The notion of “our people” has changed since the bygone days of dwelling in caves, from clans and tribes to kingdoms and nations, often pitting the interests of families against those of higher authority.
The recent debate over healthcare in the United States has brought to the fore once again the age-old question of liberty—where does one draw the line between personal freedom and the “greater good” of society?
Many believe government knows best in such matters as medicine and education, while others say almost all life decisions should be left up to individuals and their family units.
Singapore is an extreme example of the former philosophy. With the goal of continual economic development in mind, its government has set out to create an ideally harmonious society, where obedient citizens live in safety and find enjoyment in work.
Laws control every aspect of Singapore’s society, from vetting the scripts of all plays to be performed to determining how many children a family may have. The running joke among visitors is that Singapore is a “fine” country—where one incurs a fine for chewing gum, a fine for walking on the grass, a fine for driving alone in an auto, and other financial penalties.
Such conditions would seem intolerable in many nations. But ask most Singaporeans how they feel about the situation and they will gush on about how wonderful their system is.
Singapore’s economy grew a staggering 14.5% in 2010, the second-highest rate in the world. Population growth is just below 2%, as is the unemployment rate. Wage growth continues to exceed inflation. Children are assured of ten years of schooling, and the national literacy rate is 95.9%. The government is purportedly free of greed and corruption, and the crime rate is among the lowest in the world.
At the other extreme, Norway operates under a system of governance bordering on anarchy. On paper, it is a constitutional monarchy, but the system works significantly more from the grassroots upwards, than from the top downwards.
Anarchist International rates Norway’s degree of “real democracy” at between 51% and 55%; do as you please as long as you are not bothering others.
Nevertheless, literacy has reached 100%, the unemployment rate was an enviable 3.7% in 2010 and economic growth currently stands at 2.1%.
Families in Norway are no less happy with life than those in Singapore, but neither would want to trade places with the other. Big governments must walk a fine line between serving and guiding families.
If they get it wrong, the populace is sure to let them know at the ballot box.
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