Featured News Leon Perera asks: Do we have true meritocracy in Singapore?

Leon Perera asks: Do we have true meritocracy in Singapore?

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“You could be born with genes that give you an advantage in the competition. Your parents (whom we do not choose) could give you huge advantages through coaching, tuition, a good living environment and networks. So that blunts the accuracy of the system in sorting by merit”

SINGAPORE: While meritocracy is an ideal in Singaporean society, Workers’ Party MP Leon Perera asked in a lengthy Jan 19 (Thursday) Facebook post, “But do we have true meritocracy in Singapore?”

He referenced founding Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s approval of Thomas Jefferson’s idea of a “natural aristocracy” based on merit, but asked if true meritocracy is present in Singapore, adding “And is such a true meritocracy really the fairest and best system we could think of?”

The Aljunied GRC Member of Parliament also raised points made by Harvard professor Michael Sandel in his book, “The Tyranny of Merit,” since a number of them are applicable to Singapore’s context.

FB screengrab: Leon Perera

Prof Sandel wrote that “merit” is largely determined in many societies by academic success, but this is a factor influenced by luck.

“You could be born with genes that give you an advantage in the competition. Your parents (whom we do not choose) could give you huge advantages through coaching, tuition, a good living environment and networks. So that blunts the accuracy of the system in sorting by merit,” wrote Mr Perera.

He noted Prof Sandel’s argument that “when it comes to leadership, academic credentials have come to be over-valued,” adding that many lawmaking bodies around the globe, including Singapore, “used to have a higher proportion of non-graduates than they now do and were not less effective for that fact.”

Mr Perera also warned of the dangers of having a “meritocratic elite” biased against individuals who do not have the same credentials.

“It can also lead to the less qualified blaming themselves for their failures and losing confidence and hope,” he wrote.

He then told the following story:

“Once, at a restaurant, I overheard the conversation at the next table. One man said ‘Some people want to tax us more to help the poor. But is it my fault that they are poor? Are they poor because I am rich?’

His lack of compassion for the less fortunate and his failure to recognise that society creates the conditions that enable individual wealth accumulation sounded alarm bells in my mind.”

Toward the end of his post, Mr Perera listed some of the ideas that the book “inspires us to think about,” including pushing “for more progressivity in corporate and income taxes,” leveling up blue-collar and trades jobs, and making competition in schools less harsh and gameable.

These types of ideas may lead to “a healthy reduction in extremes of inequality that may not be wholly justified on economic grounds and may instead be fuelling a dangerous sense of injustice among the losers in the system,” the MP wrote, adding that “Many countries and even groupings of countries are talking about some of these ideas, which is a good sign. The era of the tyranny of merit may be coming to an end.”

/TISG

Older Serangoon residents express concerns to WP MP Leon Perera about affordability of housing for their children

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