Social Inequality

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The ST Interview of Associate Professor Aneel Karnani of the University of Michigan in The Straits Times (14 Sep 2011) offers additional thoughts on what’s happening with regards to social inequality in Singapore. Social mobility and social inequality are interlinked. High social mobility is a tool to lower social inequality. According to Professor Aneel, income inequality is an inevitable by-product of free market economics. Technology and globalisation are two major factors why there is increasing social inequality in affluent countries, including Singapore.

Professor Aneel argued why despite being a firm supporter of free economics, he believes some degree of wealth distribution is necessary. A high degree of social inequality would lead to exploitation of the most vulnerable. I would add that having a large number of the underclass desperate for their livelihoods may lead to widespread social unrest and even to the overthrowing of regimes, as seen from the Arab Spring uprisings. Several Arab governments were forced down because of public anger. It was sparked off by a poor and desperate street vendor in Tunisa who burnt himself to death to protest against harassment and humiliation by the authorities. There is high social inequality in the Arab world.

The ST article reported some interesting statistics. 4.2% or 83,400 of employed Singaporeans and residents still earned less than $500 a month, the same way as they did back in 1999. 45,000 households are renting subsidised one- and two-room flats now, an increase from 40,500 in 2008.

Some of the top issues raised by residents at Meet-the-People sessions are rental flats and inability to deal with medical costs and living costs. Recently, an acquaintance told me her father draws $600 a month as a security guard. He works around 8 hours a day. He had previously worked as a food hawker in a market but could not earn much despite working long hours at his stall. Lacking other skills, he switched from being...
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