then load up shared, zero- emission delivery trucks to reduce traffic and save gas. Waste would be either recycled or gasified for energy, and the captured heat would be converted into more power; no more than 10 percent of the city’s trash would be permitted to end up as landfill. To invite in cooling summer breezes, block winter winds, and reduce demand for heat and air-conditioning, they would position trees strategically and persuade the client to twist the city grid slightly off a traditional north-south axis (a feng shui idea that has become an almost inviolable rule of Chinese city planning).

I’d love to see an analysis of the costs and benefits of some of these ideas.

Why Singapore is Superior Despite So Many Faults

Friday, March 16th, 2007

Why Singapore is Superior Despite So Many Faults — from a military perspective:

The city of Singapore was founded by the British in 1819, on an island at the southern tip of the Malay peninsula. The British considered the local Malays rather too laid back, and brought in thousands of Chinese and Indians to work the booming port city. Within six years, the population exploded from a few hundred, to over 10,000. Two years later, Chinese became the most numerous ethnic group. They eventually came to dominate the rich port of Singapore, providing administrators, as well as traders and laborers. The British kept the key jobs, but otherwise ran a meritocracy. When Malaysia, which Singapore was a part of, became independent in 1963, many Chinese in Singapore protested being ruled by the Malay majority. The Malays also resented the more entrepreneurial and economically successful Chinese. Although most Singapore residents wanted to be part of Malaysia, it didn’t work out. In 1965, Malaysia basically expelled Singapore, which become a separate, mainly Chinese, country. Over the next three decades, the Singaporean economy grew an average of nine percent a year, and Singapore became the wealthiest, on a per-capita basis, nation in the region.

With so much to defend, the Singaporeans developed, early on, a strong military. This was prompted by Britain withdrawing its garrison in 1971 and, in effect, telling the Singaporeans they had to defend themselves. Singapore asked Israel to help it develop a force similar to the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). That is, a large reserve force, with a small active force to handle training and any immediate military needs. The two countries have been close allies ever since.

Thus Singapore has an active duty force of 60,000, most of them reservists undergoing training. There are only about 20,000 full time, professional troops. In wartime, there are 300,000 trained reserves who can be mobilized, plus nearly has many who have had military training, but are no longer in reserve units. Like Israel, Singapore can mobilize a force that can defeat any of its neighbors.

How Our Civilization Can Fall

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

Orson Scott Card summarizes Bryan Ward-Perkins’ The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization, the opening chapter of Michael Grant’s The Rise of the Greeks, which describes the collapse of the eastern Mediterranean economy, and Mark Steyn’s America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It before imagining How Our Civilization Can Fall:

Here’s how it happens: America stupidly and immorally withdraws from the War on Terror, withdrawing prematurely from Iraq and leaving it in chaos. Emboldened, either Muslims unite against the West (unlikely) or collapse in a huge war between Shiites and Sunnis (already beginning). It almost doesn’t matter, because in the process the oil will stop flowing.

And when the oil stops flowing, Europe and Japan and Taiwan and Singapore and South Korea all crash economically; Europe then has to face the demands of its West-hating Muslim “minority” without money and without the ruthlessness or will to survive that would allow them to counter the threat. The result is accommodation or surrender to Islam. The numbers don’t lie — it is not just possible, it is likely.

America doesn’t crash right away, mind you. But we still have a major depression, because we have nowhere to sell our goods. And depending on what our desperate enemies do, it’s a matter of time before we crash as well.
It takes two generations for the dark ages to reach America. But they will come, if we allow this nightmare to begin. Because once you reach the tipping point, there’s no turning back, as the Emperor Justinian discovered.

Our global economic system is a brilliant creation, imperfect of course, but powerful and effective in creating more prosperity for more people than ever in the history of the world. It is a creation of America’s military and America’s benign government of the world — so benign they pretend we don’t govern it.

Our enemies and most of our “allies” and many of our own citizens are working as hard as possible to bring the whole thing crashing down, though that is not at all what they intend.

They just haven’t learned the lessons — the principles — of how great economic empires are maintained. They only look at the political dogmas du jour and spout their platitudes. People like me are ridiculed for seeing the big picture and learning the lessons of history.

