Balance expectations, avoid populism

A two-party democracy does not necessarily provide the check and balance one would expect it to provide.

The reason is simple. To survive, political parties and their policies will evolve in response to people's expectations over time.

Thus, even if Singapore becomes a two-party democracy one day, we, as citizens, must check and balance our own expectations.

For example, in a developed and low-growth economy, we cannot expect sustained and expanded welfare without eventually paying higher taxes.

Sure, we can tap our reserves. But what happens when our reserves are depleted?

Political competition can be a race to the bottom, with parties competing to provide more and more welfare to citizens, to the point where the state can no longer afford it. Collective will can become collective doom.

The situation in Greece has been attributed to populism becoming hegemonic in Greek society. We must avoid such a situation at all costs.

Jonathan Toh Joo Khai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2015, with the headline 'Balance expectations, avoid populism'. Print Edition | Subscribe