Policy shifts in response to societal change

I disagree with Mr Devadas Krishnadas that recent "policy shifts to the left" are political in nature, or that the need to placate the electorate has led to the People's Action Party (PAP) pursuing a "paradoxical path" in governance ("Political change at the ballot box"; Thursday).

The PAP has always been, in principle, a democratic socialist (left-leaning) party. Mr Krishnadas has misread the current greater extent of social welfarism as the PAP's shift in principle.

While past PAP policies might seem conservative because of the smaller extent of social welfarist coverage, we must not forget that it is unmistakably "left" in terms of its other redistributive initiatives like public housing and taxation.

The greater extent of social welfarist coverage now reflects a changing society with different needs.

A younger, healthier and relatively more equal population in the past did not warrant today's amount of social spending.

It is merely coincidental that society's new needs have arisen alongside the PAP's loss of electoral votes.

Second, generalising the policy shifts as predominantly political is simplistic. If we were to consider the cited policies in a disaggregated approach, we would realise that they are necessary in our current conjuncture.

Housing and transport issues are pertinent in our aims of both having families as building blocks of society, and having resilient infrastructure for a larger population, respectively.

Education spending is warranted because of the changing political-economic landscape. Spending on healthcare and on the elderly is necessary to protect the weaker members of our society.

Lastly, "shifting to the left" does not necessarily result in winning more electoral votes.

The consequence of a highly educated society is a politically conscious citizenry. These citizens are unlikely to be swayed by mere "policy shifts to the left".

I do agree with Mr Krishnadas that increased social spending must be fiscally responsible and sustainable.

In conclusion, responsible politicians have to undertake what is necessary for society, even if some measures might prove unpopular to some segments of society.

Aaron Lee Zhou Rui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2015, with the headline 'Policy shifts in response to societal change'. Print Edition | Subscribe