Worldly Wisdom from Lee Kuan Yew: 9 Lessons You Can Learn from LKY

lessons from Lee Kuan Yew LKYFriends, today is a sad day.

One of the greatest men of the 20th (and 21st) century, a political genius, died today: Lee Kuan Yew.

He became 91 years old, and remained sharp as a tack to his last breath.

Who was Lee Kuan Yew?

Everyone knows about Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, or Deng Xiaoping. Few know (enough) about Lee Kuan Yew.

–LKY, as I will refer to him from now on, was the ‘founder’ of Singapore.

Most far-reaching changes in the world are accomplished by organizations, companies, or large groups of people. It is exceedingly rare for one man to single-handedly put a dent in the universe.

LKY did just that–he changed the world.

He took Singapore from a small, poor, port town (originally founded by the East India Company in 1819) to. . .

. . .an economy with one of the highest GDP per capita in the world, having outgrown its neighboring countries by a factor of 5,5-31,6!

GDP per capita (in $) comparison 2013: Singapore vs neighbor countries

  • Singapore: $55,182
  • Malaysia: $10,538
  • Thailand: $5,779
  • Indonesia: $3,475
  • Vietnam: $1,910
  • Burma: $1,740

Singapore has also become the country with the second highest number of entrepreneurs per capita (the U.S is number one).

Why am I interested in Lee Kuan Yew?

–I first found out about LKY through Charlie Munger, who advises that every serious student of success should make a thorough case study of LKY and and his governance over Singapore.

Munger hails Singapore as the greatest political (and economical) success in history, and says that LKY is to Singapore what Warren Buffett is to Berkshire Hathaway.

The work has been heavily concentrated in one mind, Warren Buffett. Sure, others have had input, but Berkshire enormously reflects the contributions of one great single mind.

This is not how we normally live: in a democracy, everyone takes turns. But if you really want a lot of wisdom, it’s better to concentrate decisions and process in one person.

It’s no accident that Singapore has a much better record, given where it started, than the United States. There, power was concentrated in one enormously talented person, Lee Kuan Yew, who was the Warren Buffett of Singapore.

–Charlie Munger, Berkshire’s Hathaway’s annual meeting in 2007

As Munger hints at, the best leaders are philosopher kings, and the best form of (governmental) rule is enlightened despotism.

LKY was a benevolent dictator–probably the best one since the times of Ancient Rome, under the successive rule of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius.

China can thank Deng Xiaoping (who converted China from a backwater socialist nation into a flourishing capitalist society) for its rocket-like growth.

Deng Xiaoping, in turn, was friends with LKY–and ‘stole’ many of his great ideas from him. Therefore, indirectly, China owes a great deal of its success to the brilliant mind of LKY.

But if that is the best way of doing things, then why is it that so few countries and organizations are run that way?

–Because it is extraordinarily difficult. Here are a few reasons why:

  • 1) Most (political) leaders are too self-serving and power-hungry (and even if they don’t start out that way, the winner effect has a tendency to warp their brains over time). That may be what happened to Napoleon.
  • 2) Few people have the raw intelligence and rational ability required.
  • 3) How many people have the strength of character to give up their entire lives to building a corporation or a country?
  • 4) Most countries are too culturally and ideologically messed-up by popular opinion to accept the notion of a benevolent dictatorship.
  • 5) Most (larger) countries have too many vested interests of different sorts, and corruption already runs too deep.

9 Lessons in Wordly Wisdom to Learn from LKY

[Note: all quotes are from Lee Kuan Yew, unless stated otherwise.]

#1 The Importance of incentives

Putting the right incentives in place is THE single most important factor determining the long-term success of an organization, corporation, or a country. It is the leadership’s role to assume that people will game the system ruthlessly, and therefore make it as hard as humanly possible to do that.

Unlike many other countries–such as Sweden, where most politicians are incompetent–LKY, like Napoleon, Caesar, and the Founding Fathers, understood that government must be meritocratic.

Dumb people must be kept out of important positions. How can this be done?

Simple, just raise the incentives (money, status, power) and you will automatically attract the best individuals. The dumb ones will be kept out by virtue of their own incompetence.

singapore payment -- lessons from Lee Kuan yew LKY

Singapore (at #2 in the top) pays its politicians properly. By doing so they have been able to minimize corruption and attract the best individuals. Sorry about the outdated numbers — I couldn’t find a more recent image!

Singapore’s current Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong (LKY’s son) earns ca $3,9 M per year. That’s roughly what  6-7 of the biggest countries’ leaders get paid, combined.

Is that too much?


Better to have a competent man–with integrity–than a half wit (like George Bush) or someone who is morally corrupt, and takes bribes (like Spiro Agnew).

LKY saw what had happened in countries like England and used it as a cautionary example:

In Britain, if you look at the First Class Honours list of Oxford or Cambridge and trace their careers, you will find that these people end up not in politics, but in banking, finance and the professions.

To attract the best people you must compensate them adequately. If you don’t, you can’t expect them not to use their power to make that money in some other, less ethical, way. That’s just human nature.

#2 The importance of prevention: Be ruthless in stomping out B.S

I think that Singapore’s stepping hard on things that will grow like cancer, is the correct way to govern a country.

–Charlie Munger

LKY, like Munger and many other of the world’s smartest people, understood the importance of prevention.

Mistakes should never have to be fixed, they should be prevented.

Most problems stem from incompetence or negative psychology (bad habits and lack of discipline), and as such they have a strong tendency to repeat themselves. . .

. . .especially on a countrywide level. It is nearly impossible to fix a problem once it has become culturally rooted.

Someone should have told the European and American politicians about this before the 2008 financial crisis. Oh wait, someone did. It was Warren Buffett, and no one listened.

The problem is that most people are not able to think long-term and deal with incremental change.

Instead, they make the mistake of allowing problems to grow like cancer, until they cannot be stopped. Only then does the media start reporting on it–in a not-so-constructive way, asking: “Who is to blame!?”

Playing the blame game is for children.

Grown-ups think in terms of prevention.

#3 The importance of public perception

Not only did LKY put in the right financial incentives, thereby attracting the most competent ministers, but he also increased the respect and status by which the Singaporean politicians and statesmen are treated with.

LKY set a strict policy of non-acceptance against satire, crude jokes, or caricatures of himself and the leadership:

If you keep on mocking your leader, poking fun at him, everyday, and he has no right to reply, it is very difficult for him to command your respect.

lky lessons

A leader who gets ridiculed and caricatured is not a feared leader, and. . .

#4 The most efficient leader is a feared leader

LKY was not a power-hungry megalomaniac. He was a ‘dictator’ by necessity, and he understood the importance that authority plays in ruling a country:

Between being loved and being feared, I have always believed Machiavelli was right. If nobody is afraid of me, I’m meaningless.

Intelligent, rational and hard-working people can govern themselves perfectly fine. But unfortunately, only a small amount of the world population fit that description.

Intelligent, rational and hard-working people can be reasoned with through arguments. But most people only listen to those who have authority (or entertainment value).

Hence, the leader must have authority.

The leader must also, out of necessity, incite fear into his opponents; so that he is able to devote himself wholeheartedly to ruling, and does not have to worry about being attacked or slandered.

I say something and I mean it. If you’re willing to cross swords with me you’re going to get stabbed. That’s that. . . If I think that it’s going to be necessary to do, and you set out to fight me, then we fight. But to avoid a fight I make quite sure that you understand that I will fight. Simple as that. I am not interested in being loved. What’s the profit in it?

Enemies, opposition, and fools must be squashed before they gain sufficient strength to become a threat (remember, prevention).

It’s not about being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, ‘good’ or ‘evil’; it’s a matter of saving time, being efficient, and getting things done.

#5 Human beings are not equal–and never will be!

Only a person with a strong character can speak the truth, especially when his position in life depends on it. Fortunately, LKY was such an individual, and he dared to dish out ‘harsh truths’:

The human being is an unequal creature. This is a fact. . .

. . All great religions, all great movements, all great political ideologies start off saying ‘let’s make the human being as equal as possible’. In fact, he is NOT equal–never will be.

True to his word, in an interview during 2013 at Shell’s 120th anniversary, LKY was asked “what is the meaning of life?”, and answered the following:

Life is what you make of it. You’re dealt a pack of cards, your DNA is fixed by your mother and your father. . . Your job is to do the best of the cards you were dealt.

What can you do well? What can you not do well? What are you worst at?

If you ask me to make my living as an artist, I’ll starve. Because I just can’t draw. It wasn’t in my father or my mother or my great grandfathers and grandmothers.

But if you ask me to do mathematical questions, or to argue and point out, I’ll get by. Those are the cards I was dealt–and I make use of them.

Don’t try to do something you were not favored by nature to do.

Countries such as Sweden (where the notion of ‘equality’ has become some kind of strange religion for dumb people) would do well to learn this.

Play your hand to the best of your abilities.

#6  The importance of knowing what you don’t know: Staying inside your circle of competence

Success in all areas of life is based on understanding the underlying reality, and not deluding yourself about what you can do. It is often more important to know what you cannot do–your limitations–than knowing what you can do.

That also goes for running a company or a country:

Male reporter: Finland has produced Nokia, and Sweden IKEA… These are companies that seem to punch way above what the country’s physical size seems to suggest?

LKY: Alright, Sweden IKEA. . . Do we want to go into [retail and furniture]–have we got the wood and designers? The Swedes are good designers. Nokia was one of these flukes in history, from a communist–a controlled–society, overshadowed by the Soviet Union that they broke through.

But, they are about what? 7-8 million? Can they keep up with the competition from Korea? From Japan? Watch it in the long-term.

How many bright fellows have you got? With inventive and creative minds?

Female reporter: You are making us all very depressed [said semi-jokingly].

LKY: No. I am not depressed–I am realistic. I say: these are our capabilities, this is the competition we face, and given what we have–our assets and capabilities–we can still make a good living, provided that we are realistic.

Harsh Truths to Keep Singapore Going

Know thyself.

Don’t stray outside of your circle of competence. Keep to your core competence–or go under.

#7  The importance of genes and being rational in choosing a partner

LKY did not believe in love at first sight:

I don’t believe in love at first sight. I think it’s a grave mistake. You’re attracted by physical characteristics and you will regret it.

Does it sound like LKY might have been an emotionless and unhappy man?

