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Jamus Lim on monopoly on compassion: the current balance overwhelmingly favours efficiency

Mr Lim said that many of the policies require extensive conditions to qualify, "just so that we can avoid a few abusers"

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Singapore – Opposition Workers’ Party (WP) Member of Parliament (MP), , took to social media to give a follow-up on the topic of ‘,’ a statement made by Senior Minister in response to Mr Lim’s maiden speech in Parliament.

During the parliamentary debate on the President’s Address on Thursday (September 3), Mr Lim proposed for a policy. He noted it might not be an ideal or feasible time to roll it out due to the ongoing economic crisis, yet encouraged everyone to be in agreement and lean towards the idea so that when “the storm has passed,” implementation would be swift.

The MP of the new Sengkang Group Representation (GRC) also called for “compassionate policymaking,” saying the ruling party’s approach was putting efficiency over equity and is insufficiently compassionate, “tentative, incremental (and) kiasu.”

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His speech got a rare intervention from Mr Tharman who highlighted “raising the standard of living for the poor is a complicated matter…It’s not a job that’s (completed) for good. We have to do more.”

Mr Tharman suggested that they did not have a monopoly over compassion. “And I say this not to discredit anyone in particular. I really respect where Member Jamus Lim is coming from intellectually, emotionally and so on, but no one should assume that (they) have a monopoly over compassion.”

Also an economist like Mr Lim, Mr Tharman noted the People’s Action Party (PAP) government has made “significant progress” in the last decade or so in raising the wages of the country’s lowest-paid workers. “Here’s a bit of advice. Try to avoid strawman arguments, like saying that the Government is only interested in efficiency and not equity. That’s frankly laughable,” said Mr Tharman.

“We seem to have a consensus that (doing more) is our objective. But just try to avoid strawman arguments and pretend that you have a monopoly in compassion.”

On Friday (September 4), Mr Lim expounded further on Mr Tharman’s statement noting to “suggest otherwise (that someone possesses a monopoly on compassion) would be absurd.” However, people hold different degrees of compassion, much like varying capacities for love or fear, he added in his Facebook post.

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with such individual preferences; after all, our differences are what make the human tapestry so unique and fascinating. Our society is enriched by having diverse points of view.”

Mr Lim mentioned that during his speech, he spoke of the tradeoff between equity and efficiency. “Compassionate policymaking embodies a willingness to allow more inefficiency, for the sake of greater equity,” he said.

While many policies in Singapore include elements of equity, Mr Lim perceives the balance “overwhelmingly favours efficiency, almost to a fault.” Many of the policies require extensive conditions to qualify, “just so that we can avoid a few abusers.” He noted this response was borne out of outcomes, citing an example of rich countries having income inequality even after considering redistribution.

The share of income Singapore workers receive is a fraction of what goes to profit, in startling contrast to other developed countries, where labour is usually paid more than capital, he explained.

“So it’s not about claiming a monopoly on compassion,” said Mr Lim. “Rather, it is about our current policies not having enough of it.” He raised the issue in his maiden speech not to advance a specific policy, given it was only an introduction, but to “underscore the philosophy that ties together the way we think about policy.”

Does anyone possess a monopoly on compassion? Of course not, and to suggest otherwise would be absurd. But just like how…

Posted by Jamus Lim on Friday, 4 September 2020

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