I actually recommend reading the whole article rather than just his ending Jeremiad, which simply sounds alarmist.

Are cities the new countries?

Saturday, July 15th, 2006

In Are cities the new countries?, Finlo Rohrer notes that large cities — like Shanghai, Mexico City, Tokyo, New York, and London — share more in common with one another than with their home nations:

[London Mayor Ken Livingstone] joked: “Having been to Singapore and seen how successful it was I think anything short of a fully independent city state is a lost opportunity, with its own foreign and defence policies thrown in.”
“It will cost £2 billion to fix the Tube and £1.5bn to benefit from the effects of the 2012 Olympics, yet [Londoners] subsidise the rest of the UK to the tune of £20 billion a year.”

Swiss Fight Against Tax Cheats Aids Singapore’s Banking Quest

Monday, February 6th, 2006

Swiss Fight Against Tax Cheats Aids Singapore’s Banking Quest:

For decades, the ultrarich looking for discreet banking services gravitated to Switzerland, where account secrecy was sacrosanct. But when Swiss authorities acceded to pressure from the European Union to discourage tax evasion, the door opened for a new challenger to woo the world’s wealthy: Singapore.
In Singapore’s asset-management business, which includes private-banking, total funds under management rose to more than $356 billion at the end of 2004, from $94 billion at the end of 1998, according to the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the nation’s financial regulator. Roman Scott, a director of Boston Consulting Group in Singapore, estimates private-banking assets account for about $125 billion of the total.

The spice of life

Monday, August 29th, 2005

According to The spice of life, most “Indian” restaurants serve Bangladeshi food:

It was in the 1840s that lascars started jumping ship in the port of London (and Singapore, Southampton and New York too) and setting themselves up as cooks. Given that they all came from the same jungly patch of what is now Bangladesh, it was inevitable that their particular rice-heavy, pork-free cuisine came to represent ‘Indian food’ to the casual British mind. Even now, of the 8,000 Indian restaurants in Britain, the vast majority are run by Bangladeshis who come from what is still known at home as the ‘Seaman’s Zone’

‘Get Me to the Church on Time’

Friday, November 5th, 2004

‘Get Me to the Church on Time’ shares yet another story about Singapore’s zany social engineers:

After exhorting citizens to smile more, flush toilets after use, be courteous on the road and to have more babies, Singapore is zeroing in on rude wedding guests in its latest bid to improve etiquette.

Infuriated by reports of weddings marred by tardy guests, the government-led Singapore Kindness Movement launched a ‘Punctuality Drive at Wedding Dinners’ campaign for a second straight year, a spokeswoman for the group said on Friday.

About 800,000 ‘punctuality reminders’ have been sent to hotels, which usually plan weddings in Singapore. These are passed to couples to include with invitations, and contain a gracious ‘thank you’ for guests who turn up on time.

I didn’t realize this:

Older relatives often show up late at Chinese wedding banquets to show their importance. But the government is incensed that younger people are doing it too.

The Idea Trap

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2004

Bryan Caplan’s The Idea Trap explains why poor countries don’t catch up to rich countries:

If we look around the world, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that bad performance is not self-correcting. One of the most important facts about economic growth is that, on average, poor countries do not catch up to rich countries. The main reason seems to be that poor countries consistently have bad policies. Many of these countries are democracies. But they almost never elect a candidate on the theme ‘We need to copy the policies of more successful countries like Hong Kong and Singapore, and turn our backs on our failed national political tradition.’

Thus, the least pleasant places in the world to live normally have three features in common: First, low economic growth; second, policies that discourage growth; and third, resistance to the idea that other policies would be better. I have a theory to explain this curious combination. Imagine that the three variables I just named — growth, policy, and ideas — capture the essence of a country’s economic/political situation. Then suppose that three “laws of motion” govern this system. The first two are almost true by definition:

  1. Good ideas cause good policies.
  2. Good policies cause good growth.

The third law is much less intuitive:

  3. Good growth causes good ideas.

The third law only dawned on me when I was studying the public’s beliefs about economics, and noticed that income growth seems to increase economic literacy, even though income level does not. In other words, poor people whose income is rising — like recent immigrants — have more than the average amount of economic sense; rich people whose income is falling — like the Kennedy family — have less.