Well, he wasn’t. He was happily married to his wife Kwa Geok Choo for 60 years. Without her help, it is unlikely that he would have been able to do what he did. She was a remarkable woman in her own right.

Kwa Geook Choo was the only student that was smarter than LKY in law school.

Kwa Geok Choo was the only student that was smarter than LKY in law school.

In his autobiography, The Singapore Story, LKY writes that he was confident that Geok Choo “could be a sole breadwinner and bring up the children”, thereby giving him an “insurance policy” so that he could enter politics, unimpeded by financial concerns or parental responsibilities.

LKY picked Kwa Geok Choo as his partner not just based on physical attraction, but based on her intelligence and apparent genetic potential:

There are many sons of doctors who have married doctors. Those who married spouses who are not as bright are tearing their hair out because their children can’t make it. I have lived long enough to see all this play out.

So when the graduate man does not want to marry a graduate woman, I tell him he’s a fool, stupid. You marry a non-graduate, you’re going to have problems, some children bright, some not bright. You’ll be tearing your hair out.

#8 Avoid the mainstream media, popular culture, and set your own course

I have come to believe that, so far as the foreign press is concerned, no news is good news.

LKY exercised rigorous restrictions on the mainstream media–in particular from the U.S–inside of Singapore.

We only allow the U.S papers into Singapore so that we can figure out what the U.S write about us. And what their perception of us is. We cannot allow them to assume a role in Singapore that the American media plays in America: That of invigilator, adversary, and inquisitor of the administration.

Obviously he did this for political reasons, but I would like to hope that he also did it out of benevolence: to protect people from idiotic ideas of popular culture, gossip, and shock-and-awe.

I have never been overconcerned or obsessed with opinion polls or popularity polls. I think a leader who is, is a weak leader.

In many countries, like the U.S, elections are based on polling and popular media. It’s called populism. Politics has become similar to entertainment TV and reality shows. LKY wouldn’t have that, and (rightly so) put his foot down.

Besides, opinion polls and focus groups are not to be trusted. People lie or answer under a pretense of political correctness.

#9 Be a life-long learner, copy the greatest ideas you can find, and be pragmatic in their implementation

If there was one formula for success, it was that we were constantly studying how to make things work, or how to make them work better. I was never a prisoner of any theory. What guided me were reason and reality. The acid test I applied to every theory or scheme was, would it work?

Charlie Munger explained how LKY made Singapore into such an attractive country to invest in:

He figured out what he wanted to attract, then he made the situation very user-friendly for those people.

‘Those people’ were wealthy investors, world leaders, and other big shots around the world. And what did they want? Stability.

To this end, LKY focused his efforts on making Singapore as safe as possible: Eliminating corruption, minimizing taxes, and weakening unions.

A few examples:

  • Drug-dealing is punishable by death.
  • Chewing gum has been banned.
  • Littering is fined with thousands of dollars, and if you do it three times you are forced to wear a badge that says “I am a litter lout

Two other tricky problems that LKY solved in a crafty way:

#1 Malaria:

There was a problem with malaria.

LKY found the root problem: a nearby swamp.

He drained the entire swamp, without regard for the protests of some squeamish environmentalists.

Who cares if some strange fish species goes extinct? Human lives are at stake.

#2 Ethnic diversity issues:

Singapore consists of something like 70 % Chinese people, 20 % Malai, and a bunch of other ethnicities. There is a tradition among the Chinese to consider themselves the ‘superior’ Singaporeans.

To foster stability, and do away with ethnical disputes, LKY passed a law prohibiting people to mention their ethnic backgrounds. Problem solved. Cost? A slight infringement on freedom of speech.

Worth it? Yes.

On pragmatism:

What are our priorities? First, the welfare, the survival of the people. Then, democratic norms and processes which from time to time we have to suspend.

On the necessity of making tough decisions:

I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. Yes, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn’t be here today. And I say without the slightest remorse, that we wouldn’t be here, we would not have made economic progress, if we had not intervened on very personal matters – who your neighbor is, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit, or what language you use. We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think.

On why democracy is problematic and short-sighted:

If I were in authority in Singapore indefinitely, without having to ask those who are governing whether they like what is being done, then I have not the slightest doubt that I could govern much more effectively in their own interests.

On why voting is problematic:

 One-man-one-vote is a most difficult form of government.. Results can be erratic.

On populism (another problem with voting):

Amazingly, throughout most of the contemporary Western world leaders in government require no special training or qualification. Many get elected because they sound and look good on television. The results have been unhappy for their voters.

On sincerity:

I always tried to be correct, not politically correct.

On India vs China:

Charlie Rose: Will India have an advantage over China, as some argue, because it’s a democracy and China is not?

LKY: Let me put it this way. If India was as well-organized as China is, it would go at a different speed. But it is going at the speed it is because it’s India. . . It’s not one nation, it’s many nations. It has 320 different languages, and 32 official languages. So, no Prime Minister in Deli can at any one time speak in a language and be understood throughout the country. You can do that in Beijing.

On the danger of complacency:

What I fear is complacency. When things always become better, people tend to want more for less work.


The ones [in Singapore] under 30, who’ve just grown up in stability and growth year by year, I think they think that I’m selling them a line just to make them work harder–but they are wrong.

On autonomy of mind and internal motivation:

Life is not just eating, drinking, television and cinema…The human mind must be creative, must be self-generating; it cannot depend on just gadgets to amuse itself.

On not being a confused consumer:

“I’m not interested in changing either my suit or my car or whatever with every change in fashion. That’s irrelevant. I don’t judge myself or my friends by their fashions. Of course, I don’t approve of people who are sloppy and unnecessarily shabby or disheveled… But I’m not impressed by a $5,000 or $10,000 Armani suit.

On using one’s youth well:

By the time you are past 30 your character is formed. You will not change.

On pragmatism (and not believing in B.S):

Question: Do you believe in Feng Shui and astrology? A lot of Singaporeans suspect that you do.

LKY: I don’t believe in any of that rubbish. I am a pragmatic fellow.

On his reading habits:

Usually, I read biographies of interesting people. I am not attracted to novels – make-believe, or recreations of what people think life should be.

(Check out some good book recommendations here and here.)

On being slightly dyslexic:

I read more slowly, but I read it only once, and it sticks.


I should’ve known something was wrong when I failed that speed-reading course, I mean, I am not stupid.

On meditation:

I started meditation about 1992 when my friend, who was speaker of Parliament, retired, and was dying of lung cancer…I found my breathing slows down and I think my heartbeat goes down and my blood pressure goes down. So, I use that as a kind of escape from stress.

On avoiding downward spirals due to poor sleep:

You know Shakespeare, ‘Give me men that sleep well of nights’. That is what he said. I think it right. Men who worry, you know, read all this, and they start shouting all this they get worried themselves, night time comes, they can’t sleep. Next morning they wake up, mind befuddled, wrong decisions, more trouble!

On the importance of free markets:

I believe Hayek was a very clear thinker and that he hit upon the eternal truth, explaining that the free market is necessary to get the economy right.

On inequality and genetics:

I started off believing all men were equal. I now know that’s the most unlikely thing ever to have been, because millions of years have passed over evolution, people have scattered across the face of this earth, been isolated from each other, developed independently, had different intermixtures between races, peoples, climates, soils… I didn’t start off with that knowledge. But by observation, reading, watching, arguing, asking, that is the conclusion I’ve come to.

The Man & His Ideas

On Israelis, Jews and genetics:

The Israelis are very smart… the rabbi in any Jewish society was often the most intelligent and well-read, most learned of all…the rabbi’s children are much sought-after by successful Jews to bring good genes into the family. That’s how they multiply, the bright ones multiply. That sums it up.

On trouble integrating Muslims:

I have to speak candidly to be of value, but I do not want to offend the Muslim community… I think we were progressing very nicely until the surge of Islam came, and if you asked me for my observations, the other communities have easier integration – friends, inter-marriages and so on – than Muslims… I would say, today, we can integrate all religions and races, except Islam.

On leaving a legacy:

What they think of me a generation after I’m dead will be determined by researchers who have PhDs, who write papers on me. So there will be lots of revisionism. I’ve lived long enough to realize that you might be idolized in life but reviled after you’re dead.

Reflecting on his life achievements:

“In the end what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given? My life.”

He paid the price.

He left a legacy behind and will not be forgotten:

Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him. Or give it up. This is not a game of cards. This is your life and mine. I’ve spent a whole lifetime building this and as long as I’m in charge, nobody is going to knock it down.

Not long ago, in an interview, LKY said that:

People believe that what has been achieved is always secure. I don’t believe that is so. I believe that once you have weak and ineffective government, the whole progress you have made will spiral downwards. But the majority of people believe it is secure for them.

Let us hope for Singapore’s sake, that LKY’s system–his legacy–turns out to be antifragile, and does not collapse like a house of cards, but only gets stronger with time.

Rest in peace Lee Kuan Yew.

-- lessons from Lee Kuan yew -- LKY



At the latest Berkshire Hathaway meeting, in April 1th 2015, Munger said this about LKY’s death:

I’m going to commit a bust somewhere of Lee Kuan Yew, and stick it somewhere important. That is the most important governmental leader, that is the most important nation-builder that ever existed in the history of the world. There is no other record equal to Lee Kuan Yew’s. Unbelievable achievement. . . . There’s never been a career like Lee Kuan Yew’s.


Resources on LKY


LKY autobiographies:


Further readings on LKY:


Best videos on LKY:


A short summary video


A funny video

Munger on LKY


My favorite political system, in terms of being adapted to its particular circumstances–successfully-is Singapore. I think Singapore is the single most successful governmental system that exists in the world. They’ve taken a small swamp from nowhere to a very credible place. They’re doing the Lord’s work in a number of very important ways. I’m sorry they’re bringing in derivatives trading–even heaven makes mistakes.

–Charlie Munger

Hard truths to keep Singapore going


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  1. #1 Malaria:

    There was a problem with malaria.

    LKY found the root problem: a nearby swamp.

    He drained the entire swamp, without regard for the protests of some squeamish environmentalists.

    Who cares if some strange fish species goes extinct? Human lives are at stake.

    * Citation pls. I believed LKY would not be so stupid to not know when there are aquatic creatures, no mosquito larva will survive. Hence Spore is called garden city, filled with big trees, parks, lakes & water ways.

