Institutional diversity and state-led development: Singapore as a unique variety of capitalism

Author: Bryan Cheang and Hanniel Lim (2023)

Published in Structural Change and Economic Dynamics

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This paper provides a critique of economic freedom indices through a case study of Singapore’s unique political economy. We argue that these metrics reflect an ahistorical approach to development, obscuring real-world institutional diversity. By instantiating a single ideal of laissez-faire and proceeding to measure the magnitude of economic freedom in nations, these indices implicitly treat capitalist varieties as mere defects of laissez-faire rather than as distinct alternatives.

Consequently, owing to the discursive power neoliberal metrics enjoy in country-benchmarking, the varied roles that states play are overlooked in development discourse. Singapore’s unique political economy and approach to development is one such institutional innovation being neglected. Through its strategic and calibrated control over factor markets, the Singapore state is ranked as a small government by economic freedom indices while simultaneously enjoying significant influence over economic activity. The wider implication is that nations’ unique historical constraints push them onto diverse development trajectories.



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