Building An Empire: How Lee Kuan Yew Transformed Singapore Into A Model Society

Lee Was A Charismatic Leader That Expected The Most From His Citizens


By Spencer Kellogg | United States

Once a territory of the British Empire, Singapore today is known for their clean, efficient society that features one of the most successful & extreme forms of free-market capitalism of the modern world. Combining nationalist and pro-business philosophies, their economy ranks amongst the most profitable and open ecosystems for trade in the world boasting incredibly low tax rates and market friendly regulations.

A clean and at times autocratic society, Singapore has made a fortune out of adapting to the infrastructure, technology and language of the western world while emphasizing the importance of traditional morality. One of the safest societies on the planet, The Port of Singapore was first developed as a main trading station of British Empire and today is arguably the busiest cargo dock and exchange market in all of Asia.

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, Singapore was once known for its corruption and division. Lee Kuan Yew established the People’s Action Party in 1954 upon returning to Singapore from political studies at Cambridge University. After winning governing independence from the British in 1959, Lee Kuan Yew was elected the country’s first prime minister. He would remain in that position for decades to come.

In the early part of his governance, Lee pushed for a merger between Singapore and Malaysia suggesting that the two countries shared a geography and people. During those years the plan of a merger with Malaysia wasn’t the only things on Lee’s mind. His leadership was challenged by pro-communist elements within the government who questioned the merger. The Malaysian government had little interest in working with the small independent state and after riots broke out in the major city of Singapore in 1965, talks of a merger faded quickly. In a major blow to Lee, Singapore was separated from Malaysia in August of 1965.

The disappointment over the failure to merge with Malaysia hurt Lee but the pain was short lived as he turned his attention to building Singapore into a strong, modern, independent nation. In his many televised appearances, Lee emphasized a philosophy of collectivized interests that he would continue to promote throughout his life.

His speeches are dominated by ‘we’ and promote the society as being capable of anything they put their minds to. When The British Empire decided to withdraw its troops from Singapore in 1968, Lee mandated a national service for defense to protect his people and their economic interests. He also built large housing projects that helped unite the country and gave cause for those newly-minted military forces. Instead of protecting the mansions of a few, now the country had a collective interest to protect their own properties and hastily joined the force. Today over 80% of the population live in publicly subsidized housing that is individually owned.

Utilizing his strong port, Lee established a trading market attractive to many foreign investors while demanding high education and health standards for all of his citizens. When Nixon took America off the gold standard in 1971, Lee was quick to capitalize by establishing a foreign exchange & promote the Asian Dollar Market. These decisions proved important as Singapore’s port economy established itself as a key player in the global finance exchange.

Lee’s charismatic and stern rule characterized a country that straddles the line between western individualist thought and eastern collectivist nationalism. For example, in Singapore it is illegal to sell gum, jaywalk, graffiti, or indulge in the possession of illegal substances. Each carry harsh fines and jail time and have been part of modeling the society as a clean, safe, healthy civilization.

The experience of Singaporeans as a minority during the Malaysian rule was something that stuck with Lee far after the 1960s. Instead of harboring anger and resentment, Lee made sure that Singapore was to become a post-racial nation. He instituted bilingual education in all schools and sought to establish English as the primary language so as better to compete in the global world. He welcomed muslim populations that today live peacefully side-by-side with singaporeans.

Singapore is a city-state with very limited natural resources which imports/exports much of its goods. Their government have looked to fiscally conservative lending policies and high-tech trading markets to capitalize on their weakness as a small landmass. Today, the country ranks as one of the best educated and most healthy populations throughout the world thanks to an emphasis from the top down on economic and physical wellness of their people.

In 2017 the Singapore economy posted a growth of 3.6% as high demand for electronic goods surged. Singapore is known for their expertise in the oil, electronic & trading industries. Although the country is well documented as a free market haven, government and private businesses often share massive partnerships that benefit the society as a whole.

In an address to Parliament on Tuesday, finance minister Heng Swee Keat reported a $10 billion dollar economic budget surplus & announced the government’s plan to distribute a “hongbao,” which means gift in Mandarin, to all Singaporeans. This gift will cost the government a reported $700 million of the $10 billion surplus with citizens receiving between 100-300 Singapore dollars.

In March of 2015, Lee passed away from pneumonia. Almost two million people came to pay their respect to the leader who had led Singapore from a third-world developing country into one of the most modern and affluent nations in the world today. The budget surplus of Singapore and the redistribution of wealth into the hands of citizens is the legacy that Lee left. Multiracial, multi-language and fit to meet the needs of expanding ideas in a global world, Singapore remains a model society for all the world to marvel at.

  1. I knew Lee, he got a lot of ideas from Libertarianism and tried to make one model for his people of a libertarianist social democracy based on best practices. He thought a world of local experiments of no more than 5 MM population would do wonders.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: