The title of this post is from Oliver Goldsmith’s poem, The Deserted Village (1770). It appears here:
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay:
Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade;
A breath can make them, as a breath has made;
But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,
When once destroyed can never be supplied.
The poem is a lament on the ruin of the countryside brought upon by modernization. But I was reminded of Goldsmith’s poem in a different context. Lee Kuan Yew, my hero, recently noted that “we [the leaders of Singapore] have not got richer, Singapore has.”
What a terrific point, LKY makes. Let me paraphrase Goldsmith:
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey
Where the leaders’ wealth accumulates, and the country decays …
On a related note, 1.7 percent of Singaporeans — or about 77,000 — have wealth exceeding US$1 million. In the immortal words of Tevya, “I realize of course that it’s not a shame to be poor.” But what would have been so terrible if India too had no one who was really poor?
In India, the leaders are rich and the people poor.
Here, for the record, a bit of the report from the Straits Times
ONE freak election result is all it will take to wipe out Singapore’s success in building up the city state, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew warned last night.
This could happen if voters became bored and decided to give the ‘vociferous opposition’ a chance – out of ‘light-heartedness, fickleness or sheer madness’.
‘In five years, you can ruin this place and it’s very difficult to pick up the pieces,’ he told 650 participants of a dinner forum at the Shangri-La Hotel.
He said a country needed three elements to succeed.
First, a government that people have confidence in and will trust when tough decisions need to be taken.
Second, leaders who are above board, who make decisions based on necessity, not how they will personally benefit. He said Singaporeans know they have such leaders because, over the years, ‘we have not got richer, Singapore has’.
Third and most importantly, a country needs able men in charge.
The problem with popular democracy, he said, is that during elections, candidates are not judged on how well they can govern, but on their persuasive power.
Good luck, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Hope all goes well.