Excessive inequality can erode trust

Office workers walking across Raffles Quay.
Office workers walking across Raffles Quay. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

It is true that no two individuals in a society are equal in talent, diligence, perspicacity or ability.

That each ends up getting what he deserves and somewhat unequally in a capitalistic society is logical and deducible, but also precisely why we should pay close attention to inequality (Why we should care less about inequality in S'pore, June 1).

It doesn't matter that, relatively, Singaporeans are wealthier strata for strata than most of the other citizens in the world, because while inequality is good up to a point, allowing entrepreneurship to flourish unrestricted and be rewarded, excessive inequality in any society produces diametrically opposite results.

It prevents the poorest from investing in education and health and keeps the squeezed middle class from purchasing goods and services, while encouraging the elite rich to lobby for policies that sustain their wealth.

That it is happening less conspicuously in Singapore than in the United States, for instance, should drive us to better policy institutions still and not imbue us with hubris.

It doesn't matter that, relatively, Singaporeans are wealthier strata for strata than most of the other citizens in the world, because while inequality is good up to a point, allowing entrepreneurship to flourish unrestricted and be rewarded, excessive inequality in any society produces diametrically opposite results.

Allowed to fester, fomenting inequality will result in the haves and have-nots constantly plotting against each other.

The resulting lessening of trust and decreasing social capital and mobility, where exclusive groups begin to impose barriers against entry, will give rise to a volatility where political consensus becomes impossible and paralysis pervades.

Contrary to what Mr Yaron Brook and Mr Don Watkins opine, income and wealth disparities matter greatly, and must be addressed constantly in vulnerable city states where national solidarity is paramount for survival.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2019, with the headline 'Excessive inequality can erode trust'. Print Edition | Subscribe