Closer look at meritocracy needed to address inequality

Achievements are rewarded, but what about those who fail to achieve, asks NMP

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Despite their best efforts, some who grew up in poor households do not succeed because the odds are perpetually stacked against them, be it in school or the workforce says Mr Kok.TNP FILE PHOTO

By Yasmine Yahya

Meritocracy has long been upheld as an important tenet of Singapore society, but it is time to examine its failings, Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun said in Parliament yesterday.

He was among several MPs who spoke on the pressing need for Singapore to address its widening income inequality, with some giving suggestions such as a wealth tax or teaching entrepreneurship skills in schools, as ways to narrow the gap.

For Mr Kok, the issue warrants a closer look at meritocracy, long viewed as an important driver of economic growth. But such an approach rewards only those with achievements, he noted.

“What about those who continue to fail in school? What about those who work two jobs and still cannot earn to support their families?” he asked rhetorically in a speech on the Budget statement.

Singapore should look at systematic approaches to eradicate inequality, so that rewards can be more equitable, he said.

BE INCLUSIVE

How can we provide assistance without making those who need help feel that they have to prove that they have worked hard but not achieved enough and hence worthy of support? Without feeling that they have no more dignity left?

NOMINATED MP KOK HENG LEUN

“We have been inculcated with the values of meritocracy – hard work will be rewarded, self-reliance and personal achievement is key to our success… Have we also then made those who have failed to achieve believe in the narrative that it was because of personal failing that one cannot do better and accept the narrative that it is not a dignified existence?”

In his impassioned call for a more inclusive society, Mr Kok said there are many, like those who grew up in poor households, who do not succeed despite their best efforts, because “the odds are perpetually stacked against them”.

“By the time these people go to school, by the time they leave school, by the time they enter the workforce… I don’t have to say it. We know what the outcome is.

“More importantly, how can we provide assistance without making those who need help feel that they have to prove that they have worked hard but not achieved enough and hence is worthy of support? Without feeling that they have no more dignity left?”

Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) suggested encouraging entrepreneurship among the young to narrow inequalities.

The Government should study how to nurture entrepreneurial skills in schools, so that even children from less-privileged families, who lack access to enrichment classes, can benefit, he said.

Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) wants the Government to consider an enhanced financial aid scheme for education, with different tiers of Edusave grants and top-ups that are tied to family income.

Mr Ong Teng Koon (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) said technological disruption could create a “displaced underclass” of workers who will struggle to make ends meet when their jobs are obsolete.

While government schemes to retrain workers are helpful, he noted that a large segment will struggle to learn and apply new skills.

“Out of our 2.2 million labour force, around 700,000 workers are over 50 years old or have secondary education or below. Many will struggle to learn, and when you factor in their families and dependants, the number of people affected gets scary really fast,” he said.

Any support for them needs to be sustained. He suggested alternative revenue sources to fund such support measures, like a wealth tax.

As technology advances, wages will likely fall as a share of gross domestic product, so making owners of land and capital pay their fair share may make sense, he said.

SPH/ST

10 COMMENTS

  1. Same old desperate arguments put forth by the opposition, NMPs, even PAP ‘wayang’ MPs ( for balanced effect only) year in year out! Come next year, and the year after…nothing changes… guess our hotshot Ministers just love to hear people beg, plead, grovel. That’s all they do!

  2. The 70.1% will still wait for the 29.9% to do their job . The TOP 0.1% will still wait for 99.9% to do their job + FT of course . Anything new ? Nothing . So ,sleepy am I , when chabor asking men to help them , why don’t they help themselves ? The problem does not happen today , it is the past deed of 15 to 10 years ago, during the time of Mamak Dynasty . Then we shall ask ourself are we happy ? Yes 70 % are happy with what they are now , so ? Because of 70% attitude that is why our 4G PM or minister arise to serve the 70%. And so ? We shall merge , copy and emulate Malaysia at least they are smart in certain ways

  3. < “More importantly, how can we provide assistance without making those who need help feel that they have to prove that they have worked hard but not achieved enough and hence is worthy of support? Without feeling that they have no more dignity left?”>
    ******
    “How much do you want? Do you want three meals in a hawker centre, food court or restaurant?”
    — Minister VB in response to a plea to further help those disadvantaged get more than $5/day for food.
    Meanwhile we have a Minister LSS so rich go DTF just to collect toothpicks…..
    https://www.theonlinecitizen.com/2007/04/25/parliamentary-exchange-between-lily-neo-and-mcys-minister/

    • If my Father is sleeping , so you think I still want to wake up and work hard ? I will instruct my chabor to work for me

    • And only if everyone starts at the exact same point with the exact same access to resources not having to be herded into defined groups with labels on their foreheads

  4. How to be entrepreneurial when the government wants to licence everything, even street hawking, busking, selling tissue paper? The down and out try to help themselves, but the government puts ever more obstacles in their way. Our education system only recognises regurgitation of book knowledge, and if your learning style is different, you cannot achieve good grades no matter how hard you try. This system is stacked against diversity of learning styles, talents and interests. Only paper generals and scholars succeed, the rest can go eat shit 🙁

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