Singapore, Land of the Free

7 06 2012

A would-be graffiti artist was recently arrested in Singapore, and if convicted of vandalism, the 25-year old woman faces fines and jail time — and even corporal punishment in the form of caning.

In a nation famously called “Disneyland with the Death Penalty,” the draconian discipline doled out for seemingly minor infractions like graffiti is hardly surprising. Still, Western nations seem to understand that Singapore’s medieval approach to crime and punishment, while apparently effective (the streets are clean, after all), is a rather high price to pay for a veneer of order.

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

Unfortunately, there’s no place on the planet where individuals exist in a state of absolute liberty. Singapore’s economic freedom must be weighed against the literal butt-whooping that awaits minor acts of criminal stupidity. Western Europe’s celebrated cultural liberalism comes with a burdensome, faltering welfare state attached.

Used to be that America was in the best position of all. We had, at least in theory, the freest markets, the freest society, and an unparalleled and enduring prosperity that made America the place to be. After doing a bit of international comparison shopping, however, many are now deciding that — when it comes to overall freedom — America loses out across the board.

It’s not so shocking, really: we conceded our top spot on the economic freedom index long ago. Nanny statists like Michael Bloomberg, seizing on the ginned-up public panic of the month, bulldoze liberty with an abandon that makes us the laughingstock of even the most over-regulated of Europeans. Crony capitalism routinely makes a mockery of the free market system that has become the scapegoat for our economic woes.

Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin one of the more high-profile Americans who ran the numbers and decided to jump ship. But he’s hardly the only one who has decided to take the plunge; the increasing number of Americans joining him in renouncing their citizenship have all decided that freer pastures exist beyond the borders of the Land of the Free. Calling these expatriates unpatriotic is a bit hypocritical — after all, it’s hard to call a nation that doesn’t allow individuals to leave without forking over a hefty “exit tax” truly free.

Saverin forked over tens of millions of dollars for the privilege of leaving the United States. His new home country may surprise you: he’s now a citizen of Singapore. Its relatively low taxes evidently make up for its brutal criminal justice system and silly regulations against chewing gum in public.

We don’t need to keep losing capable, wealth-producing individuals to Singapore, Hong Kong, or Costa Rica. Before we can start rolling back the leviathan in earnest, however, we need to acknowledge how far we’ve slid down the road to serfdom. It’s easy to pull the wool of tyranny over the eyes of a population that believes it is still the freest in the world. Whether out of habit, tradition, or ignorance, many Americans believe just that — and they are liable to view Saverin and his peers as selfish deserters rather than canaries in the coal mine.

When a nation that canes people for juvenile antics starts to look like a beacon of liberty in comparison, it’s safe to say that we’ve got some serious work to do. We’d best get started now — before future Saverins decide it isn’t even worth sticking around the States long enough to build successful companies before taking their money and running.

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