Losers in Singapore by mattsteinglass
May 17, 2007, 8:03 am
Filed under: Asia, Development, Economics, Trade

On Serangoon Road in Singapore yesterday, near the northern edge of Little India, I watched an elderly Chinese man, his right hand wrapped in a clear plastic bag, fishing through public garbage receptacles for aluminum cans, which he deposited in a larger yellowish plastic bag held in his left. He had a rather philosophical and unsurprised expression on his face, as though he found it less incongruous than an observer might have that the life of an unexceptional gentleman, to all appearances no less intelligent than any of the blue-suited magnates who rule his island, should have come to this – that he should be ending his life in the same desperate poverty with which it began, even as the city around him, sprouting skyscrapers and shopping malls, had risen to become the 22nd-richest country on earth.

We are told by defenders of global free trade, and to some extent by Rawlsian political philosophers, that to focus on inequality is to be taken in by a mirage, that any change which benefits the poorest as well as the rich is not to be criticized merely because it exacerbates the gap between the two. And, indeed, that elderly Singaporean might in absolute material terms be better off today than he was in 1960. Then, he might have lived in a bamboo shack and occasionally gone hungry, where today he enjoys, at a minimum, a government-subsidized apartment and a monthly stipend of 290 Singapore dollars (about $220 US).

Would you rather lose 2 to 1, or 15 to 3?

$10 Store, Serangoon Road, Singapore


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You have the best job in the world!

Comment by Thông

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