Singapore—Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, one of the most well-respected officials in the cabinet of Lee Hsien Loong, spoke of a need for going back to “a sense of moral purpose in government” at a recent virtual discussion organised by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) entitled “After the pandemic – the rebirth of big government? State capacity, trust and privacy in the post-Covid-19 era.”
Commenting on the unprecedentedly large government spending and loans necessitated by the economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis, the Senior Minister said that a return to big government all over the world is not necessarily inevitable. What is needed instead, he said, would be an “activist” approach that would keep governments small but would ensure that areas needing intervention—such as healthcare and education—would receive sufficient resources.
This way, SM Tharman said that policymakers “re-centre government and fiscal policy on the provision of public goods,” adding, “So you don’t necessarily have to be very large, but you have to be very good at the most important things you should be doing, and go about it in the spirit of an activist.”
He called for a return to “a sense of moral purpose in government, having the confidence to convince the population that these are the right things to do, and we’re all going to have to organise ourselves together to achieve it, and an ability to focus the resources of the state on what matters most rather than everything.”
Mr Tharman added that the wealthy must carry their weight as the country moves toward economic recovery.
“More of the contributions will have to come from those who are better off and wealthier, and they’re going to have to provide greater support for those who are poor, and those in the middle-income group.”
And although everybody must do their part, he added that “fairness dictates that things have to stack up in favour of the poor and the middle income”.
It is time, the Senior Minister said, to begin to rethink “right” and “left” perspectives concerning those who are less fortunate in society, wherein those on the right believe that those from lower economic classes do not take enough responsibility for themselves, while those on the left say that authorities don’t do enough to help the underprivileged get a leg up in life.
He said, “both those ways of looking at society are getting very tired and have also lost their appeal.”
SM Tharman also talked about the hardships in the next few months to a year, saying that the National Jobs Council, which he heads, aims to create 100,000 new jobs.
“It’s going to get more difficult in the next six to 12 months, we have no doubt about it. And that’s why we are working intensively on this whole set of arrangements to re-skill people, put them back into firms or traineeships or attachments – even if they don’t yet have a permanent job – and try to make that a pathway to a new permanent job.” —/TISG