    #2 Ethnic diversity issues:

    Singapore consists of something like 70 % Chinese people, 20 % Malai, and a bunch of other ethnicities. There is a tradition among the Chinese to consider themselves the ‘superior’ Singaporeans.

    To foster stability, and do away with ethnical disputes, LKY passed a law prohibiting people to mention their ethnic backgrounds. Problem solved. Cost? A slight infringement on freedom of speech.

    Worth it? Yes.

    * Nonsense. There is never such law or needs. Every one Identity Card stated his racial ethics as Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian, or others. Every one is used to live together under multiculturalism, except Muslim Malay is impossible to be integrated, which LKY was forced to be Political Correct to change his word due to Muslim intolerance & hypocrisy. But gov did set rules to prohibit preference of race in employment ads(most prefer hardworking Chinese) & property rental(no one like India Indian), still a PC hypocrisy.

  2. Such a badass. Is it weird that I have had the same exact ideas/solutions for my country except the chewing gum one ? I need to study him some more.

  3. William Chou says

    Shared and bookmarked this. I can tell you’re a follower of Munger. It’s nice to see an incredible post online. Thanks!

  4. If you ask to despots, they will all think of them as enlightened…
    I don’t think Munger is qualified for judging everything.
    For all I know Singapore didn’t bring people such as Buffet and him. AND he does not live there neither, even if he thinks it’s heaven. :)
    I’m glad Karl Michael Syding stepped into the comments to voice his wise opinion.
    For me it appears that you fell into the lack of critical thinking (Munger = authority on everyting) and also you should realize there are no such thing as a good despot, whatever you call it (enlightened, benevolent, etc.). This is something too romantic and too childish to think.
    Anyways, still a very good blog !

  5. Great Read.

    What a man.

  6. I know I’m suuper late to the party, but..

    Firstly, awesome article Mr. Sunstrom, I’ve been a reader of yours for a while now, and this is my first comment.

    After reading your article I did a little searching and found that…
    after LKY died, a singaporean blogger/youtuber named Amos Yee made a video explaining that he hated LKY, that LKY made the country a sad place, that they took away freedom of speech, and said some generally offensive stuff. video-> ( or just search Amos Yee)

    Afterwards, this 16 year-old kid’s video goes viral and it seems like his video struck a lot of nerves, as he did release it in the time everyone was mourning LKY. The hate was, I thought, comparable to that of popular bad videos like “friday” or “hot girls have problems” something like that.

    Then the government straight up arrests his ass, dragging him to court, making him pay lawsuit fees, etc.


    It struck me personally as injustice on the government’s part, but many Singaporeans were glad that this Amos Yee was arrested. And I can sort of get where they’re coming from, nobody wants hate towards their idols.

    But I got to give to this kid for speaking his mind on political matters without fear, even if what he says is offensive or wrong. But you know who else spoke their mind on political matters without fear, even if what he says is offensive or wrong? Mister LKY himself.

    It always gets me, those odd connections. Anyways there’s obviously two sides to every story, blah blah. If you happen to read this comment, I would be interested to know what you think. If not, well I felt like I had to put it out there.

    Great article. Cheers.

    • I’m from Singapore, let me answer that question for U. The kid was charged not for insulting Lee Kuan Yew but for insulting Christianity. U probably want to get your facts right. Singapore is a very conservative nation and majority have old Chinese values which is respect for others. The kid showed no respect for anything which basically pissed everyone off that’s why many were glad that he was arrested. There were definitely some who were pissed off at him insulting LKY but that’s in the minority.

      Finally if you bother to follow up with what happened. Some of those who helped bail the kid out and claimed to do it for the sake of “freedom of speech” were subsequently attacked by Amos and threatened to sued him. Even the pro-Opposition website which was supporting Amos throughout the ordeal abandoned him. His is a classic case of spoilt brat who needs some discipline(by Singapore standards), If U are not from around here U might not understand out point of view

      With regards to the article, if the author is reading this I am going to correct U on the last point on Ethnic diversity issues. It was not resolved by not allowing to mention ethnicity, in fact our race is stated clearly on our identity card. He did this in a few ways
      1)Making English the working language hence forcing all races to learn a single language
      2)Force pple are different race to live together. Most Singaporeans live in Govt built apartments, they have a racial ratio according to the national ratio. Right now we have around 70% Chinese/20% Malay/5% Indian/5% Other races so the allocation of apartments will have roughly the same ratio in every estate
      3)Finally they erect laws against Hate Speech for on Racial issues and Religious Issue. If U post hate speeches about another race or religion(which was what happened to the kid Amos mentioned by Sina), U get into trouble. Most pple get let off with a warning and a small fine.

      • Interesting stuff, EL. I’ve always felt like it’s best to get someone from the country’s perspective. I hadn’t looked into it very deeply, just thought it was relevant to point out. Again, I’m not from Singapore so I have no idea what the standards are. Personally, I felt like he didn’t do something so wrong so as to deserve a legal action (from what I saw in the video), but then again some ‘western’ thinkers thought that LKY’s rule was unjust but Singapore seems to have gotten better because of it.
        Also, I was wondering, why did this Amos kid try to sue the people bailing him out?

      • That’s going to take forever to explain. I’ll try to summarize

        Some background on this, since this was a case that had some links to LKY, the opposition activist were tried to bring politics into this and claim the govt was trying to restrict Freedom of Speech. Amos even met members of the local opposition party known for the far left ideals. When they went before the courts, Amos was charged for insulting Christianity there was no charge for insulting LKY

        After Yee was arrested, his father bailed him out. He broke the bail condition of not posting online by writing an article about how his dad “abused” him(his idea of being abused is getting shouted at and pushed the ground because of something he did)

        Went back before the judge and the father decided not to post bail for him. Since Amos was technically still a minor he can only be bailed by the parents/relative. The judge not wanting to see him in jail allowed him to be bailed by non-related pple. The opposition activist managed to find a volunteer, a Christian counselor name Vincent, post bail for Amos with the same condition, no posting online. Vincent did so claiming that he wanted to protect “freedom of speech” and as a Christian he was not offended by what Amos said.

        Amos broke bail again, this time he claimed that the volunteer molested him. This piss off Vincent so much he threatened to sue Amos unless he apologize. Amos posted an article pretending to apologize but later retracted the apology. Vincent accepted the initial apology not like he had a choice, either he pretended to accept the fake apology and look like and idiot or sue Amos for defamation and look like a hypocrite. Vincent discharged himself as Amos’s bailor and Amos was remanded in prison for a few days

        Amos was then found guilty of insulting Christianity. It was obvious at this point that the judge wanted to give him probation, Amos rejected to go on probation and even refused to meet his probation officer before the final sentence is to be passed. Right now we are waiting for him to be sentence. For reference, almost all cases of this nature, the person being charged either got let off with a warning or at worst a fine unless the offender was actively inciting violence against a certain race/religion. Amos is the only person I heard of to ever get into so much trouble for what he did. It was obvious all parties involved including the judge was trying to let him off lightly, it was his own actions that is making it hard for everyone

        Finally on the note of LKY vs his western image is mostly distorted. Yes he did some dubious things in his time including lock up some political rivals during the early days of his rein but those guys were communist and he himself admitted to doing so. Many of those arrested subsequently joined up with communist movement in other countries after released.

        What he was more famous for was suing his political opponent into bankruptcy. The western media like to claim he use this to silence his political opponent, what they never say is that those who got sued are those making baseless accusation of him being corrupt. There are other opposition members in Parliament who never got sued. In fact, Chiam See Tong, the longest serving opposition leader in Parliament successfully sued a PAP(Singapore ruling party) minister for defamation proving that the law works both ways. That part of our history is usually omitted from the article about SG politics

        Finally, in Singapore we see Freedom a bit different from the Western world. While Freedom in the West usually refers to free press and freedom of speech. For us it’s a bit different, here is a good article to read about what I meant

      • Thankfully, I’ve never presented myself as an expert on Singapore, because that would great injustice. EL, I would like to thank you for taking the time out to write the reply. Amos’ case was quite an endeavor. To quote Richard Nixon, “Mistakes were made”- on my part in terms of research. But as was once said by somebody, mistakes are the only way one learns. Now, I’m more informed on Singapore than ever before (though I’m still a bit hazy on it’s “city-sate” vs “island country” status) thanks to the power of discussion on the internet. LKY’s book is now on my (ever expanding) summer reading list.


      • What Amos’ confrontational tactics boil down to is an insistence on confronting the truth; i.e. he insisted on being punished for speaking freely, thus drawing attention to the reality that speech is not free in Singapore. I don’t know if this was intentional on his part (I do not necessarily trust government portrayals of him as a spoilt brat) but the tactic is well established. Examples that come immediately to mind are the Scopes and Dred Scott trials in the U.S.

    • Sina,

      –I skimmed the video: Seems like an intellectually premature 16-year old. What excellent vocabulary and dialect for a Singaporean.

      This got my attention (probably quoted wrong):
      “A leader is someone who makes a country prosperous and happy based on the unique talents of the people.”

      –No. It may apply in business or in a hobby club, but not to governmental leaders. Except with their closest lieutenants.

      The “job” of a governmental leader is to make a country strong (economically competitive) enough to survive, and then–at second place–to create ways in which people–themselves–can find more freedom, choice, and responsibility. (not ‘creating’ jobs, politicians can’t create jobs).

      A country–in particular a small one like Singapore–must specialize. That is why Singapore has created an environment conducive to ‘importing’ entrepreneurs and foreign investments. Because the trade-offs of its existing systems doesn’t seem to be able to accomplish that internally.

      Productivity, specialized knowledge and skill sets, as well as labor and technology, is what provides the freedom–the pre-requisites–for allowing the people to “be happy based on their unique talents”.

      The kid seems bright, but naive. His lack of experience shows. This is natural for someone so young.

  7. Good article, but referring to Singapore as a ‘ small, poor, port town’ is rather disingenuous. Singapore isn’t Dubai.

    Pre-independence it was already one of the top 3 richest nations in East Asia, and by virtue of the British Empire’s naval base there, it was the shipping capital of the region and one of the world’s busiest ports.

