By Abhijit Nag
“What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty!” said Hamlet. He wouldn’t have been so sure about human rationality, though, had he gone around taking opinion polls.
Did you see the survey findings of Our Singapore Conversation? Forty-five per cent of the respondents agree, and another 33 per cent strongly agree, that the government is managing Singapore well. But only 42 per cent agree, and 22 per cent strongly agree, that the government is doing what’s right for Singaporeans. How can the number of people who think the government is doing a good job exceed those who think the government is doing what’s right for the people? Go figure.
That’s not the only puzzle posed by the report. It also makes you wonder how popular is the government’s new move for strengthening social safety nets. What’s crystal -clear is that Singaporeans want slower growth, fewer foreigners and tend to be conservative.
And you have to take your hat off to the old man for (a) knowing his people so well and (b) having such a big influence on them.
Guess what matters most to Singaporeans. “Across age groups, filial piety and safety and security for their families were regarded the most important,” says the report.
LKY would approve. Filial piety, self-reliance, family ties, Mr Lee Kuan Yew never tired of upholding these while propagating what he called “Asian values”.
And they still resonate with young Singaporeans.
Tellingly, it’s people over 50 and those earning less than $1,000 a month that want the government to take more responsibility for providing for the people, says the report. The majority of teenagers, on the other hand, feel the people, not the government, should be more responsible for themselves. And that view is shared by a sizable section of under-50-year-olds.
The influence of LKY shows in other ways, too.
Most Singaporeans would like to keep taxes low even if it means limiting support to the needy. More affluent Singaporeans, earning over $7,000 a month or living in private property, “seemed more willing to pay higher taxes to support the needy”, says the report. But that may be because they are in a better position to pay. Flat-rate indirect taxes such as the GST impose a heavier burden on lower-income groups.
“Bleeding heart liberals” most Singaporeans are not. Gay lifestyles are acceptable to only 34 per cent of teenagers and 35 per cent of 20- to 34-year-olds – and even fewer older Singaporeans. Same-sex marriage is unacceptable to most.
It’s Singapore, not Swingapore.
Bright young things and the hip and the cool may lament, “Say it ain’t so, Singapore.”
People may wonder whether all the fuss over social welfare, gay rights, freedom of expression (apparently not a big deal, curbs acceptable to the majority) is much ado about nothing.
Here’s what we do know.
“Sing” or “Swing”, if the people have their wish, this will still be a Garden City with green, open spaces for years to come. And who wanted Singapore to be a Garden City? Mr Lee Kuan Yew, of course.