A society can get stuck in an “idea trap,” where bad ideas lead to bad policy, bad policy leads to bad growth, and bad growth cements bad ideas.

For Its Own Reasons, Singapore Is Getting Rather Gay-Friendly

Friday, October 22nd, 2004

One of my favorite quirky statistics is the high correlation between high-tech industry and gay population. I’d forgotten where I’d read about, but a quick web search on “technology correlation cities” brought up Technology and Tolerance: Diversity and High Tech Growth:

Perhaps our most striking finding is that a leading indicator of a metropolitan area’s high-technology success is a large gay population. Frequently cited as a harbinger of redevelopment and gentrification in distressed urban neighborhoods, the presence of gays in a metro area signals a diverse and progressive environment and provides a barometer for a broad spectrum of amenities attractive to adults, especially those without children. To some extent, the gay and lesbian population represents what might be called the “last frontier” of diversity in our society. [...] In our statistical analyses, the gay index does better than other individual measures of social and cultural diversity as a predictor of high-tech location. The correlations are exceedingly high and consistently positive and significant. The results of a variety of multivariate regression analyses support this finding. The gay index is positively and significantly associated with the ability of a region both to attract talent and to generate high-tech industry.

It sounds like the social engineers in Singapore have read the research. From For Its Own Reasons, Singapore Is Getting Rather Gay-Friendly:

‘Singapore’s become much more tolerant and open,’ says Sean Ho, surveying the raucous scene at the dance party. Mr. Ho, a 33-year-old information-technology consultant, was decked out in a T-shirt proclaiming ‘Choose Sin’ in large, red letters and ‘gapore’ in smaller print. ‘They are giving us a lot more space,’ he says.

The driving force behind this change appears to be economic. One consideration: reaping so-called pink dollars from gay tourists. The August dance party and related events, including plays and art exhibitions with gay themes, pulled in about 2,500 foreign visitors and about $6 million, according to event organizers.

Singapore’s more relaxed attitude toward homosexuality is also part of a broader government strategy to transform the small former British colony into a creative, idea-driven economy. That, Singapore’s leaders realize, will require some loosening up, as well as a serious effort to change the world’s perception of Singapore as a rigid, authoritarian place.

Gum Returns to Singapore After 12 Years

Tuesday, May 25th, 2004

Singapore wouldn’t work as a fictional nation. No one would find it remotely plausible. From Gum Returns to Singapore After 12 Years:

Ultra-tidy Singapore is lifting its notorious ban on chewing gum after 12 long years — but only for registered users. Gum dealers face jail if they break the rules.

Before Singaporeans think about unwrapping a pack of the Wrigley’s Orbit gum that’s just started selling here — and only in pharmacies — they have to submit their names and ID card numbers. If they don’t, pharmacists who sell them gum could be jailed up to two years and fined $2,940.

Why did Singapore back down on its ban?

Gum became a sticking point months ago in Singapore’s free trade talks with Washington, when Representative Philip Crane of the U.S. state of Illinois — home of chewing gum giant Wrigley — pressed the issue.

Singapore compromised, agreeing to allow only the sale of “therapeutic” gum in pharmacies. The free trade pact took effect Jan. 1.

The Health Sciences Authority, responding to questions from The Associated Press, said it’s allowed the sale of 19 “medicinal” and “dental” gum products.

Wrigleys’ Orbit, which the company claims is good for teeth, hit pharmacy shelves just days ago. Pfizer’s Nicorette, a nicotine gum meant to help smokers kick their addiction, has been available since March.

Affirmative Action Around the World

Tuesday, April 13th, 2004

In his review, Carl Cohen calls Affirmative Action Around the World, by Thomas Sowell, “exactly what its title announces: an empirical study of what the consequences really are, and really have been, in the five major nations in which affirmative action — the term now commonly used to denote ethnic preferences — has been long ensconced: India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and the United States.” And what are the consequences? “Intergroup hostility, dishonesty, and further proliferation in spite of manifest failure.”

