The Straits Times says

Keeping the social compact intact

Singapore is confronted by global imperatives that have been made more challenging by at least three disruptions: income inequality, a growing inter-generational divide, and deepening political polarisation. These issues and Singapore's approach to dealing with them were highlighted at the recently held Singapore Summit. In a pre-globalised era, the chief international divide was between rich and poor nations, the former lying largely in the industrialised North and the latter inhabiting the primarily agricultural South. The latter were producers of the raw materials that the former turned into products to sell.

Globalisation replaced that divide with one running through all nations: a new North that could plug into the opportunities of the global marketplace, and a new South that remained dependent inherently on the domestic economy. Exacerbated income inequality within nations is a product of the pernicious new divide. Greying societies actually pay tribute to the capacity of economic advancement and improving healthcare to enable people to stay alive and healthy, longer. But problems occur when there is an insufficient number of working young people to care for or support the elderly, either directly at home, or indirectly through taxes which governments need to fund eldercare programmes. Inter-generational divides also occur when young and old compete for the economic part of a shrinking demographic pie. Political polarisation, based on the politicisation of ethnic differences and identity politics, combines the pernicious effects of the first two disruptions and leads to divisive efforts to secure what is in the best self-interest for different groups. Even societies in Europe and North America are not immune to the plague of populism masquerading as democracy. The entry of the far right into mainstream Western electoral politics is a sign of worse times to come.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2019, with the headline 'Keeping the social compact intact'. Print Edition | Subscribe