Hard to discuss inequality rationally, but let's try

Do Singaporeans believe that inequality, as distinct from the worthy issues often raised when discussing it, is bad in itself?
Do Singaporeans believe that inequality, as distinct from the worthy issues often raised when discussing it, is bad in itself?PHOTO: ST FILE

If after taxing rich Singaporeans a lot more to transfer payment to their poorer compatriots, enacting and enforcing stringent rules to make it very hard for the rich to entrench themselves, making all-out efforts to enhance opportunities for the disadvantaged, and creating a system that nips cronyism and corruption in the bud and enforces zero tolerance against money politics, rich Singaporeans still earn vastly more than poorer ones, what do we do (Why inequality, and not just poverty, matters to Singapore, The Straits Times Online, June 19)?

This question must be answered in order to crystallise what anti-inequality Singaporeans want. Are they concerned with the alleged consequences of inequality, or inequality itself? Is their objection to inequality practical or ideological? Are they prepared to accept inequality, in the event that it persists even after most of the undesirable consequences said to have emanated from it have been tackled as successfully as they can be?

Some of these consequences do not in fact emanate from inequality, pronouncements of Nobel Prize-winning economists notwithstanding. But they all deserve to be tackled as important social and political issues in themselves, regardless of whether inequality is to be blamed.

But do Singaporeans believe that inequality, as distinct from the worthy issues often raised when discussing it, is bad in itself?

Do Singaporeans want to live in a society in which fast cars are not allowed to be ahead of slower ones by a certain distance, regardless of how fast the slower ones are travelling in absolute terms?

Cheng Shoong Tat

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2019, with the headline 'Hard to discuss inequality rationally, but let's try'. Print Edition | Subscribe