    That said, LKY was no doubt a great man. Look how most of the other post-colonial dictators fared. There are few non self-published books on the wisdom of Mugabe…

  8. Kudos on writing this masterpiece of a tribute. I’ve spent all the last days reading about LKY and rhis is by far the most riveting piece of content I have come across. I just subscibed.

  9. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, people’s needs, in order, are:

    1. Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep.

    2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.

    3. Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, affection and love, – from work group, family, friends, romantic relationships.

    4. Esteem needs – achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, respect from others.

    5. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

    It seems LKY has given his people probably the first four.

    Does anyone think he has given his people the fifth?

    • I don’t see how a government can provide anything beyond the first two levels in Maslow’s heirarchy. The most it can do for the higher ones is not to interfere. Do you think Singapore’s regime has discouraged personal fulfilment?

  10. I have been reading about.this guy for.the past few days and I cant believe i didnt.know about him. Total badass and what each man should be !!

  11. “…my friend and I call them “Sing-Bots”.

    “…there are no manners, no friendliness, no character outside of make money and behave like a robot. I’d take chaotic, smelly, disorganized, fun and friendly Indonesia any day of the week.”

    I’m not in the slightest bit surprised that Singapore is like this.

    It seems LKY did a lot of good things for Singapore but the man seemed bland, lacking in personality and quite frankly, robotic.

    Economic success is NOT everything.

    It made me think of a scene in the first Matrix movie where agent Smith tells Morpheus how the original matrix (which was “perfect”) was rejected by humanity.

    I tend to think many intelligent people are like this (I used to be like this quite often), they tend to view everything literal, as matter-of-fact, are unimaginative and struggle to evoke emotion out of other people.

    For example at point number four:

    Yes, It may be better to be feared than loved but how about admiration? How about getting the majority to do what you want them to out of inspiration. In this case you get people who do things, not because they want to but because they have to…and as a result you get a nation described as the one quoted above.

    Many intellects tend to view the mind above everything else, but the mind is JUST a tool.

    And ultimately, we as humans want to FEEL and express more than anything.

    And is it just me, but I get the impression that given the choice LKY would have rather implanted his wife with his semen than actually have sex with her because that would have been more “pragmatic”.

    • Nah, he enjoyed sex. He said so in a video, that recommended a young woman to get a boyfriend, and that it is more rewarding than getting a PHD.

      >It made me think of a scene in the first Matrix movie where agent Smith tells Morpheus how the original matrix (which was “perfect”) was rejected by humanity.

      Wow, yeah, I remember that. I like Matrix a lot, I like all of their hidden meanings. I’ll check that part again to see if I can get something more from it.
      Now, it reminds me of “A brave new world”. It’s a perfect world too, right? But for me (and most readers) a world so perfect sucks. I know that world has some flaws, but taking those aside, I still wouldn’t like it.

    • Lol at the semen part. Like someone else said, he succeeded at everything except getting Singapore laid.
      I watched the movie Brave new world not too long ago and it really was not as good as the book, although I read it at a much more impressionable age. The society seems very far from perfect in the movie, they fail to capture it.

  12. Charlie Munger is like Yoda in that video, like a frog wizard in that chair!

  13. Wonderful post Ludvig. I knew nothing about LKY before this, so I have a lot of new reading to follow up on now!

  14. “When tyranny takes root in a small nation… it concentrates upon a host of minute details. It displays both a violent and fretful character. It abandons the political domain which is properly its own to meddle in people’s private lives. After actions, it aims to govern taste; after the state, it wishes to rule families.” – Alexis de Tocqueville

    As tyrants go, Lee Kuan Yew was certainly one of the most benevolent. But it seems to me his restraints were quite a bit more invasive than necessary. No talking about your family history, really? I bet family reunions were really a hoot. It seems unlikely that this, or the infamous “gum control”, were necessary to maintain public order. Not that I am suggesting a “democracy” would have been preferable.

    The emphasis on marrying a “graduate” vs. a non-graduate doesn’t seem sensible to me. In the U.S., and probably even more so in Singapore three generations ago, university graduation is more a matter of social class than intelligence. Even George WTF. Bush has an MBA. Besides, Lee wasn’t exactly biting the ugly bullet to get the good genes, judging by that photo. If he got his kids off a fat chick with a moustache problem and a math PhD I’d take him seriously.

    There is an argument that paying public officials well is a way of innoculating them against corruption. I do not agree. While paying the public servant so little that he /must/ sell his services to earn an acceptable living is probably a bad idea, excess wages are no guarantee either of honesty or competence. American experience shows that the greed of politicians cannot be sated by any wage; whatever they are paid, they are sure to steal even more. Low wages may, perhaps, drive the best people out of the public sector, but excessive pay does not attract better men – only better thieves. The kind of people who are attracted to a position by the promise of lucrative compensation may not be the kind to serve best. We see this today in America where the astronomical income of physicians has only filled the profession with vicious thugs who care nothing for the health of their patients and only live to squeeze the insurance tit.

    • Great quote by De Tocqueville, Abgrund. I have yet to read his magnum opus. But soon.

      As I said to Shaun before, I think the “graduate vs non-graduate” reference is more of a heuristic than anything else. He said it in passing conversation during one of those “Harsh Truths for Singapore” videos. And, as you say (and we all know), a university education has little to do with innate intelligence. . . although its role in representing or displaying intelligence–or ambition–in an individual is likely more accurate in Singapore than, for example, in Sweden.

      ” If he got his kids off a fat chick with a moustache problem and a math PhD I’d take him seriously.”

      –Haha. Well, his wife was very smart and hard-working, anyway.

      “excess wages are no guarantee either of honesty or competence.”

      –No, it’s not a guarantee. Nothing can guarantee it. Some people are plain dishonest/greedy/psychopathic–nothing can be done about that. But Lee put in place a system, and probably more importantly, an organizational environment where hard work and honesty was encouraged and rewarded, while anti-corruption was frowned upon (to put it lightly). He also led by example, and rejected hefty bribes over his career (without trying to score ‘honor points’ by it).

      Speaking of that…The Romans–and their political class–were an interesting bunch; reminiscent of modern U.S politicians (though admittedly more dutiful and hard-working) in terms of their incentives. There too, the dynamics were similar to a winner-takes-all game, and politicians took major financial risks and often went into debt (Caesar did too.). Then, when (if) they became successful and reached high positions, they were basically forced to make decisions of dubious moral character to pay back their loans.

      So, a big problem with politics, as I see it, is that it tends to attract a lot of people of the wrong kind, similar to the dynamics of the U.S law enforcement.

      It seems to me that Lee did a good job, overall, with solving/improving this problematic situation, in Singapore.

      Good point on physicians, by the way.

      • “…an organizational environment where hard work, honesty, and anti-corruption was frowned upon…”

        Methinks something got accidentally deleted from this paragraph.

  15. To focus only on LKY’s achievement as a good ruler of a nation, is only half the story. What made this man a giant in the political stage is that he was not only good in governing a country, he was also a brilliant geopolitical strategist.

    His main philosophy is that for a nation to prosper, there must be peace and stability. Both internally as a country and on the global scale, the region in which the country exist. Only then can the country have time to prosper and to attract investments.

    Many know of his style of governance and all the things he did to ensure stability and peace in the country, sometimes even into interfering or micro managing the lives of the citizens.

    But most are not aware of what he did to ensure stability and peace in the South East Asia region.

    He was constantly engaging the leaders of the US during the Cold War period and during the Vietnam war so as to ensure that Communism does not sweep across South East Asia. He was also credited for the formation of ASEAN.

    And when he perceived the rise of China, he started engaging China too but continued to seek the US to bring balance of power in the region, all these to maintain peace and stability, so that Singapore can prosper.

    Throughout his life, he was highly sought after by many political leaders, not just to understand how to govern a country, but his views of the political climate of the world. He has met every premier of China since Mao and every US president since Johnson. Margaret Thatcher had these glowing words for him, “He’s never wrong”.

    • Yeah I read something similar about Thatcher and him being held in high regards by politicians, but I didnt know about the geopolitics.
      Maybe it is because many in the west (like Me, until now!) don’t know this about LKY that he is sometimes spoken of harshly?

  16. “He took Singapore from a small, poor, port town (originally founded by the East India Company in 1812) to. . .”
    >> Wait, I thought Singapore was founded in 1819?

  17. As a post-independence Singaporean, most of my peers don’t really get the obsession some foreigners have on labelling the man. He is just a very good problem-solver. If you think of Singapore as a huge but nimble company, everything he did will start to make sense. Well paid CEO, no discrimination, good training, accelerated path for the talented, etc..

    Frankly, on a daily basis, we do not feel our lives curtailed in any way.
    As a child to uneducated parents in menial jobs, who has had a good education and decent job, what I do see is true meritocracy.

    This article kinda sums up how we feel from the inside.

  18. What a brilliant man, Singapore is my number 1 destination for medical tourism and retirement. Hopefully his successor will be just as sharp. Great piece as well, it’s always such a treat to be able to sit down with great long form content like this.

  19. Hello Ludvig,

    Here’s a speech from Mr. Lee Kuan Yew on Getting the Best out of life…..

    In it, he mentions his chain smoking and drinking past. Also citing the reasons why he gave them up…


  20. Hi Ludvig, Just my thoughts below…

    1) Most (political) leaders are too self-serving and power-hungry (and even if they don’t start out that way, the winner effect has a tendency to warp their brains over time). That may be what happened to Napoleon.

    “Welcome to the world of politics, baby”

    3) How many people have the strength of character to give up their entire lives to building a corporation or a country?

    None. In the UK it’s what we call a career politician . A few years at the job then get out. In fact this week David Cameron (UK’s current Prime Minister) made a reference between a third term as PM (1 term is 5 years) to having to many “Shreddies”. Yes, the cereal.

    “A third term is a bit like Shreddies. Two is just enough, but three is not necessary” – And this is the dedicated man who runs my country?

    My thoughts on LKY are mixed. It’s obvious that he has done a lot for Singapore. But his leadership seemed very black and white. It’s like he was building and running the country under the law “They’re to stupid to know what’s best for them”.

    I disagree with 90 %…
    #4 The most efficient leader is a feared leaders

    and #5 Human beings are not equal–and never will be!

    Could be interpreted as so many things. In terms of capability (which I believe LKY meant), then no, we aren’t equal because we would all be Olympic champions. But in terms of who we are or who’s life is more valuable then no, I see all humans as equal.

