Strike social balance by taxing the billionaires

Strike social balance by taxing the billionaires

Recent comments by the Prime Minister reignited a debate of some of the most divisive issues facing Singapore today - its growth strategy, openness towards foreigners, and the yawning income gap.

If he could persuade another 10 billionaires to move here, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told his well-heeled audience at a bank forum last week, he would, even if that led to higher income inequality.

His reasons: these billionaires would bring business and opportunities, open new doors and create new jobs. He also made the point that prosperity and economic gains, when broadly shared, can do much good for society.

In that vein, he pledged that the less successful will remain on the Government's radar and it will continue to give them a leg up through subsidies and other ways.

Singapore's openness towards foreigners has not wavered for decades, and PM Lee's comments are not a departure from the rational and pragmatic approach that has guided political leaders over the years.

But the strong reaction they have generated, both online and offline, show that with Singapore having reached a certain level of economic prosperity, there are sections of society who are increasingly uncomfortable with the welcome mat being laid out for rich foreigners.

Their ostentatious lifestyles - luxury cars, Dom Perignon champagne and the other trappings of high society - make the divide even harder to stomach.

Even Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, while driving in the evening recently, found himself cut off first by the driver of a Ferrari, and then a Porsche.

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