29 September 2005

Singapore Sting

There was a time, not so long ago, when Singapore, an island with roughly the same population of Puerto Rico but less than one-tenth our size, was not even half as prosperous as Us, when measured by income per capita.

Less than half. In other words, the average Puerto Rican living on this island made more than twice as much money as a Singaporan worker. A worker who didn’t have any of our “supports” such as grants, welfare and subsidies, the products of Uncle Sam’s largesse as economic fuel.

Look now. In the span of less than 30 years, Singapore has risen to the top of the global competitive charts, an amoeba compared to the enormous size of many of its high-profile, high-production brethren. An island of roughly 4 million people so prosperous it is recruiting an entire nation as its up-and-coming workforce: a nation—Malaysia—almost 6 times the size of Singapore in population.

Talk about the goldfish swallowing the cat…

And what has happened to Puerto Rico in those same 30 years? We fell from being the economic miracle economists flocked to study, many from that island called Singapore, to being the economic mess no one can or wants to fix.

Now, let’s not be Thomas Friedman-like in blind adoration of Singapore. The country may be an economic marvel, but it leaves a lot to be desired in the democracy department. This was the country that outlawed chewing gum and behaves toward the notion of a free press and individual choice with the level of acceptance the Pope has for satanic rites. So no, it isn’t perfect. But it is kicking Our butt with combat boots as an example of focused talent and economic vision.

The angle here is not “How do we become more like Singapore?”, but “Why them and not Us?”

There is only one starting point, one fundamental difference between Singapore and Puerto Rico that leaves everything else in the proverbial dust: Singapore has autonomy; Puerto Rico does not.

Those of you locals who immediately recoil and think “independentista” can go stick your tongues in the nearest electrical outlet. Autonomy—to be the master of your own fate—is not a concept strictly limited to seeking independence. [In fact, in a later post, The Jenius will argue that there really isn’t and never has been a true independence movement in Puerto Rico.] And again, in fact, Puerto Rico had a greater degree of autonomy in 1898, negotiated with Spain, than it has ever had before or since. So labeling a conclusive fact as “independentista” is simply admitting a bias against the Truth and shows a lack of brains, so let your tongue fry.

For the rest of you, it boils down to this: No one’s self-interest can ever be truly served if the decisions needed to implement the desired changes are in the hands of someone who doesn’t care what that self-interest is. Or if you don’t know where your true self-interest lies.

The problem here is two-fold: The U.S. has never given much thought to Puerto Rico, and at the level of the general population, the vast majority don’t give a damn. They have no reason to. In Puerto Rico, We have thrown away decades of Our lives in pursuit of what We can acquire, but only invested a few seconds to wrestle with what We want to be. One side couldn’t care less, the other side can’t bring itself to care enough.

So. If this isn’t exactly a stand-off, it results in a stand-offish posture concerning “Our Future.” In the meantime, a tiny, tiny island marshalled itself, took aim at some heady goals, and though one can certainly argue with the methods employed to achieve those goals, it is hard to dismiss the ongoing progress shown. They made their choices. They set their goals. They went after them with single-minded determination.

We make no choices. We have no goals. And the only thing We have a single mind about seems to be that “somebody’s gotta fix this mess.”


Not "somebody".


The Jenius Has Spoken.


zhi yang said...

wow, that is a very interesting comparison between Singapore and Puerto Rico. Though I'm surprised that the issue of chewing gums never goes away.

Anonymous said...

We better think of something because everything is going up except for salaries... and that is certainly scarry.