    I would never take away from his success and I understand why he ruled the way he did because he had a tough job to do and it needed a tough man….

    R.I.P Lee Kuan Yew


    • Lky did not mean one person’s life is worth more than another. When he said people are not equal he meant that capabilities are not equal and therefore attainments, including economic, will not be equal. But his policies always was to help the less capable in society. From a lifelong student and admirer of lky.

  21. Great perspective on democracy Ludvig. It made me rethink how politics work.

  22. A decent fellow. He got 1 thing wrong:
    “By the time you are past 30 your character is formed. You will not change.”
    So either I was already successful before my 30s’ and all my vices like computer gaming or obsessive fiction reading were innocuous aberations or I’m delusional right now after my transformation at 33.

    • I think he is quite right actually. It’s a general trend. And you’re the exception.

    • As Jeremy says: it is a general trend. There is plenty of research (and enormous amounts of anecdotal evidence) to support it.

      As a rule of thumb it is correct (just look around at people you know in your 40s, how much did they change since last year?) and the only real way to ensure that you do not become ‘another statistic’ is to live a lifestyle that is conducive to breaking out of homeostasis. . .

      . . . which I believe you do?

      But most people don’t.

    • Actually, psychological research says that the fundamentals of character are fixed by age six. In fact, half of them are fixed by genetics at age minus nine months.

      Thirty is often named as the age at which a person’s *ideas* become inalterable. Hence for instance Hitler’s advice to never trust anyone under thirty – because their ideas could still change, making them unpredictable.

      Of course there are individual exceptions. But often people don’t change as much as they think they have, and often the change is not permanent. I’ve noticed that in old age, character traits frequently emerge that have been suppressed for decades.

      P.S. If going barefoot in public is what counts as daring in Sweden, you guys need to get out more.

  23. Hi Ludvig,

    I have heard that nearing its independence, Singapore neither had natural resources nor experience in governance. Its people demanded independence, but they still adopted colonial mindsets and there was conflict among races. In 1959, Singapore was declared independent by England. But this country’s achievement was unsatisfactory. Thus, its people decided that their sole hope was to unite with Malaysia, which they did in 1963. However, Malaysian people did not fit with Singaporeans, and after two years Malaysia clashed with Singapore. The Singapore’s leader, Lee Kuan Yew, felt that his country had little prospect and hope. This left only one thing to do: making every effort to get out from this bad situation.

    LKY was a young leader back then – still 42 years old – but unlike most of his fellows, he was educated. He knew that betterment was possible, but it would take one generation to achieve it. His goal was to create First World’s conditions in a Third World country. LKY’s target was so high and his plan was truly ambitious. It needed extraordinary determination to reach his dream, so he also needed help to act upon it. Hence, he turned to United Nations to ask for aid. An industrial and economic advisor from UN visited Singapore and said, “Very confusing. There is a demonstration the demand of which is unclear. There is a riot every day and everywhere. My first impression is there is no hope.”

    Yet, LKY and Singaporean people persisted. First, they obtained hundreds of million dollars loan from the World Bank, England and Japan. Next, they brought experts from around the world to assist them, thoroughly choosing representatives from countries excellent in their fields:
    – Japan and Germany: as technical advisors to build plants
    – Sweden and Netherland: as experts in banking and finance
    – Israel: as military advisors
    – New Zealand and Australia: as air force and naval advisors

    Afterward, LKY also brought more than a thousand of companies from the United States and Japan. Following years of work and dedication, LKY and Singaporeans in his generation had witnessed his country transforming from swamps into metropolitan cities. He also witnessed Singaporeans turning from disempowered and negligent people into tough achievers who practice high discipline. And regardless of all these admirable achievements, LKY and his son are immune to complacence in running their country.

    Therefore, it is my opinion that by writing this great post as a tribute to Lee Kuan Yew and as timeless lessons for readers, you have shown that you care about the progress of the world and prove that you are an insightful and versatile writer. Thank you for being my inspiration, and keep up the outstanding work!

    • That is a very good synopsis…! Really interesting.

    • Thank you for that enlightening comment, Yukie. And thanks for reading.

      LKY was a great comprehensivist, someone with ‘the big picture’ in mind at all times–as evidenced by him bringing in the experts from various countries.

    • “First, they obtained hundreds of million dollars loan… ” And this was a small advantage.

      And that was a double entendre; had Singapore not been small, it would neither have gotten the loans nor benefited from them. In a larger country like Malaysia, the money would have disappeared without a trace into graft or unproductive welfare programs, and no leader could have prevented this. To impose the kind of controls in even a smallish nation that Lee did in Singapore would have meant severe disruption followed by Soviet intrusion. In Singapore, unlike Malaysia, there was no hinterland to shelter a guerilla Communist force.

      Singapore also (like the U.S., and modern Japan) benefited from freedom from the threat of invasion. It had no neighbors likely to dare the wrath of the U.S., Britain, and Japan (an advantage of owing money to those countries…). Otherwise, Singapore would long ago have been annexed by Malaysia or Indonesia. Not supporting a large military is, in the long run, a good predictor of economic success (France and Prussia being the only counter-examples I can think of immediately).

    • Where did you learn this?

      Are you Singaporean?

      Im asking because i found it cool.

      One thing i notice now is that while LKY was alive everyone took him for granted and was angry at how strct and oldfashioned he was but now that he is gone everyone is sad and afraid.

  24. Thank you for this article.

    I guess LKY’s ideology of running the country was similiar to running a business.

    One of my bug bears though, is the common misuse of the word “equality”. I do believe in “equality” but I think most people are misusing the word, it’s caused a lot of mess and confusion.

    3. evenly proportioned or balanced:
    7. level, as a plain.

    These IMO are the best definitions of the word.

    Many people make the mistake of thinking if something is equal to another thing it is therefore same.

    This is not true, equality only means it has the same value.

    + and – are equal but they are the same, one can not expect to increase a number by using – etc.

    In other words, some people are in-disciplined, but these people may be more creative and flexible than those who are…which one has more value?

    The mistake most of society makes when they use the ideology of “equality” is that they think it means “treat everyone the same”, when in reality it means “ACCEPT people’s differences”.

    This is most obvious when “equality” is applied to men and women who are CLEARLY from different worlds and in no way can be treated the same.

    • “I guess LKY’s ideology of running the country was similiar to running a business.”

      –Yes, indeed. And it worked shockingly well.

      I agree with you regarding “equality”.

      I don’t know where you’re from, but the misunderstandings you point out are very, VERY ubiquitous in Sweden. It is the result of decades of leftist political propaganda.

    • “Equality” is a greatly abused concept in the West. When Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal” he clearly did not mean that all men had the same ability or merit or should live exactly the same life, but this is exactly what modern American “liberals” idealize. The intent was that no man attained any exceptional merit merely by virtue of his birth (“creation”). The equality then demanded was the abolition of legal privilege bestowed solely by birth ; not equality of outcome, equality of circumstance, or even equality of opportunity.*

      Anyone who has met both men and women and believes that they are “equal” in the sense of having the same abilities or the same character is an imbecile. In fact anyone who has ever met another human being would be insane to think that human beings, in general, are equal in any intrinsic sense. All humans are different, hence by definition unequal and in many ways incommensurate.

      Yet a whole religion was built, largely in the Sixties and Seventies of the last unlamented century, on the premise that human beings are born /the same/ except for superficial incidents like skin color and genital furnishings. According to this cult, *all* differences in behavior and ability between sexes or races are learned – if not for the evil influence of society, there would be just as many female soldiers or African chess champions as there are male soldiers or Russian chess champions.

      The damage done by this obvious (yet popular) falsehood has been enormous; maybe equality will be a suitable topic for some future post.

      *Jefferson, a slave owner, was of course thereby a hypocrite.

  25. Great synthesis sir. And an interesting look at the upside of harsh rules

  26. An authoritarian government that micro-manages individuals may be good for those that want to just do what they’re told but won’t appeal to the sort of innovative prime movers that bend rules to push society forward.

    The Singaporean model works good for a manufacturing, oil production, or finance based economy but oppresses innovation- I don’t see it having a bright future in an economy based on information and technical know-how.

    The San Francisco Bay Area for example has a much higher GDP per capita than Singapore, and produces significantly more technical innovation including scientific papers with important discoveries, startup companies, etc. I don’t see the sort of people that are scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs in the Bay Area voluntarily moving to a place run like Singapore, as they would not feel welcome or supported.

    • “but won’t appeal to the sort of innovative prime movers that bend rules to push society forward. ”

      –This is a great observation. Many of Singapore’s entrepreneurs (most, I believe) are foreigners they’ve attracted.

      “I don’t see it having a bright future in an economy based on information and technical know-how.”

      –It remains to be seen. But this was one of LKY’s last ‘warnings’ for the future leaders of Singapore (especially the ‘new breed’ of entrepreneurs).

  27. Great tribute to LKY. RIP.

    Found it off reddit.

  28. I don’t know much about Singapore or LKY. Nothing at all until having read this. But it’s fun to read what you guys are talking about. This seems like something Abgrund would have ideas on.

    I also like that you bring up the democracy vs enlightened despotism ideas without going into tyranny and what have you. This too, is not something I have a lot to say (because I haven’t read anything about it) but i am curious to learn more. Keep posting interesting stuff, I need it to keep my brain engaged ;)

    • “This seems like something Abgrund would have ideas on.”

      Thanks Aurna, that made me laugh – what does Abgrund /not/ have ideas on? I’ll be back soon with actual, you know, ideas.

  29. One more thing Ludvig, regarding getting good sleep.

    What are your current views on polyphasic sleep cycles? Good/Bad/Complicated?

    • –Complicated.

      I did a variation of the everyman schedule:
      One 3 hour rest period
      And 3 20 min naps.

      It was absolutely horrible during the first 3 weeks. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done in terms of willpower. I am the sort of person who normally doesn’t get very tired, but when I do get tired, I have to sleep badly. So the accumulated sleep deprivation during the acclimatization process was torturous for me.

      When I had got through that, I was in a pretty stable rhythm for about a month (I also alternated to 1,5 hour sleep and 4 naps of 20 min, if I remember correctly).

