Lee Kuan Yew is best known for having taken Singapore from the third world to the first world, an improbable achievement that he chronicled in a lengthy 2000 memoir. As he prepares to turn 90 this September, however, the cohesion, equanimity, and order for which his country has become legendary are coming under strain. Amidst rising income inequality and growing popular discontent about a government proposal to attract more foreign workers, some question how much longer Singapore’s current model of governance can endure.

A recent article in The Economist observed that the government has long been:

confident enough in the infallibility of its policymaking and in the inevitability of its re-election to ignore pressure groups and to scorn pandering to populism. Even its critics concede it has been successful. But times have changed. Social media have turned silent, isolated dissent into more concerted, vocal protest. The political opposition—with less than 10 percent of the seats in parliament—seems a long way from power. But with 40 percent of the popular vote in 2011 it can no longer be dismissed as irrelevant.

Although Lee’s time as prime minister ended in 1990, one suspects that at least part of his legacy will ride on Singapore’s ability to respond to the concerns of this newly emboldened opposition. There is a lesser-appreciated aspect of his record, however, that should also figure in that legacy: his insights into international order, which he has been sharing for over half a century as a statesman on the world stage. One could argue that he had little choice but to become a grand strategist on the job—to survive, the fledging city-state of Singapore had to cultivate ties with Asia’s giants, China and India, a balancing act that would grow more difficult after the two countries went to war in 1962.

In a book that I published with Graham Allison and Robert Blackwill earlier this year, Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World, we tried to distill Lee’s insights on some of the central issues of international affairs, based on a series of in-depth interviews with him and a careful review of his voluminous output (the speeches, interviews, and press-conference presentations that he gave from 1950 to 1990 run ten volumes; those that he gave from 1990 to 2011 run another ten volumes). Readers will learn what he thinks about the prospects of the world’s lone superpower, of major powers such as India and Russia, and of groupings such as ASEAN and the BRICs. It is undoubtedly his views on China, however, that elicit the greatest interest—for good reason. Lee is no ordinary observer of developments there: no less than the chief architect of modern China, Deng Xiaoping, sought Lee’s advice as he prepared China to embark on market reforms. Ezra Vogel notes that when

Deng left Singapore on November 14 [1978], the two leaders had developed a special relationship that…enabled them to communicate with mutual respect on a common wavelength…Only one other person outside mainland China, Y. K. Pao…and no other political leader, had bonded with Deng the way Lee did. Deng had close ties with many foreign leaders, but his relationship with Lee reflected a greater depth of mutual understanding. From Deng’s perspective, what made Lee and Y. K. Pao attractive was their extraordinary success in dealing with practical issues, their first-hand contacts with world leaders, their knowledge of world affairs, their grasp of long-term trends, and their readiness to face facts and speak the truth as they saw it…Singapore made a deep impression on Deng.

It is hard to imagine that China, which only half a century ago was reeling from the worst famine in human history, is now on track to overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest economy within 15 years and, further along, as the world’s largest defense spender. Given such projections, we wondered if Lee foresees a Chinese superpower. “The Chinese have figured out,” he explained in October 2007, “that if they stay with ‘peaceful rise’ and just contest for first position economically and technologically, they cannot lose.” He was more explicit in April 2009, saying the Chinese “have the manpower to do things cheaper in any part of the world economically. Their influence can only grow and grow beyond the capabilities of America.”

Lee is even more forceful, however, when he discusses China’s long-term aspirations. In May 2011, we asked him if “Chinese leaders [are] serious about displacing the United States” as the preeminent power in Asia and ultimately the world. The first quote of Lee’s that appears in our book is his provocative answer: “Of course. Why not? They have transformed a poor society by an economic miracle to become now the second-largest economy in the world—on track…to become the world’s largest economy in the next 20 years…Theirs is a culture 4,000 years old with 1.3 billion people, many of great talent…How could they not aspire to be number 1 in Asia, and in time the world?”

Ali Wyne is an associate of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a contributing analyst at Wikistrat. In 2012, the Diplomatic Courier and Young Professionals in Foreign Policy selected him as one of the 99 most influential foreign-policy professionals under 33.

This article was originally published in the Diplomatic Courier's July/August 2013 print edition.

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.

And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.

It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.

In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.

Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.

This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?

We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?

Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?

Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.

Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.

These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
Ali Wyne
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.