India’s story:

In India, ethnic preferences have been established longer than in any other nation. “Positive discrimination” goes back to British rule, and was built into the Indian constitution in 1947. Originally intended to last for only twenty years, the preferences have been extended repeatedly in time. Originally devised to benefit only “untouchables” (a now forbidden term, replaced by “scheduled castes” or “Dalits”), they have been repeatedly expanded in reach. The benefits are no longer regarded as transitory; the beneficiaries, including members of many other “backward classes,” now comprise more than three-quarters of the Indian population.

Preferential quotas have been limited by Indian courts to 50 percent of the available places at universities and elsewhere; but making use of those quotas requires “complementary resources” of education that the intended beneficiaries simply do not have. Therefore, the quotas for the most seriously deprived in India often go unfilled. On the other hand, quotas for “other backward classes” rarely go unfilled. Upshot: the great majority of the reserved places go to those who deserve them least.
Race preference does not wind down; it winds up. Proliferation is the rule.

In Malaysia, Chinese laborers were first brought to the peninsula to work the rubber plantations:

The Chinese, adopting a frugal style and investing heavily in the education of their children, pulled themselves from the plantations and built businesses across the country; they have come to dominate retail establishments in Malaysia, of which they owned 85 percent by 1980. Corporate ownership by Chinese has also soared. Chinese incomes are double those of Malays.

In 1965, Malaysians willingly divested themselves of a great mass of powerful Chinese by expelling Singapore, which became a separate country and remains very largely a Chinese city — and greatly prosperous. But, although the expulsion of Singapore made the Malay majority politically secure, and somewhat reduced its economic domination by the Chinese minority, it did not stop the intellectual advance of the Chinese who remained. In 1969, more than half the officers in the Malaysian army were ethnic Chinese; as long as university admissions were determined by examination results, only 20 percent of the places went to Malays, and most of the rest to ethnic Chinese.

The majority, competing unsuccessfully, had to be protected. The Malay government set out to achieve racial balance in employment, giving formal preferences to Malays in hiring. But there seemed no alternative to continuing reliance on the better-educated Chinese and Indian minorities in fields where their technical skills were needed. And so admission to universities was altered as well. Group membership was emphasized over individual performance, and, to increase the number of Malays yet further, the Malay language became the only medium of instruction in schools as well as in universities.

The ethnic preferences that have pervaded Malaysia in recent decades were not designed to pull an oppressed minority from the depths; their purpose was to protect the relatively less competent majority from the intellectual and economic advances of more competent ethnic minorities. What, then, do we learn from Malaysia? We learn that the inferior performance of some ethnic groups is not always a consequence of discrimination against them. On the contrary, even the imposition of discriminatory advantages favoring a majority cannot obscure the fact that some groups prove less competent than others.

In Sri Lanka, preferences led to bloody slaughter:

Sri Lanka, in the second half of the 20th century, experienced a steep social deterioration whose exact causes are difficult to specify. What began as ethnic tension between the Sinhalese majority in the south and the Tamil minority in the north became bloody slaughter. The substantial preferences given to the Sinhalese (awarded, as in Malaysia, to protect a less competent majority) certainly played a role in exacerbating these tensions.
Deliberately exacerbating racial tensions for the sake of political gain — we learn from the case of Sri Lanka — promotes hatred of a kind and of a degree almost impossible to reverse. What begins with race preference ends with race riots.

What about Nigeria?

Preferences and quotas are justified in Nigeria by the demand, expressly formulated in the constitution of 1979, that national activities should “reflect the federal character of the country.” This “federal character” principle has been extended to school admissions, to promotions in school, and even to membership on the national soccer team. Every activity must “look like Nigeria.” Intergroup tensions have become very sharp; almost every policy issue becomes a matter of racial dispute accompanied by charges of ethnic corruption. These disputes often turn bitter, and become fights.
Sowell points out that in the 1990?s, when the Katafs, formerly lagging behind the Hausa, closed the gap between the two groups, relations became more polarized, not less.
To reduce discord, separate ethnic enclaves have been carved out and given formal status. Thus, having given rise to a deadly spoils system, ethnic heterogeneity is mitigated by a gerrymandered homogeneity. The lesson from Nigeria? When racial balance is advanced by granting preferences that are deeply resented, diversity produces not greater racial harmony but greater racial conflict.

And America?

The fifth of the five great nations dealt with in this book is the United States of America. The appropriate lesson(s) here? All of the above.