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Global Citizen

Economic freedom in Singapore and why you must be planting flags

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Reporting from: Singapore

Here in one of the world’s bastions of economic freedom, the proof that you need to be planting flags around the world is all the more apparent.

Coming to Singapore is quite an experience. Changi Airport is amazingly clean. Flowers adorn the walkways. When you arrive from an international flight, you are shepherded into a terminal area, not into some dank mousetrap hedge maze like in American airports. Immigration is pleasant, simple, and efficient. And customs is prompt and pleasant as well.

Outside, the streets are clean, transport is efficient, and things move in a consistent way. Crime is practically non-existent. One foreigner told me if an armed robbery happened here, it would be talked about on the news for a decade.

And, no, contrary to the claims of those in other Asian countries, the streets are not clean enough to put your tongue on. Then again, people used to praise America by saying it’s streets were paved with gold.

One test of economic freedom I like to use for a country is the currency restrictions they impose. In the United States, for instance, you are limited to transporting more than US$10,000 in any currency, check, or other bearer instrument (even a casino ticket) in or out of the country without filing a form.

And we know all too well what havoc can be wreaked when you do your civic duty and play by the rules. I myself have been hassled by customs inspectors who take me to dark, locked rooms surrounded by sketchy looking guys. In one case, the guys’ first words were “just do what I ask and you’ll be fine”.

Yet here in Singapore, one can transport up to S$30,000 (about US$24,300) in or out without any questions being asked. You can even get S$10,000 bills to make meeting your limit as easy as carrying a bookmark.

Singapore has been relaxing taxes on bullion – particularly .999 fine gold as well as silver. It wasn’t long ago that they dropped the 7.5% Goods and Services Tax allowing one to buy, store, and sell bullion here tax-free. They are making a real push to become a world bullion hub. I’ll be writing more on that later in the week.

And, of course, Singapore is a pretty good place to open a bank account, as well. Foreigners who are willing to come here can do so with as little as $1

However, for all of the economic freedom available here, there is a price. While I focus more on places to keep one’s money safe from tyrannical governments, there is something to be said about the soft tyranny of tight social policy.

Among all the young people I’ve spoken to here, many don’t have a high opinion of the government. No one dismisses the economic stability of Singapore as an offshore banking center, but living here is another story.

The same government has been in power basically since independence from Malaysia some sixty years ago, and it has done a great job making the country a prosperous and extremely safe place.

However, it is now having to fan the flames of anti-foreigner sentiment among the lower and middle classes here.

Concerned the government’s “global talent hub” policy is giving away their jobs, Singaporeans are fighting for tougher restrictions on foreigners living here. The government, looking to maintain its powers, has begrudgingly obliged them in some ways.

And freedom of speech has long been an issue here. Earlier today, I passed by Speaker’s Corner in the central business district. This is the main area that has been designated for Singaporeans to gather and address their grievances toward the government. You just can’t show up anywhere with a sign and start shouting “down with the Prime Minister”.

Even recently, Malay foreigners who were campaigning for their fellow Malaysians to vote in the upcoming elections there were told to cool it. They never got the proper police permit to assemble peacefully.

And then, of course, there are the fines. Oh, so many fines. From S$500 to eating durians (a spiky Asian fruit) to similar fines for urinating on an escalator (?!) or even drinking on the subway.

For me, it’s a bit much; I don’t like being told what to do. And it feels odd to have someone tell you that a girl sipping a smoothie on public transport is dancing with the devil. But I suppose could get used to it eventually. There is no perfect place.

While I would encourage you to consider Singapore as an offshore economic haven to increase your freedom, it may not be the place for you to get your second residence. Thanks to anti-foreigner sentiment, getting a second passport here has gone from being one of the world’s easiest (and most valuable) to just average.

Overall, Singapore is a great place, especially to invest, bank, and store your gold offshore. As far as fiat currencies go, the Singapore dollar, or “sing”, isn’t so bad.

My point is that you must be aware of the pitfalls of each country and each government you deal with.


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