DBS chief raises alert on social inequality

Other global issues cited by DBS chief executive Piyush Gupta included the pressures of climate change, as well as the shift of economic power eastward and China's growing role on the world stage.
Other global issues cited by DBS chief executive Piyush Gupta included the pressures of climate change, as well as the shift of economic power eastward and China's growing role on the world stage.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Technology and evolving nature of work also among key trends flagged at conference

The evolving nature of work is among the major structural changes in the world today, said DBS chief executive Piyush Gupta yesterday.

With the so-called gig economy "going to be significant" in future, alongside trends such as ageing populations and growing automation, "you are going to have to think about welfare in a very different way", he noted.

Mr Gupta, who was delivering the opening remarks at the DBS Asian Insights Conference at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, added: "Allocation of resources, social goals and social platforms are going to change radically and we've got to prepare for that.

"We have to think about inequity. Over the last five to seven years, a lot of the biggest drivers of the sins of tribalism, nationalism, protectionism is indeed this whole question of the inequitable distribution of the outcomes of globalisation, the outcomes of technology."

Mr Gupta asked his audience when the phenomenon of inequality would "come to the tipping point" in areas such as mass migration and social strife.

"What will governments and even the private sector need to do to stay ahead of the game and make sure that the fruits of our labour and outcomes are better balanced and more evenly distributed?"

Singaporean social scientist Noeleen Heyzer, a former under-secretary-general of the United Nations, who was a panellist, said technology can actually exacerbate inequality "if we do not deal with the fact of the extreme concentration of wealth" in the hands of a few.

RADICAL CHANGES AHEAD

Allocation of resources, social goals and social platforms are going to change radically, and we've got to prepare for that. We have to think about inequity. Over the last five to seven years, a lot of the biggest drivers of the sins of tribalism, nationalism, protectionism is indeed this whole question of the inequitable distribution of the outcomes of globalisation, the outcomes of technology.

DBS CHIEF EXECUTIVE PIYUSH GUPTA

Replying to an audience question about what jobs could be left for "mass employment", panellist and former civil service chief Peter Ho said the question of job displacement was "a bit of a red herring".

He cited the proportion of young people in the gig economy as evidence of "a big change about how younger people see jobs and about what technology is enabling people to do".

With emerging technologies also adding new, digital-related roles in the workforce, Mr Ho said: "The question is whether we can retrain people fast enough for new jobs."

Mr Poon King Wang, director of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, said tools are needed to better track what jobs are being created and which are being made redundant.

"Jobs are not replaced job by job or even skill by skill," he said, adding that the change is happening "task by task".

Other global issues cited by Mr Gupta included the pressures of climate change, as well as the shift of economic power eastward and China's growing role on the world stage.

He noted at the end of his speech: "I have to confess, it is not always clear that you can call the future. But it is clear that you must have a point of view."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2018, with the headline 'DBS chief raises alert on social inequality'. Print Edition | Subscribe