Free money for all not the way to go

The concept of a universal basic income is deeply intriguing.

Seemingly, the notion of giving free money to all exists only in idyllic reveries, even as there are cogent reasons why it is socially responsible to continually fine-tune measures to improve the lot of the whole needy spectrum.

It is true that technology and science have made manpower less and less essential, so that there is a dissociation between a nation's wealth and its citizens' wealth.

It is also patently obvious that where the Gini coefficient - a measure of income inequality - is high, the affluent who have benefited at the expense of the working class should share their wealth through contributed taxes, which can then be disbursed to the deserving.

But to give a universal handout to everyone - unconditionally and without the recipients lifting a finger to get it, just so nobody is inconvenienced by the process and is left out, as suggested by Ms Maria Loh Mun Foong ("Universal basic income ensures no one falls through the cracks"; Wednesday)?

By analogy, will we be proposing free and undeserved marks for students during exams just so nobody fails? Or adding free sit-ups and push-ups to soldiers' fitness scores so they will not feel embarrassed by their physical deficiencies?

I do not believe that man, continually freed from honest labour, will channel his energies constructively. The Chinese adage, "Freed from cold and hunger, a man's thoughts turn to dissolution and philandering" applies, as does the English saying, "The devil finds work for idle hands".

The socially charitable system in Singapore works, even if not perfectly. We have graduated levels of assistance for those in need, from those who are destitute, to others who just need some help with utility and healthcare bills. It is equitable, effective enough to provide essential basics and is not conspicuously profligate.

Unlike some countries which have implemented some form of universal basic income for the populace because there is simply no work to be found, we have very low unemployment rates and those who choose to work can find jobs. If pay is low, Workfare presents itself.

We want young Singaporeans to procreate more and raise the birth rate because we are in the envious position of confidently having worthy work for the next generation to perform.

If it were the case that future Singaporeans must be paid for doing nothing because meaningful work is not forthcoming, I would prefer that we trim the future population of Singapore.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2016, with the headline 'Free money for all not the way to go'. Print Edition | Subscribe