      During these (almost) 2 months, I did not go to the gym. But I ran a lot, and went for many walks, just to stay awake. When I did go back to the gym, it worked for about one week, then it was too straining for the body.

      I needed more deep sleep (for recovery of the muscles).

      I have read about a few people on the Internet who were able to combine gym-going and intense exercise with polyphasic sleeping. But I am not one of them, unfortunately.

      I then decided that I liked working out more than I liked having those few extra hours, so I stopped it.

      Conclusion: The added stress of lifting weights 3+ (5) times per week was too much for my allostasis to handle, so I had to sleep longer.

      • What impact did it have on your mood in terms of productivity, irritability and positivity once you it became easy to maintain?

      • The first 3 weeks were, obviously, sucky. I didn’t get much accomplished at all–except a ton of small to-do stuff. A lot of physical activities to keep awake.

        Once adapted:

        Slightly lower than normal because I did not drink coffee or work out (which usually makes me energized and creative).
        I would say the 4 extra hours provided roughly the same productivity as if I went without them. At least two of those hours, at the end each day (before my 3 hour rest) I’d be pretty dull. I normally like to read at night, but I couldn’t do that because then I would risk falling asleep too early, thereby messing up my schedule.

        It was very high during the sleep deprivation process.
        Once I was adapted it was normal.

        Below normal due to no coffee (dopamine) and working out (endorphins).
        I have read that some people routinely feel euphoric due to polyphasic sleeping. I only experienced that once or twice. It felt similar to when you do a 2 day fast (tingling in head, etc.)

        However, that euphoria is said to be specifically highly concentrated for people who do Uberman schedule or Dymaxion schedule. I want to try those some time in the next 10 years or so. Supposedly the adaptation process is shorter (max 1 week), but much more brutal. Seeing as how I just barely made the extended, though weaker, adaptation phase of everyman, it’ll be interesting to see if I can do it.

      • Have you tried continuing the polyphasic sleep cycles but just LONGER? So instead of 3hrs, 20minsx3, you do 5hrs, 30minsx3?

        Also did it affect your speed at which you fall asleep?

      • That’s cool that you did that though. It is on my bucket list of things to try :D

      • Shaun:
        Yes I have. It is something I’ve been doing a lot ever since. My usual rhythm is ca 6 hours sleep + a 30 min nap 8 hours after waking up.

        That’s actually an added benefit of doing that. I have become better at napping/resting in general (I rarely ever fall asleep during a nap).

        “Also did it affect your speed at which you fall asleep?”

        –No. Unfortunately not. But I know that has been true for some.

        I wouldn’t recommend doing it unless you can block off a lot of free time. Because if you fail, it will mess you up for several days, until you get back into a steady sleeping rhythm.

      • Wow, thanks for posting this- this is the only account of polyphasic sleep I have found in a person that also does strength training. I am serious about strength training and have been considering an everyman schedule, but I don’t want to inhibit recovery. I seem to require a full extra hour of sleep each night when doing a strength program.

        I will try it anyway, but I will wait until I am more “advanced” and only increasing weight on monthly intervals, so I can afford to remain static in strength for a month or so.

    • I’d like to give my input on this thing.

      For me, I’m the kind of person that benefits a lot from taking a nap, even if it’s 15 minutes long. I’d prefer that before taking a coffee.

      Then I read that this polyphasic sleep theory was documented in a Canadian military manual.
      It said that this method should be used for emergencies. Like, you have to defend a position for days and you need to sleep the least time posible.

      So, I don’t do any strict sleep routine, like 4 hours at night and 4 naps of 30 minutes. I try to sleep 8 hours straight, and when I can’t sleep 8 hours or I’d like to sleep more, I will have a nap / mini nap.

      I’d like to mention that my sleep routine sucks and I’m mostly willing to “kill myself” for being so tired all the time. But yeah, those mininaps are like touching heaven with the hands. And after them I feel a lot better. It works for me, I don’t know if it works for everybody.

      For example: I like to take a nap before going out in the night clubbing, with friends. Like, instead of drinking alcohol, I take a hour or two nap. Then, at 5 / 6 am I don’t feel like shit, and if I go to sleep like 4 am I can wake up at 10 am without problems, while my friends have trouble dealing with life.

    • Something else:
      The short naps, and the fact that you save time by sleeping less, basses on the fact that you enter REM faster, in the short naps. And you bypass all other stages of sleep.

      Well, I don’t think that the stages before REM are useless. Right?

  30. Wow, really amazing article Ludvig. Any good book recommendations on him/his political philosophy etc.?

    But one thing I disagree with him on is the idea that “a graduate should marry a graduate” to ensure the children are smart. To graduate is the no indication to determine if someone is “genetically intelligent”. Sure, if you are an expert, a professor, innovator in your field that definitely is an indication of some superior genetic temperament, but just graduating university means absolutely nothing.

    Also IQ is terribly influenced by “nurture”. I get very irritated when I read simplifications like “Rabbi’s son” theory for why jews seemingly have some kind of temperament.

    The best example for this is that in India Brahmins vs. Lower Castes of the hindu religion have vastly different average IQs. Genetically there is no difference as there is so much intermixing and these “castes”are recent from an evolution point of view. The reason the IQs are so different is because of the differences in culture and emphasis on education and intellectual pursuits.

    People also simplify the idea of pattern recognition. This ability will be vastly different depending on what kind of pattern are tested and the brains experience in those type of patterns. Often pattern recognition skills are layered on top of one another.

    I’m saying there aren’t differences genetically. I’m saying nurture makes so much more of an influence that racial accomplishments are no indicator whatsoever. And we will not know what these genetic differences are, or how they are related to different peoples of the world until centuries later, when “nurture” influences.

    My best guess is that the most influencing factors in IQ development (things that eventually practically become temperament) will depend on the early childhood experiences with pattern recognition. It is suggested that kids that learn music and to speak various languages, will have a very significant advantage in adult life.

    • Correction:

      * I’m NOT saying there aren’t differences genetically.

    • Shaun, you got the books at the bottom of the page. Search for “autobiographies” and you will find 3 links.

      “just graduating university means absolutely nothing.”
      ” I get very irritated when I read simplifications like “Rabbi’s son” theory ”

      –Yeah, I think these things should be treated for what they are– observations and/or heuristics–not hardcore facts.

      “People also simplify the idea of pattern recognition. ”

      –Do they? I barely hear ‘normal’ people talk about it. Or do you mean researchers / authors in general?

      To add-on regarding the genetics + IQ. . .

      LKY (and Munger) also believe in the Bell Curve:

      “The Bell curve is a fact of life. The blacks on average score 85 per cent on IQ and it is accurate, nothing to do with culture. The whites score on average 100. Asians score more … the Bell curve authors put it at least 10 points higher. These are realities that, if you do not accept, will lead to frustration because you will be spending money on wrong assumptions and the results cannot follow. ”
      –Lee Kuan Yew, The Man & His Ideas, 1997

      Personally, I don’t know what to make of it. Because I haven’t read about that yet. But it is important to understand that when they talk about those things, it’s about probability and statistics (which matter when running a country), and not exceptions.

      • Yeah of course when I was talking about simplifications on pattern recognition, I was referring to authors. Modern researchers tend to have a much more informed view on this.

        With respect to Munger and LKY’s opinions on the Bell Curve:
        The bell curve as a concept is of course valid. IQ will follow a bell curve distribution in any population. But the book “The Bell Curve” is not entirely facts. Some yes, but the race aspect is highly contested. This is not to be politically correct. There is a clear evidence for causation through correlation for why Blacks produce faster runners/athletes, but there isn’t for IQ, for there are simply too many factors too many factors influencing IQ.

        I’m inclined against IQ-race theory since evolution happens very slowly. For something like there to be an evolution in intelligence, there has to be a survival advantage. Dumb people must die (or be segregated) for 1000s of years. Once man learnt to form tribes and communities what such survival advantage was there. Dumb people procreated just as much, and beautiful dumb people intermixed with smart ugly people.

        Physical differences on the other hand had a huge impact on survival. For this reason, we see far more significant genetic differences in physical traits. But as far as IQ only once the whole world has an equal opportunity for education will we know whether or not Blacks or Whites or Indians are smarter or the same as the rest.

      • >For something like there to be an evolution in intelligence, there has to be a survival advantage.
        There is an evolution in intelligence, and a survival advantage. In fact, we, the homo sapiens, are ruling the world because of our intelligence.

        >Dumb people procreated just as much
        I don’t think so.

        So, I have to disagree with you. I think that intelligence is affected a lot by genetics.

        >Physical differences on the other hand had a huge impact on survival. For this reason, we SEE far more significant genetic differences in physical traits.
        I agree with what you said, but only taking your words exactly as you wrote them. I mean “SEE”. It’s easy to see genetic differences because you can see the body shape, but it’s not so easy to see the brain, and measure intelligence.

        I think that IQ test mentioned, that Asians are 10% better at it is pretty good indicator that exist difference in intelligence by race.

        Now, IQ and degrees don’t mean shit. That is not all intelligence. I know people that are smart and don’t get good notes, and people that aren’t smart and get a lot of degrees. Also, the IQ tests suck.

        Also, intelligence depends a lot of other factors such as education, health, but… Taking myself as an example… I know I have been educated a lot since I was a child. Anyway, I remember having true interest in mathematics and stuff like that. I liked to read and learned to do so at a young age. And I think the interest has to do with my genetics. It’s like saying a good runner would feel a lot of interest in running, right? By the way, yes, I consider myself intelligent. So I think that genetics matters.

        About beautiful dumb people. Well, beauty / love is biased, and I’m pretty sure that if a woman is smart, I’ll see her more beautiful in my eyes.

        I’m sorry, I really don’t disagree with you that strongly, but I have to take the opposition in the dialog. Because I feel this is a very difficult subject to talk about and the other side must be heard.

        Anyway, as a bottom line, the deep issue discussed here is about getting a sexual partner beautiful and at the same time smart. We will have to trust our sexual arousal / sexual selection capacity, being it natural or learned, and hope for the best.
        I think we can tell and appreciate a smart woman even if she doesn’t have a degree. And yes, physical beauty is important!!! Maybe this guy, LKY, needed his wife to be smart above any beauty, because it was useful for political reasons.

