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Greece and Singapore: A Comparison of Economic and Democratic Freedom

Like Singapore which is a gateway to Southeast Asia, Greece has similar strategic advantages as a gateway to Europe, leading to the revival of the Silk Road which connected Greece to Asia since the time of Alexander the Great.

How does one attempt a comparison of economic and democratic freedom between these two nations?

Skyline of Singapore’s Downtown Core. Credit: Basile Morin, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikipedia

My first association with Singapore as an educator goes back to 1996 when, with colleagues from Victoria University, we set out to develop a joint degree program in international business with a private college.

It was also one of my transit points for trips to Greece/Europe as the Singapore Changi International Airport which serves this “tiny” nation is one of the largest transportation hubs.

  • Singapore is twelve times smaller than Crete in Greece

As a way of comparison, Singapore is twelve times smaller than Crete with its population of some 635,000 compared to the 5.5 million that live in little Singapore. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Singapore (Greece) was worth 466.79 (219.07) billion US dollars in 2022, according to official data from the World Bank.

The GDP value of Singapore (Greece) represents 0.21 (0.10) percent of the world economy. This is also explained by Singapore reaching heights during the last years that are the envy of most nations in terms of most indicators.

For example, the recent upgrade of the credit rating (BBB Low) for Greece is a good omen, bearing in mind though that its credit rating was even higher before the last bankruptcy, and compared to Singapore’s (AAA) the difference is “night and day”.

Singapore is a gateway to Southeast Asia by utilizing its strategic location – it lies within a six-hour radius of any Southeast Asian country – which means it is an ideal hub from which you can access the region and its growing consumer market.

As a major trading and financial hub, Singapore has the infrastructure and expertise that Chinese corporations need to effectively access other ASEAN markets. The country’s stable tax, legal and regulatory systems and business-friendly environment make it easier to do business here.

This is likely to be enhanced as China is forging new economic ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) following the gathering of the bloc’s leaders in Jakarta recently which resulted in the signing of several new documents — including to make agriculture “a new growth engine” and to ensure food security in the region.

  • Greece has similar strategic advantages to Singapore

One could not deny that Greece has similar strategic advantages to Singapore as a gateway to Europe, leading to the revival of the Silk Road which connected Greece to Asia since the time of Alexander the Great.

Historically, the founder of Singapore, Sang Nila Utama, is mentioned as a descendant of Alexander the Great in the Malayan Chronicles, as interpreted by several scholars. However, its role as a gateway between the West and the East presupposes that Greece reaches its potential which is currently undermined (among other things) by its very low level of economic freedom.

Indeed, the 2023 Heritage Index of Economic Prosperity/Freedom presents some insights in the area of economic freedom. At the top of the prosperity index are Singapore/Switzerland/Ireland/N. Zealand/Estonia/Luxembourg/ Netherlands/Denmark.

Greece finds itself in the 107th place and is regarded as mostly unfree, together with Chad, Cameroon, Mozambique and Lesotho, a group characterized as flawed democracies and hybrid regimes.

Singapore’s economic freedom score is 83.9, making its economy the world’s freest in the 2023 Index and its overall score remains significantly higher than the world and regional averages. But it fails by a long shot as a democracy when compared to the other top nations in economic freedom which are ranked highly as robust democracies EIU’s Democracy Index report .

This Singaporean paradox between democratic and economic freedom can be traced back to its founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew who shaped the country’s foreign policy since its independence in 1965, and which has prevailed to this date even though questions always surrounded his thinking and strategic vision as being relevant in this new world?

This was how he put it in “Hard Truths” just before he stepped down from government in 2011: “Without a strong economy, there can be no defense. Without a strong defense, there will be no Singapore. It will become a satellite, cowed and intimidated by its neighbors.”

Having been criticized as an authoritarian leader intolerant of dissent, Lee said the Singapore government was not preventing political competition. “What we are preventing is duds getting into parliament and government. Any person of quality, we welcome him, but we don’t want duds,” he said.

Greece has reached a point of having a government with virtually no political competition but its politicians must rise to the occasion before they face their own hard truths.

And one hard truth is to appoint in key positions the “ablest, most dedicated, and toughest” very much consistent with the Machiavellian saying that “The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.” Weak leaders have weak Executives/lieutenants, and strong leaders employ the best at what they do.

  • Dr Steve Bakalis is an expert on international business economics and management, he has held adjunct appointments with the Australian National University and the University of Adelaide, and appointments in universities of the Asia Pacific and the Gulf regions.

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