Trade and Industry Minister Mr. Chan Chun Sing has an interesting dialogue at a public policy conference on Friday.
The Today newspaper posted some parts of what he raised during the dialogue. Mr. Chan raises some of the people that looked to him for help to make their lives better in his ward:
Providing examples from his personal experience, Mr. Chan said he met a single mother of six children who came to his Meet-the-People session to seek help for employment, and financial assistance of S$300 through the Community Care Endowment Fund (ComCare) for lower-income households.
In contrast, there was a young couple in their 20s — who earned a combined five-figure monthly income — who expressed frustration that they had received only half of an S$20,000 grant from the Housing and Development Board.
The difference in their needs, and the way they had asked for help was a “surreal experience” for him, said Mr. Chan.– There is a difference between elites and those with elitist attitudes: Chan Chun Sing
This might sound very WTF to some people at first glance. The mother with six children clearly needed financial help.
If you put that things this way, the young couple in the 20s don’t need so much help.
Everyone is Trying to Give Themselves a Fighting Chance
This might befuddle the Minister because for someone growing up struggling and having “made it”, he can see along the spectrum of Singaporeans ranked by wealth, which set of Singaporeans needed help the most.
The problem is… the people don’t see it that way.
The mother of six is struggling, and to be fair the young couple is also “struggling”.
Living in today’s society is not easy.
If a couple earns a five-figure salary in their 20s, it gives them a leg up (going by my wealthy formula, they have a massive advantage here).
However, a $6,000 a month income would most likely put you with colleagues that spend like they more than $6,000 a month. The peer pressure is going to be massive.
And judging by this meet the people’s session, they lived in a ward where the flat or home is not so cheap.
The most challenging part? Not everyone has a good grasp of this wealth formula of success.
If you try to line everyone up based on certain metric so that you can rank how rich and poor each household are, you could probably do a reasonable job.
The 5-year household expenditure survey is one way.
However, we got to know that the mother of six and the young couple do not know each other. Both might have a faulty operating system when it comes to money.
If you are confident, you would think that you are in the top 2 deciles in the wealth spectrum. If you are less confident you would think that you are at the 3rd decile from the bottom.
It befuddles the minister because he has that meter to judge people but the people don’t have. He has this idea that those who are in a good position do not know that they are in a good position.
But I don’t care really because all I care about is that I am struggling and I am trying to get better for myself.
To put it in a very harsh way, those who are really poor need help. Those who are pretty OK, think they are not in a good situation, and sought to try and squeeze every drop out of the system.
You cannot fault them, because you created that system.
No Different from the HDB System
In recent months, the government has made it even easier for those who have not graduated to obtain their BTO flat.
This has always been the most befuddling thing for me. I guess it is befuddling to me because I look upon it as a subsidized way so that those that needed it the most can have a home.
Perhaps the way I look at it is wrong.
They wanted it to be a way where ALL can have a home at an affordable price, regardless of your income level. If we think like this, it may be what they are looking for.
It makes BTO sometimes of a lottery because those nearer to the central part of Singapore is more expensive. To comfortably afford them, your income must be high enough. Closer to central is desirable. They appreciate faster.
So this system widens the rich and poor divide in a way. It does not serve to help social mobility for the not so well off.
The well off ones are also the smart ones that can game the system.
The system allows this to be gamed.
So the minister should not be surprised by this because it is human instinct to game the system as much as they can.
So is Elitism a Big Problem?
If I were to comment on the main topic of discussion, I really have no idea.
It sort of makes it seem like being an elite is a vulgar thing.
My problem is… I dunno whether if someone is elite it is actually a compliment or we are pigeoning them into a rich and poor class.
If you treat being an elite as someone really good at what they do and therefore are acknowledged to be “sibeh strong” then it is a good thing.
However, I feel it is the latter we are talking about.
And even as the latter, I wonder how much wealth, status, and power you need to be an elite.
Anyway, if you are not there, you don’t like the elites.
If you are there, those truly elite probably don’t think they are one. Those that are not so elite, would think they are elite.
That is my take.
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