    • I.Q. is determined almost entirely by genetics. “Nurture” has a negligible role, unless a child’s brain is traumatized by eating lead or the like. Some politically motivated research in the Seventies claimed otherwise, but it has since been disproved. Even behavior, mental illness, and life outcomes are more determined by “nature” than by “nurture” (see “The Blank Slate” by Pinker for a good summary of the research).

      Anything else would be quite surprising, since we can easily observe that intelligence and personality in other mammals (e.g. dogs) are greatly influenced by breeding. Why would /homo sapiens/ be any different?

      • You are referring to the g-factor. That is fixed by genetics. Not IQ. IQ is a far more complex phenomenon. Just in the same way as immunity to diseases is largely genetic but health is not. And what is measured in IQ tests is IQ not the g-factor. By the way I’m not claiming at all that certain humans or “races” will be more intelligent than other humans or races. All I’m saying is that IQ tests are a silly way of determining genetic advantages. And industrial progress is also a silly way of determining this. The Indians and the Chinese have not progressed nearly as much in their thousands of years as America has in it’s 400, but they were several 100s of years in advance of caucasians in creating spoken language and the earliest advances in mathematics etc.

        “Why would /homo sapiens/ be any different?”

        Because animals are specifically interbred from selecting specimens containing the desirable characteristics. No point in history were human beings “bred” in any population for the sake of producing more “genetically intelligent” subspecies. More importantly, sexual selection would have retarded any such progress anyway if there was. Intelligent men like big boobs too. Segregation between human beings within a society was more distinctive of affluence in society (historically speaking that is) rather than IQ.

        The reason man is more intelligent than other animals is because it most certainly was a huge survival advantage up until the first Homo Sapien. After man learn to form tribes, intelligence was not nearly the decisive factor in survival, and it was largely things like immunity to diseases, physical strength, environment specific survival features etc.

        Of course like, I said, any segregation will result in a difference in genetic factor in intelligence between various groups, simply because there is a difference in genes. But what this difference is, and how significant this difference is will apparent not until much much later. What I’m saying is not contradictory to the research in “The Blank Slate”. Or even for that matter in the “The Bell Curve”.My issue is with the causation derived from the correlation

      • I.Q. tests were effectively intended to measure g-factor. Historically, they may not have been too good at this, but improved modern tests still show the same difference between races.

        I do not buy that intelligence is less important a factor in survival and (more importantly) reproduction than skin color or physical strength. The division of humanity into races occurred long before the dawn of civilization, but even after that (at least until modern times) intelligence certainly continued to be an advantage – though perhaps moreso for men than for women. Also, the “races” which are being measured are typically sampled from the U.S., in which the populations were distinctly non-random samples drawn from the original racial groups.

        Humans have not been forcibly bred for any specific physical traits, either, yet we do have distinct physical differences. Domestic dogs have been so bred, and have much larger differences, genetically, physically, and mentally, between breeds than occur among the races of /homo sapiens/.

        A mean difference between races of 10 points I.Q. (less than one standard deviation) is hardly a sane basis for policy. I think the only reason people care about it is our cultural neurosis concerning equality. Everyone likes to think that they are just as smart as everyone else; they may admit in theory that some genius somewhere might be smarter, but it’s always some distant, idealized person. Even if their own intelligence is perfectly average, they will never admit that half the people they meet are smarter than them. It’s similar to how 90% of people think they are better than average drivers.

        Incidentally, health is largely genetic too, though not totally.

        “IQ tests are a silly way of determining genetic advantages.” What genetic advantages of whom? A person with low I.Q. is almost certain to be at a great disadvantage as a theoretical mathematician. Whether a low /average/ I.Q. is, in any particular terms, a disadvantage to a culture, is a much more complex question.

      • Well what you are saying is mostly not the case based on the facts I’ve gathered from various sources over the years on the topic. For instance, if you think that someone really intelligence without any education who lived in an isolated tribal society is going to fare just as well on an IQ test as someone average in america who has had trained in Mathematics for years, then you can see the fallacy in your argument. There is no way ANY IQ test will ever be a perfect indication of the g-factor or even close. But among large populations of equally educated peoples, perhaps yes. Also, psychological factors have a massive role to play on your performance on IQ tests. So, a man who is confidence in his intelligence will fare higher by more than 10 points, than someone who is under pressure from trying to “prove something”.

        By the way, skin colour of racial groups did not evolve as an advantage, but as a by product of the kind of people that survived those environmental conditions for other reasons.

        Of course there is no point debating evolution because all we have our best guesses for why certain genes evolved and others didn’t

        Also, like I said genetic difference in IQ do exist, absolutely. But the differences in education levels make IQ tests not very good indicators for this.

  31. Wow, thank you so much for this write-up, Ludvig. As a Singaporean, I really appreciate this. It’s really amazing how far we’ve come as a nation in such a short period of time. This year, we’re having a grand celebration of 50 years of independence (SG50) and it’s unfortunate that LKY will not be alive to witness it.

    “Everyone knows about Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, or Deng Xiaoping. Few know (enough) about Lee Kuan Yew.”
    >> I totally didn’t expect you to know either (even though I know you read a lot of biographies). I’m really impressed! :D

    P.S. I had no idea about the “I am a litter lout” badge, lol.

    • Bruce Titanium says

      As a Singaporean, what are your opinions on LKY?

      And do you think he’s right about the younger generation of Singaporeans being lazy/entitled?

      Im watching the 50 min Hard Truths video now.. cool stuff. I didn’t know I was interested in politics.

      • I don’t have strong opinions on LKY to be honest. I follow almost zero politics. And the generation before me aren’t Singaporeans, so I don’t hear grandfather/mother stories (literally) about how Singapore was actually shaped over the years. My parents weren’t raised here either. But I’ve always known he was a great man. We have damn a lot to boast about as a country and it’s largely thanks to him.

        As to your second question, I think yes. But I don’t think I’ve seen enough to have a strong standpoint. This recent article might be more insightful for you:

        P.S. I have just seen the queue to see LKY on YouTube. It’s insanely long, never seen anything like it before.

    • Thanks Jeremy. It’ll be interesting to see how Singapore fares in the next 10 years.

      Bruce Titanium:
      I would also be interested in hearing what Jeremy has to say about these questions.

  32. bro, im currently working here in Singapore as a foreigner. once you started working here you have no choice but to be part of the “system”. its like your life is program to be that way. everything has a process. systematic. most people dont watch tv. entertainment is not a big thing here.
    red pill ideology doesn’t make sense here. you will eventually be plugged.

    • I don’t really get what you’re saying here, but I’m curious. What do you mean by the last part?

      “red pill ideology doesn’t make sense here. You will eventually be plugged”

      • I think he refers to the matrix movie, and not the “red pill anti feminist internet movement”. Like seeing the system / Singapore from outside

  33. You’re right that probably most people know about Gandi, Mandela, Xiaoping, etc., but not LKY.
    Including myself, hehe. Until now.

    I get the impression that Machiavelli would be proud of him. ;) and I mean that in the best possible way.

  34. “Intelligent, rational and hard-working people can govern themselves perfectly fine. But unfortunately, only a small amount of the world population fit that description.

    Intelligent, rational and hard-working people can be reasoned with through arguments. But most people only listen to those who have authority (or entertainment value).”

    This nails it for me.

    The big problem you’re alluding to – and I have yet to examine LKY or Singapore more deeply – is that in order to push the country forward, you need all the energy of the best to make it work.

    Unfortunately, most people are either unable, or unwilling, to commit wholeheartedly to their own ideals, and consequently gravitate to whatever pays them money. This is evident in our democratic edifices – where profit is put before service – thus leading to a general degradation in people’s concept of value.

    A good quote from a book I recently read “Hitler A Study In Tyranny”:

    “If in this war everything points to the fact that gold is fighting against work, capitalism against peoples, and reaction against the progress of humanity, then work, the peoples, and progress will be victorious…”

    “…I want us to have the most beautiful and the finest civilization. It should be like the theatre – in fact, the whole of German civilization – to benefit all the people and not to exist only for the upper ten thousand, as is the case in England…”

    “…The German people will be richly rewarded in the future for all that they are doing. When we have won this war it will not have been won by a few industrialists or millionaires, or by a few capitalists or aristocrats, or by a few bourgeois, or by anyone else…”

    “…When this war is ended, Germany will set to work in earnest. A great ‘Awake!’ will sound throughout the country. Then the German nation will stop manufacturing cannon and will embark on peaceful occupations and the new work of reconstruction for the millions. Then we shall show the world for the first time who is the real master, capitalism or work. Out of this work will grow the great German Reich of which great poets have dreamed. It will be the Germany to which every one of her sons will cling with fanatical devotion, because she will provide a home even for the poorest. She will teach everyone the meaning of life…”

    Whilst democracy & liberty are great – in the right places – it’s my opinion that if you want to create sustainable growth, you have to create a system focused on personal service amplified through valour. In a world where profit is put before work, how can anyone be expected to commit their lives to something when it doesn’t pay?

    LKY certainly seems to be an example of how to create progress. Although some of the methods may be questionable, it’s certainly the case that his focus and assimilation of ideals is the reason why many future Singaporeans will look back on his time with respect.

    RIP Lee Kuan Yew

    • “Unfortunately, most people are either unable, or unwilling, to commit wholeheartedly to their own ideals, and consequently gravitate to whatever pays them money. This is evident in our democratic edifices – where profit is put before service – thus leading to a general degradation in people’s concept of value.”

      –This nails it for ME.

      Great comment Rich.

      I have read the book you are referring to, but it was something like 3 years ago, and it was in Swedish. So I didn’t remember that excerpt.

  35. Bruce Titanium says

    Haha, it is, isn’t it?

  36. Bruce Titanium says

    Re public perception and incentives:

    A similar strategy as those two thinga ought to be used on the public education system. Not enough high quality people want to be teachers anymore. All the most ambitious people go to Wall Street, the valley, or become entrepreurs.

    Man, LKY seems awesome. He puts Frank Underwood to shame!

    Thanks for compiling this stuff. It must have taken you forever. Did you pull an all-nighter and fast or something? ;P
    I mean, since it only happened yesterday..

    • No, not at all.

      I had all this info (and a LOT more) in my commonplace already. This took no more than a few hours, because I knew exactly what I wanted to write.

