Collection: Charlie Munger - #263 | Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore's Success
My question is in regards to Lee Kuan Yew. You’ve on several occasions spoken about the economic miracle that is Singapore and how it’s been transferred on by Deng Xiaoping to China. What are your thoughts about India that’s going through a similar change with the prime minister who also idolizes these people and wants to create a similar sort of situation. I’d like you’re thoughts on that. Thank you.
Well that’s a very intelligent question, and I’m not saying all the other questions weren’t. (Laughter)
I regard Lee Kuan Yew may have been the best nation builder that ever lived. He took over a malarial swamp with no assets. No natural resources. No nothing. Surrounded by a bunch of Muslims who hated him. In fact he was spat out by a Muslims country. They didn’t want a bunch of damn Chinese in their country. That’s how Singapore was formed as a country, the Muslims spat it out.
And so hay, here he is, no assets, no money, no nothing. People were dying of malaria. Lots of corruption. And he creates in a very short time, by historical standards, modern Singapore. It was a huge, huge, huge success. It’s such a success that there’s no other precedent in the history of the world that is any stronger.
Now China’s more important because there are more Chinese, but you can give Lee Kuan Yew a lot of the credit for creating modern China. Because a lot of those pragmatic communist leaders, they saw a bunch of Chinese that were rich when they were poor, and they said, ‘to hell with this!’ (Laughter)
Remember the old communist said, ‘I don’t care whether the cat is black or white, I care whether he catches mice.’ And he wanted some of the success that Singapore got and he copied the playbook. So I think the communist leadership that copied Lee Kuan Yew was right, I think Lee Kuan Yew was right.
And of course I have two busts of somebody else in my house. One is Benjamin Franklin, and the other is Lee Kuan Yew. So, that’s what I think of him.
Now you turn to India. And I would say, I’d rather work with a bunch of Chinese than I would the Indian civilization mired down, case system, over-population, assimilated the worst stupidities of the democratic system, which by the way Lee Kuan Yew avoided, it’s hard to get anything done in India. And the bribes are just awful.
So all I can say is, it’s not going to be easy for India to follow the example of Lee Kuan Yew. I think that India will move ahead. But it is so defective as they get-ahead… the Indians I know are fabulous people. They’re just as talented as the Chinese, I’m speaking about the Indian populace.
But the system and the poverty and the corruption and the crazy democratic thing where you let anybody who screams stop all progress. It mires India with problems that Lee Kuan Yew didn’t have. And I don’t think those Indian problems are always easy to fix.
Let me give you an example. The Korean steel company, POSCO, invented a new way of creating steel out of lousy iron ore and lousy coal. And there’s some province in India that has lots of lousy iron ore and lot of lousy coal. Which is there’s not much use for. And this one process would take their lousy iron ore and the coal and make a lot of steel. And they got a lot of cheap labor.
So POSCO and India were made for each other. And they made a deal with the province to get together and use the POSCO know how and the India lousy iron ore and lousy coal. And 8 or 9 or 10 years later with everybody screaming and objecting and farmers lying down in the road, or whatever’s going on, they canceled the whole thing. In China they would have just done it. Lee Kuan Yew would have done it in (Singapore).
India is grossly defective because they’ve taken the worst aspects of our culture, allowing a whole bunch of idiots to scream and stop everything. And they copied it! And so they have taken the worst aspects of democracy and they forged their own chains and put them on themselves. And so no I do not like the prospects of India compared to the prospects of – and I don’t think India’s going to do as well as Lee Kuan Yew.
Right Person + Right System = Right Result