Healthy dose of realism

Ms Lorraine Boon Ling Li's assertions deserve a riposte ("Why cost-of-living survey matters"; last Saturday).

It is not true that prices of items such as "Burberry-type raincoats, four best seats in a theatre and three-course dinners in high-end restaurants" will be used as benchmarks for restaurateurs and retailers - not when the market caters to so many diverse segments, with each one subjected to its own unique competitive pricing pressures.

There is really no contradiction when Singaporeans are exhorted to run the best race they can and yet be prepared to face a future that is not a bed of roses. Not when reality surrounds us with so many competitors, each no less innately gifted or driven to succeed than us.

Also, even without the inordinately expensive and unnecessary luxuries of life that markedly increase the cost of living (for expatriates), the standard of living and quality of life for Singaporeans do not suffer much, if at all.

While greater equality makes societies stronger and we should be aiming for a lower Gini coefficient, it should be noted that communist and socialist countries, which once proudly proclaimed egalitarianism, have quietly dismantled their unworkable political systems.

In the meantime, capitalism, with all its egregious opportunism and social inequalities, reigns supreme.

It is natural to work hard and expect our just rewards, but it is presumptuous to think that the stars are ours to grab as a right just because we are encouraged to reach for the stars.

At a class reunion I just attended, some old schoolmates drove up in swanky Ferraris while others took the bus. Even as some of us were captains of industry, chief executives of listed companies or medical specialists earning millions of dollars, others were normal-level employees or middling general practitioners.

Like any cohort of bright-eyed students starting out by aiming for the stars, in the race of life we had all strung out in the normal distribution of a bell curve and landed where we deserved to be, getting no more and no less than what we had put in in sweat and tears.

Yet, unlike the social scientists Ms Boon quoted, none of us saw social position as more important than personal identity. We were oblivious to status and all were accepted and feted as equals, a minister in attendance being no exception.

Education and experience with the vicissitudes of life had disabused us of any preconceived prejudice.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

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