The Singaporean discourse on poverty and inequality is advancing, and while he argues that Singapore has done better than most under meritocratic systems, PhD candidate Nathan Peng Li also details both causes for hope and worry. He first explains that macro-level trends of inequality and mobility have been stable in Singapore. Next, we discuss concepts of “pragmatic meritocracy” and “time two meritocracy” and how they relate to “felt inequality”.
Finally, he makes the case for “a healthy degree of equality of outcomes”. That is achieved, in his telling, when “children of lower-income families can reasonably compete against their better-off peers without the same level of private resources at their disposal”. He adds: “Outcomes must be at least equal enough that children from different backgrounds can identify with each other as members of the same society”.
Nathan is a recipient of Singapore Management University’s overseas PhD scholarship and is currently a fourth-year graduate candidate at the University of British Columbia, in the political science department.
Resources referenced in the episode:
- Nathan’s paper, “Inequality and the social compact in Singapore: Macro trends versus lived realities”
- The Ministry of Finance occasional paper
- socialservice.sg’s January 2021 book club on Michael J. Sandel’s “The Tyranny of Merit”
- My review of the paper on how debt reduction improves psychological functioning and changes decision making in Singapore