Where is the magic moving escalator in Singapore?

by Khush Chopra

“Society needs a moving escalator where everyone is moving up, and policymakers must bear this in mind in the basic design of economic and social policies, said Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in London yesterday.

Speaking at British think-tank Institute for Government’s 10th anniversary conference, he stressed the need to be concerned about inequality and social mobility, with the best ways to tackle these issues being “absolute growth of incomes and absolute mobility that takes all people up towards something that they want to achieve better in life”.

Addressing a room of about 100 people, Mr Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, said: “It is much harder to address the inequality or to spur social mobility if the escalator is stationary… We need a moving escalator where everyone is moving up because that is the best way you can get the fluidity in society as well.”13 June, Straits Times

So the question is, based on Tharman’s magic moving escalator theory of economics, who is moving where? Certainly, most ordinary citizens are not moving up anywhere anytime soon as far as I know.

The PAP Government’s most important strategy to address social and income inequality is to “ keep the escalator going”……This is their magic escalator of economic growth that will make inequality history.

Well, if this were true, then why do we have the chronic social and income inequality we have in Singapore despite the Singapore miracle of economic growth and the People’s Action Party (PAP) Government being in power for 60 years since 1959?

Where is the land of milk and honey your theory promises? You have had 60 years of a magic moving escalator and the exact opposite of what you promised has happened. Please explain.

In Singapore, stagnation in the middle of society has most unfortunately already taken place over a long period of time. In fact where is the middles class in Singapore? Where is the “fresh and bold ambition” in Singapore after 60 years of PAP rule? Where is the growth, opportunities and economic prosperity in Singapore that makes the least well off better off? Where is everyone’s “fair chance of taking these opportunities and achieving a decent and dignified life”?

I always talk about social and income inequality and the PAP’s self-serving class-based interests using two aphorisms: “Two Singapore’s” and “Rich country. Poor people” to hammer home the call for a total systemic overhaul in setting new priorities to achieve a better quality of life for the many and not just the few here in Singapore.

The point I am always keen to make is that while Singapore is supposed to be a competitive market driven economy, it’s the unbridled state-sponsored excesses of capitalism that I am against. Capitalism is justified to the extent that it makes the least well off better off. I call this ”socially responsible capitalism”. I am against putting profits ahead of people. Greed is morally unjustifiable. In Singapore, the system is broken and needs an urgent overhaul.

I say to the PAP Government that talk is cheap but look at the realities. Where is that Swiss standard of living the PAP Government promised us?

Tharman and his PAP Government are selling pipe dreams. The “moving escalator” is a red herring. It moves only for the rich who benefit from the PAP’s brand of financial capitalism that is simply not socially responsible. The rich get richer speculating on the stock and property markets and otherwise from realising gains in the narrow banking sector.

Economic growth for whom? Success for whom? The many ordinary citizens or the few elite who benefit from the Government’s patronage?

The PAP Government want to sell you the “moving escalator” “Singapore Dream” when in fact for most it is a “Singapore Nightmare” with ordinary citizens suffering to make ends meet; with escalating cost of living, depreciating HDB leases and bleak job prospects due to ever increasing competition for fewer and fewer jobs against more and more people.

This post was first published on Mr Chopra’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission