Stories from the Media

Lee Kuan Yew: Postcards from an extraordinary life

By Jeff Bader
Editor’s Note: On Sunday, March 22, Lee Kuan Yew, founding prime minister of Singapore passed away at 91. Jeffrey Bader recalls moments in his career where Lee had a profound impact.

Tough love

Lee Kuan Yew was the keynote speaker at the 2005 Bo’ao Forum on China’s Hainan island. Bo’ao is a Chinese-sponsored version of Davos, and in inviting Lee the Chinese hosts were honoring a figure revered in China for years of support of China’s economic modernization and public advocacy of acceptance of China’s rise. To an audience of smiling senior Chinese officials, Lee spoke of his long friendship and admiration for China’s “second generation” of leaders, notably Deng Xiaoping and the founder of the Chinese navy Liu Huaqing. He noted that they understood what China needed to do to achieve modernization, and how it should conduct itself towards it neighbors to reassure them as China rose.

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Lee Kuan Yew: Why Singapore’s Extraordinary Leader Will Be Missed


LEE KUAN YEW was one of the great statesmen of the post-WWII era. He made Singapore an economic powerhouse, demonstrating that so-called natural resources aren’t necessary for prosperity, that the key is creating an environment in which human ingenuity can thrive. He didn’t tolerate corruption; to eliminate the temptation and attract capable people, Lee paid government officials high salaries. He kept a tight grip on spending and pushed down taxes; the top rate on personal incomes is all of 20%. He knew the folly of weak money; the Singapore dollar looks like the Rock of Gibraltar compared with most currencies—including the U.S. dollar, most of the time.

Lee simultaneously demonstrated that sound finance can coexist with soundly thought out social programs. He pursued a vigorous housing program that enabled people who didn’t earn high incomes to buy their homes; his was a model for how subsidies need not lead to the housing-related disasters that have plagued the U.S. Singapore’s health care system has provided comprehensive coverage to its people without the rationing, high costs and dicey care that characterize so many others. Singapore’s pension system avoided the pay-as-you-go trap that is hurtling those in other countries toward insolvency.

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Mr Lee Kuan Yew was ‘an extraordinary human being': George Shultz

SINGAPORE: Former US Secretary of State George Shultz expressed his condolences at Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s passing. In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Mar 23), he said: “I grieve, as do so many all over the world, at the passing of your father and my friend of a half century… Lee Kuan Yew.”

Saying that Mr Lee was “an extraordinary human being”, Mr Shultz added that he had always considered Mr Lee one of the wisest and most intelligent people he had ever known.

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