Lee Kuan Yew died yesterday. What is his legacy?
Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore’s leader, then senior advisor, for five decades. He’s called Singapore’s founding father. For many, modern Singapore and Lee are synonymous. He oversaw the city-state’s transformation from an underdeveloped British backwater with almost no natural resources to a modern Asian Tiger.
Lee did this by focusing on the economy, taking advantage of two things Singapore did have: a decent port and the British legal tradition. He forged ties between the principal ethnic groups—Malays and Chinese—being articulate in both languages himself. And he strengthened the rule of law to keep corruption low.
Singapore’s trade-based economy is now one of the strongest in the world, with low tax rates, free markets, limited government, and an efficient regulatory regime. Starting a business there takes about three days, and the process is clear. By contrast, it can take over two months to get permission to open a lemonade stand in New York City, with lots hoops to jump through.
Lee’s legacy demonstrates the inverse of the resource curse. Lacking commodity-based wealth, he invested in the only true resource any society has: human potential.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer
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