Any debate on inequality in Singapore must factor in this paradox: At the economic start-off inaugurated by Independence, large numbers of Singaporeans were equal in the sense that they shared poverty more or less equally. Obviously, that was not a welcome state of affairs, and it needed to be addressed by means of a slew of radical policies that combined economic growth, public housing, retirement savings, progressive taxation and the consequent redistribution of wealth. Absolute poverty fell rapidly, but relative deprivation reappeared in due course as some Singaporeans did much better than others in benefiting from the opportunities offered by a globalising economy.
Globalisation, which multiplies the possibilities of growth by bringing countries into a single economy, nevertheless creates different economies within nations, and thus exacerbates inequality internally. The issue of inequality was taken up in Parliament this week as MPs debated the President's Address.