Too simplistic to go by just the Gini coefficient, say two MPs

The Gini coefficient is too simplistic a measure of inequality, said two MPs yesterday as they lauded Education Minister Ong Ye Kung's efforts to paint a broader picture of the situation here.

Mr Cedric Foo (Pioneer), who rose to speak immediately after Mr Ong's speech, said the tendency by observers to use the Gini coefficient - which measures income inequality from zero to one, with zero being most equal - gives the wrong impression that "societal inequality can be reduced to just one number".

"It's heartening and enlightening to hear that (Mr Ong) sees it in different ways," said Mr Foo.

Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) also raised Harvard University professor Steven Pinker's argument that measures of income inequality are not a fundamental component of well-being. Professor Pinker had said a decrease in inequality is not always good, given that epidemics, massive wars and state collapse are the most effective levellers of income inequality.

What is objectionable is poverty and a lack of mobility as a result of low income, said Mr Murali.

He added that in tackling income inequality, the focus should be on addressing poverty and access to services like education and health.

He also spoke up for low-income families, which are disproportionately affected by rising costs of living, and said the Government should be mindful of such pressures, especially if these families' wages do not keep pace with inflation.

Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir) said the issue of inequality has resonated with Singaporeans.

However, he disagreed with detractors "who recklessly attribute the widening inequality as a consequence of our existing policies", pointing out these policies have served the country well. "There must be a careful calibration of what requires 'tweaks' and what should be 'boldly' changed," he said.

Nominated MP Mahdev Mohan also called for more people in society to look beyond grades and not be ashamed over failure.

In the coming months, he and his fellow NMPs plan to table a motion on the importance of lifelong education, and what different successes in life entail, he added.

Yuen Sin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2018, with the headline 'Too simplistic to go by just the Gini coefficient, say two MPs'. Print Edition | Subscribe