Thursday, May 02, 2013
The problem of severe inequality makes solutions for all other problems harder. Inequality in itself creates an unlevel playing field for Singaporeans and when a large segment find it so hard to overcome their disadvantages they will stop supporting the system...no matter how good your transport system is or what you try to do in public housing.
We have never seen the kind of extremes we see in the wealth distribution today. It is the highest in the developed world (we sometimes share this dubious honour with the United States). A dominant govt like that PAP cannot say it is not due to its policies ....it is clearly an outcome of its policies. Policies that amplify inequalities by continuous pursuit of pro-business policies almost to the point of neglecting the plight of the working class. The PAP now alters its policies to limit foreign labor growth and increase the ratio of Singaporeans in the workplace. But this is a shift from an extreme position and there is only so much it can do because businesses have grown dependent on imported labor. Telling Singaporeans they are "doing something" is not going to satisfy the ordinary working citizen that is fast losing his patience because he senses the PAP govt is unable to make fundamental changes...and perhaps it can't because it has painted itself in the corner by going down the same path for far too long.
Watch the Malaysian election closely because it is going to tell us something. Politicians such as Najib knew he had to make changes when the citizens voted in large numbers for the opposition. He did go ahead to make numerous changes like eliminating the ISA, implementing minimum wages, providing free healthcare for the elderly and he did run the economy relatively well - decent growth and low unemployment. But what he couldn't do was to get rid of cronyism and corruption which Malaysians today simply cannot accept. It remains to be seen if he has done enough but my sources tell me they are heading towards further losses.
Leaders sometimes know that they need to change after they overcome their own denial but underestimate the rate and magnitude of change. I think leaders in Singapore have underestimated the effects of income inequality. From their Ivory Tower they can philosophized and think that people should just accept the extreme inequality as a consequence of their "meritocratic system". This is a mistake. It is an easy mistake to make when you experience the favorable outcomes of the system as an elite showered with opportunities and high wages - you justify your own success as the result of meritocracy and by that token see the failure of others as the result of their lack of ability and effort. But they forget that meritocracy does not exist in isolation - the inequality is amplified by policy choices of our leaders and not just dependent the talents and effort of individuals. Our relatively extreme inequality is simply the result of extreme policies adopted by the PAP govt....and the PAP govt has made no fundamental changes to move from its extreme.
Posting Time 8:37 PM
Posted by Lucky Tan