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Local blasts US academics who suggest that Singaporeans should care less about inequality

"Inequality in Singapore - and what sort of society Singaporeans want, and what sort of future Singaporeans want for their children - is none of the Ayn Rand Institute's business," said Facebook user Ervin Tan

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A Singaporean has lashed out at a pair of US academics who suggested that citizens here should care less about inequality, in an opinion-editorial published by the national broadsheet. The writers are chairman of the Ayn Rand Institute, Yaron Brook, and senior fellow, Don Watkins.

In a premium article entitled ‘Why inequality may not be unfair,’ the foreign academics argued that “In a country as rich as Singapore with no absolute poverty, economic inequality just means some people have become richer than others. If they succeeded due to hard work and their own merit without depriving others, then inequality by itself is not a bad thing.”

The academics declared that “equal is unfair” as they delved into the fixed pie and group pie assumptions about wealth, before concluding:

“But if wealth is something that individuals create, then there’s no reason to expect that we should be anything close to equal, economically. If we look at the actual individuals who make up society, it is self-evident that human beings are unequal in almost every respect: in size, strength, intelligence, beauty, frugality, ambition, work ethic and moral character.
“These differences will necessarily entail huge differences in economic conditions – and there is no reason why these differences should be viewed with scepticism, let alone alarm. It’s ridiculous to complain about the income inequality that emerges from free, voluntary transactions.”

Asserting that Singapore consistently ranks highly in economic freedom indexes “as well as having corrupt-free institutions, based on the principles of meritocracy,” the academics urged Singaporeans “not to wage a war on inequality but to celebrate and recommit to ideals such as grit, self-reliance and innovation.”

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While some praised the academics views, others were left irked. One such netizen, Facebook user Ervin Tan, criticised the writers for essentially telling locals to care less about inequality.

In a post published on Monday (3 June), Mr Tan asserted that it is the writers who should care less about inequality here “because it’s none of their business. Inequality in Singapore – and what sort of society Singaporeans want, and what sort of future Singaporeans want for their children – is none of the Ayn Rand Institute’s business.”

Asserting that Singaporeans clearly care about inequality, Mr Tan said that the topic seems to be on the national agenda. He wrote:

“It is evident that Singaporeans care about inequality: Professor Youyenn Teo’s book This is what Inequality Looks Like sold 20,000 copies in 11 months, and the good Professor has had to turn down many times more invitations for talks than she accepted.
“That Singaporeans care about inequality is also apparent from conversations we have with friends and from the volunteers I meet who want to help tilt the heavily imbalanced scales just a little by teaching English and reading to children living in rental flats.
“Inequality is on the national agenda. To be clear: by national I mean Singapore, because it seems a memo was lost along the way when instructions were given to get two pseudo-intellectual American hitmen to kill off Singaporeans’ interest in discussing what sort of society we want for ourselves, resulting in two Americans telling us in our national newspaper why “we” should care less about inequality *in Singapore*.”

Candidly sharing that he does not have the answers to all the questions Singaporeans have in their discussions about inequality, Mr Tan listed a number of questions on the minds of Singaporeans pertaining to inequality that go beyond individual income wealth:

“Is there a correlation between parental income and/or education level and children’s PSLE scores?Does MOE track these statistics, and if so, when will they be published?
“If hard work is a virtue, what is the wage share of GDP in Singapore, and why is labour taxed but not capital gains? Should we tax capital gains? Should inequality of wealth be transmitted across generations?
“Should we reconsider the decision taken with barely any Parliamentary debate in 2008 to abolish inheritance tax? Were the reasons given for the abolishment of inheritance tax at the time true? Even if we accept that wealth can accrue with minimal taxation, what sort of floor should the poorest in society be guaranteed?
“When will we stop being a society where it is newsworthy that a student from a disadvantaged background becomes a lawyer or a doctor because for a child who didn’t win the lottery of birth, this is almost a miracle?”

He asserted: “I may not have the answers to these questions. But I sure as hell am not going to “care less” – and neither should anyone who gives a damn about this country.”

Mr Tan’s post has garnered nearly 200 reactions so far. Read his post in full HERE.

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