SINGAPORE -- While the U.S. unemployment rate "dropped" to 7.7 percent last month -- a figure even The Washington Post acknowledged was due "...in large part because the labor force fell by 350,000..." -- here in this modern and prosperous city-state of slightly more than 5 million people, unemployment is practically nonexistent.
A taxi driver tells me, "Everyone here works." With unemployment at an astonishingly low 1.9 percent, he is nearly right.
In part, this is due to a work ethic that seems to be in the genes here. But there is something else at work that should astound Washington politicians struggling with expensive "entitlement" programs and with those who receive them.
The Economist wrote about it in a 2010 article. What contributes to Singapore's prosperity and a vibrant economy that includes a stable currency and a rising stock market, it said, is this: "The state's attitude can be simply put: being poor here is your own fault. Citizens are obliged to save for the future, rely on their families and not expect any handouts from the government unless they hit rock bottom."
As a parent, this is my favorite part of the article: "The emphasis on family extends into old age: retired parents can sue children who fail to support them. In government circles, 'welfare' remains a dirty word..."
Things may be starting to change, at least in other parts of Asia. In September, The Economist revisited the subject of entitlements: "Thanks to years of spectacular growth, more people have been pulled from abject poverty in modern Asia than at any time in history. But as they become more affluent, the region's citizens want more from their governments. Across the continent pressure is growing for public pensions, national health insurance, unemployment benefits and other hallmarks of social protection. As a result, the world's most vibrant economies are shifting gear, away from simply building wealth towards building a welfare state."
The magazine says government leaders in parts of Asia want to learn from the mistakes that backers of entitlements have made in the United States and the United Kingdom. What they should remember is that once the idea of entitlements catches on, it must inevitably replace the work ethic for significant numbers of the population. The threat of an empty stomach is a great motivator for an otherwise able-bodied person, but for many a guaranteed check and other benefits undermines that ethic and encourages dependency on government.
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