In a widely-shared Facebook post, Donald Low responded to an article published in The New Paper (TNP) regarding the Lee family, who had a combined five-figure monthly income. Mr. Low drew attention to the negative comments made toward the Lee family wish list concerning Budget 2018, and proposed solutions that would benefit society as a whole.
The TNP article, dated February 12, had focused on a family that earned five figures monthly from the father’s full-time and mother’s part-time job, speculating that the combined income to be around $11,000. However, with Mrs. Serene Lee having had heart surgery which required her to be on expensive medicines, a son in polytechnic school, an older daughter with the costly extracurricular activity of sailing, and their youngest child needing extra tuition, she said that the family was suffering, and hoped to get more when the 2018 budget is announced, to ease the family’s financial burdens. The Lee family also have a maid. Many responded to the article, saying that the family ought to prioritize better by having the children help around the house, instead of hiring a maid, as well as the daughter choosing a less expensive CCA.
In his post, Mr. Low first challenged the idea that the Lee family has a higher income than many others, since based on his calculations, their income is “very much an average or even below average Singaporean household.”
He then goes on to draw attention to the flak the family received with Mrs. Lee expressing the desire to get more in terms of government allowances and subsidies, even though in theory people are compassionate toward the middle class who feel the financial pinch. He wrote, “It’s also quite interesting that people here are sympathetic to the idea of the ‘squeezed middle’ in the abstract but when they are confronted with a family which is exactly that, they react negatively and pass judgement on its failure to prioritise or to distinguish between needs and wants. We’re fast becoming a low trust society that views everything in zero-sum terms: more for the middle income necessarily means less for the poor, or higher taxes on the rich.”
He went on to discuss ways to fund and distribute social goods such as child care, that are less expensive than private financing, acknowledging that these would require an increase in taxes. However, Mr. Low emphasizes that this would benefit families, as it would mean a decrease in household expenses.
“Financing these things collectively, and making their provision universal, is likely to be cheaper for society as a whole. People are likely to quibble about the higher taxes they have to pay, but that’s because they ignore the fact that their private spending on these things will go down by more.”
To end his post, Mr. Low said that he did not think that the country is headed in this direction, because where there is a high income inequality in a society, there is also a low level of social trust, which makes individuals reluctant to pay more taxes in order to fund better social goods together. “When we don’t trust fellow citizens, we are more likely to see them as undeserving scroungers exploiting society’s largesse.”
This means, according to him, that with no increase in taxes, the government cannot execute programs and services that would decrease the gap in income inequality.
Many netizens agreed with Mr. Low, however, some singles felt that subsidies should go to the elderly and poor in society
Others agreed that the Lee family had been unfairly judged
Other netizens disagreed with Mr. Low’s premise that the Lee family is part of the “squeezed middle”