      I wasn’t prepared for his death or anything, and I would’ve missed it (since I don’t read the news or watch TV) unless a good friend had emailed me about it. But since I had been studying him a lot lately, it wasn’t hard to do a quick write-up.

      That’s a badass handle you got there ;)

      • Bruce Titanium says

        Alright. Pretty impressive still.

        Just watched that short vid when he asks that 27 year old PhD student girl. Thats hilarious!

        I guess he succeeded in all of his goals except in getting Singaporeans laid? ;P

  37. LKY seems like an utterly awful person, banning this and that only to create his own personal vision of what a country should be like.

    I hardly know where to start but a person who bans candy (chewing gum) and humor and cartoons (caricatures) is nothing but an insecure megalomaniac, that apparently stops at nothing to manifest his own (perceived) superiority. Good riddance.

    To me individual freedom is everything, and arbitrary Nietzsche-inspired might-is-right infringements from a leader suffering from delusions of grandeur are the absolute antithesis.

    Very smart blogging though, Ludvig. Controversial to the core. That’s the way to get shared and remarked upon. Next do a write-up on how the world actually is a better place thanks to Hitler and Stalin ; )

    • I know your philosophy runs quite contrary to LKY’s.

      “LKY seems like an utterly awful person, ”

      –I don’t think so. But I can see how his hardcore pragmatism could upset people. In theory I disapprove with some of the things he did, but in practice (given the success he accomplished) not so much. It is hard to argue with his accomplishments.

      “Next do a write-up on how the world actually is a better place thanks to Hitler and Stalin”

      –Stay tuned :)

      • >“Next do a write-up on how the world actually is a better place thanks to Hitler and Stalin”
        >–Stay tuned :)

        Wow, that would be interesting!!

    • Bruce Titanium says

      A few questions:
      ~Do you think Singapore could reach its success without LKY?
      ~I understand you do not feel that the end justifies the means, but, for example, don’t you think the anti-loitering laws are good?
      ~Could it be that it is good to make an example out of a few people (with fear/authority) to get everyone else in line? When it is clearly for a good cause, not for selfish egomaniacal needs (think Nero)?

      Food for thought:
      I think Singapore and the world is better off thanks to LKY. But making those decisions cannot have been easy.

      I myself am not a ‘leader’ and I dont think I am cut out for it, I am too weak psychologically and would never be able to live under such pressure or make such hard decisions. Maybe that is why I am fascinated by reading about people like LKY. I really dug that quote about him acknowledging that he was cut out for math and decision making.

      • Anti-loitering is good, gum bans are not. There should be a huge difference between chewing on them and spitting them out.

        GDP/capita is useless as a measure of success. Freedom of oppression is better.

        But hey, those are just my opinions, and I’m not going to force anyone to honor MY values of happiness, freedom and justice.

    • Mikael, with all respect, I’d have to disagree with your pseudo dystopian view of LKY’s leadership. The more I read – and experience – the bullshit of the democracies, the more I see room for improvement (just look at the Kardashians as an example).

      This is not to say that democratic freedom is wrong – far from it – but, as Ludvig, and I believe a swathe of others like Napoleon, pointed out, most people in the world simply cannot think. They need someone, or a system, to tell them what to do — the direction of daily exertion, of service to others (especially animals), and ultimately to making life more expansive for all.

      I think you’re getting confused with *your* view of his society and his job.

      It’s very very very difficult to see the plight of the “directionless masses” (who just want a kid, a spouse and a house) when you are gifted with autonomy of mind (which you evidently have).

      The people who posses, or perhaps cherish, this gift are the ones who eventually gravitate to where their influence is most felt. In Singapore’s case that was politics (hence, their leaders are paid accordingly), in democratic societies, it is banking etc (the profession you excelled in).

      Thus, I believe it prudent to examine what he did, or didn’t do, with objectivity. It takes balls to break the status quo (take the food of some people’s tables) for a greater good. Of course, this is just my opinion having not looked that deeply into LKY or post-imperial Singapore (my only real researching coming from my Grandad’s brother being taken prisoner there in WW2 by the Japanese).

      • I know nothing about the guy except for what Ludvig wrote, so I’d better not get too deep into this. I just think that if you use your absolute powers to ban cartoons and chewing gum, you are no better than certain terrorists.

        I simply don’t like the concept of leaders using force pretending to do what’s best for you, when they really have no idea. That goes for democratic leaders too of course.

      • The “directionless masses” may want nothing more than modest comfort and security; they may deserve even less. But the superior man can only emerge from the directionless mass, and by his own impetus; he cannot be made or selected, and he will too rarely emerge from the privileged class.

    • Mikael, I think it is important to remember that western political philosophy will not be equally valid for all countries. The best best political practices and philosophy will really depend country to country.

      In a lot of eastern countries it is often a choice between economic prosperity and the individual freedoms, just because of the kind of economic/political climates that such countries are in.

      Pakistan is a country that really needs a dictator. Just the sheer chaos makes progress impossible. Curbing of freedoms is often an evil necessity for the greater good

      • You: They really need a dictator
        Me: I like freedom and think any group can figure things out better left to their own devices than under a dictator.

        No hard feelings. We just know different things and value different things – and that’s okay with me.

        I really wasn’t hoping to convince anyone of my silly utopian dreams of freedom, and I knew Ludvig had a penchant for dictators (Napoleon is his role model).

        I just wanted to state my opinion, not get into an obviously futile argument.

      • Sure I appreciate that. And my intention is not to argue either. I was just discussing an interesting point.

        Its just that without political/economic stability people in Pakistan have no freedom as result of the lawlessness. It is literally dangerous for your life to live in Karachi and walk out on to the streets without protection.

        I’d like to let you know that I too value freedom, but in Pakistan’s case in all that chaos they neither get freedom nor economic or political stability. It so happens that whenever a militant dictator takes over, there is some order and that actually some freedom, as ironic as it sounds “More freedom from curbing freedom”

      • “More freedom from curbing freedom”
        >> I know what you mean. Indeed, I think so too. And in that, LKY has sure made some hard / unpopular decisions.

      • Herr Syding, I share your devotion to freedom (to a point, at least), but I do NOT believe that any group of people can figure things out for themselves better than a dictator. In fact, experience tells me that even a group of intelligent, educated people is bound to shoot itself repeatedly in its collective feet.

        Dictatorship generally gets better results, in any material sense, than freedom. I value freedom /for its own sake/, not because I believe it promotes prosperity or even because it makes people happier. Freedom is something you have to make sacrifices for (and I don’t mean the cost of a military). Who has more freedom than the naked savage?

    • Shaun,

      Regarding Pakistan:
      –I don’t know much at all about Pakistan, so it is interesting to hear.

      As for what Mikael said, in response to Bruce Titanium:
      –I think GDP does matter, up to a certain point; like the happiness curve (or whatever it is called). Now that Singapore has got it pretty good financially (about same GDP/capita as Sweden), it might make sense to loosen up on a few restrictions. The only problem with that is that it can have a sneaky negative compound effect, if done erratically.

      In either case, at the root of my interest for Singapore, is the fact that they used to be around the same quality of living as Burma and Vietnam, and now — some 50 years later — they are roughly 25-30x more prosperous. That is just incredible.

      Happiness curve image:

      • Ludwig, thanks for the very interesting article about LKY. I think to put things into perspective, a case study on South Africa might help (ignoring the PC noise from the media). I think the similarities between LKY and Dr. HF Verwoerd (for a no BS summary on him see: is quite striking. And how South Africa has spiralled into oblivion after his assassination (which eventually ended in so called “freedom” about 30 years later).

      • Thanks for that Mark. It was an interesting article. I should read more about Verwoerd sometime. I’ll make a note about that.

        From article:
        “Most great historical figures are praised by their own people and loathed by their enemies. So in order to find out the true nature of an historical figure it is sometimes necessary to look at what the enemies of such people have to say.”


  38. Great post, Ludvig. I wish I had heard of LKY before now! I’m definitely going to check out those biographies you’ve suggested.

    The first point about incentives really rings true to me. Here in Australia, there are people who complain that our political leaders get paid too much and do very little. If only they knew it’s because they’re not getting paid enough, and therefore the best individuals (those with the wisdom and integrity) choose the business world instead!

    • That’s great to hear, Alex.

      The situation is about the same in Sweden.

      Our political system is pretty strange because politicians have completely screwed up incentives: once they’re elected they are granted a relatively high (not by Singaporean measures though) wage for several years after their forfeit their positions.

      And there are no requirements or qualifications. Anyone can do it. Several 18 year olds have done it.

  39. I’ve lived in SEA for 8 years Ludvig, as you know.

    Singapore is by far the most developed, economically stable and competent nation among them all, and I have been to every single South East Asian nation except Vietnam.

    Yet, I would not spend a single day in it that I didn’t absolutely have to. The only reason to go there is a visa run. It is chock a block full of mindless consumers, so much so that my friend and I call them “Sing-Bots”.

    there are no manners, no friendliness, no character outside of make money and behave like a robot. I’d take chaotic, smelly, disorganized, fun and friendly Indonesia any day of the week.

    Just my observations friend :) Not everyone will feel the same.

    • Nope, I didn’t know it was 8 years. But thanks for telling me :)

      A friend of mine has said the same thing, except for the “mindless consumer” part. He wouldn’t want to live there. But visiting and doing business is fine.

      Thanks sharing your opinion G. It is interesting to hear, given your experience.

    • No manners and friendliness? In my experience it has been to the contrary.

      But robots? Yeah, kinda! Haha.

      • I would agree with you, haha. But there are lots of Singaporeans who complain about little issues like that (robots, only know how to study, tuition tuition tuition, poor arts scene, etc.) and forget about how Singapore was built from slums into what it is today in such a short period of time. I’m guilty of that myself several years ago, I admit. But today, I can honestly say I’m full of gratitude.

  40. Thanks for turning me onto the teachings of Munger and LKY. Both are real geniuses!

    My opinion?
    Nothing much to add. The statistics speak for themselves.

    Actually there is one thing. LKy didnt smoke or drink, that probably contributed to his mental clarity even at such old age

    • You’re very welcome.

    • The interesting fact is that he used to be a smoker and drinker during his early days, but quitted due to… you guessed it – pragmatism.

      He mentioned during an interview in the past that smoking affected his public speeches, and drinking gave him a beer belly which would look bad on photographs, thereby affecting his public image.


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