In a letter published in The Straits Times’ Forum, one man put forth the premise that income inequality matters little, if at all, to the poor; and that it may simply be a “red herring.”
Kelvin Hong wrote to the newspaper in response to an article written by Professor Linda Lim on November 6, entitled “Psychological factors may explain resistance to more redistribution,” wherein she showed how recent studies in social science has found the reasons why wealthy countries hesitate to redistribute wealth in order to decrease inequality, and how these same reasons may be applied to Singapore as well.
Hong questioned Lim’s focus on the Gini coefficient, which measures inequality, since, as he believes, “The poor do not care about income inequality. They care about affording basic necessities and having a chance to provide a better life for themselves and their families.”
For the letter-writer, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister, gets it right. Tharman said last month that what is important is to keep the “escalator” of social mobility moving so that everybody has an opportunity to have a better life.
Hong cites the DPM, and goes on to say, “So long as lives are substantially improving, no one really cares about inequality.”
Rather controversially, Hong also gets to the main point of his letter,
“In fact, inequality is beneficial in that it motivates one to work harder to achieve higher incomes.
It is all right if someone else can skip a step up the escalator as that also creates more room for others to ascend.”
The real concern, according to the Hong, is when some fall off the ‘escalator’ or stay too long on one step.
The writer also says that it is important to help people who are “losers” due to globalization and to prevent anyone from losing out, and then proceeds to give suggestions as to how to get this done, including reviewing and adjusting policies on immigration and foreign workers every so often. “While they have helped to speed up the escalator, they have also resulted in a far more crowded escalator.”
Hong also advocates for providing assistance for education and training for low-income families. As his final suggestion, Hong wrote, “The Government should pledge that no Singaporean who is willing and able to improve his skills will be denied the opportunity to do so as a result of socio-economic circumstances. Community development councils should also play a role to ensure this.”
While some netizens agree with Hong’s point, a greater number of commenters voiced their disagreement quite vociferously
Some netizens called Hong out on the privileged position from which he spoke