Good Governance. Civilized Citizens.

“Good governance key to helping Singapore reinvent and stay relevant in post-COVID-19 world: Ong Ye Kung” was the headline which caught my eye when I received the Straits Times (ST) evening update in my email inbox. I ask what good governance is and how good governance is achieved. The answer, to my mind, is that good governance and a civilized citizenry go hand in hand. The government is elected by the people. Ideally, that means that the best of the mass of civlized citizenry are chosen to lead the rest. People have a great tendency to expect goodies from their governments and blame those same governments when what emerges from time to time is not what people expected or think they expected. People need to remember that good government shapes the conditions conducive to developing civilized citizenry, and the more civilized the citizenry become, the better the government they will get. So, focus on being committed to developing civilized citizens, and good governance will follow. It is an iterative thing, of course, but the focus ought to be on the citizenry. Otherwise, as Victor Davis Hanson points out, dying citizenship, or the qualities of good, civilized citizenship, would mean a dying nation as well. Victor Davis Hanson has a great video on the topic embedded below:

As part of the effort to nurture good, civilized citizenship, I think it is important to also understand the necessity of nationalism. If we are not able to sustain a good nationalism, then forget about the notion of being “global citizens”. George Friedman has a great video on “The necessity of nationalism” embedded below:

There was one sentence which stood out in particular for me. It contained three things which I feel we need to have much more discourse on as a nation. The sentence is shown below, highlighted in blue:

A “strong state” obviously comes from having a strongly united, not uniform, not compliant but cheerfully obedient, citizenry. If the citizenry is wont to behave otherwise, then we will not have a “strong state” but a very weak state. Weak states oppress their citizens because they feel insecure. Briefly here, I would like to ask why our Singapore Constitution is not taught and explained to our young. The National Anthem is sung and the Pledge recited, yes, but I think more emphasis needs to be given to the teaching of what the Constitution means. I am open to feedback and discussion on that, but I want to move on here and briefly talk about the three points in the highllighted sentence.

First, inequality. Why are we allowing ourselves to be led by the nose into believing that inequality is something that needs to be fixed? The world is full of inequalities and it is also full of variety. The thing that we ought to remember is that those campaigning against “inequality” shout loudly for equality of outcomes when there is no such thing available. Even when we get to Heaven, which I hope we all do, there are different rewards according to whether our works are of gold, silver and precious stones or whether they are of wood, hay and stubble. No, when we talk about grappling with inequality, we need to recognize that we are talking about giving people the equality of opportunity, which is actually what we ought to mean when we toss around words like “meritocracy”. What is needed is a commitment, from the highest to the lowest in the nation, to the rule of law.

Second, protectionism. Who is protecting what from whom? Does it mean dealing with unfair trade practices by other nations? Does it mean ensuring that we do not engage in unfair trade practices ourselves? Remember that protectionist trade policies usually hurt one’s own people by making goods and services more costly. The best way to protect one’s own industries is to make them work on their own trade, getting better and better each and every day. It’s the same thing as not making developing human capital unnecessarily hard, but making it as hard as possible so that people make it a culture to become better and stronger and yes, even more civilized by the day.

Third, climate change. I have said quite a bit about this. I think sound discussion on the topic of climate change needs to be encouraged. Do watch the talk between John Anderson and Steve E Koonin on the subject. The video is embedded below:

I fully agree that good governance is key. Committed, highly civilized citizens ensure that good governance continues.

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