PM Lee: Level up everyone. Share risks. Keep system open.

In this excerpt, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about globalisation and the income gap, and pledged to Singaporeans: You are not left alone to fend for yourselves when the going gets tough. 

TECHNOLOGY is transforming our lives.

Even tonight as I'm talking to you, more than a few of you are taking pictures, tweeting, Facebooking, Instagraming, real time.

But it's not just social media, we have 3-D printing, a machine which can print spare parts, models, toys, pistols; print body parts, organs; print things which can make a difference to our lives, medical devices. And we have been doing this research.

Less spectacular but equally far-reaching are robots, artificial intelligence, programs which can do smart things which previously only human beings could do, not just placing chips on a production line but skilled professional jobs: accounting, legal advice, radiology, reading X-rays.

In the old days, each one was a professional job, you needed a lawyer, highly paid, or a doctor or an accountant. Now the basic work can be delegated to a computer programme. Liberating for us, a bit scary if you were doing that job before. But that is competition.

Competition from technology, competition also from new emerging economies: China, India, Vietnam. China and India alone: one billion workers altogether; every year, millions of new graduates entering the workforce.

In the Mandarin speech earlier, I said there are seven million graduates from China; if you add in those from India, it's 10 million a year, all hungry, looking for work. Quite formidable.

One of our young professionals who took part in an Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) dialogue in Shanghai said: "I thought I could survive in China quite easily, but I was wrong." He has to scramble.

But fortunately, other OSC participants said that learning Mandarin in Singapore helped them in China. They may not have enjoyed it in school or PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination), but now that they're working, they appreciate its value and they are grateful we forced them to do it.

We are seeing competition and we are seeing income inequality rising, the top zooming away, middle class stagnating. People with exceptional skills, globally in demand, doing very well, not just IT or financial services but even culture or sports.

Take Cristiano Ronaldo, the footballer. He visited Crest Secondary School in Singapore last month; he got mobbed.

He has many fans in Singapore. He has 60 million Facebook fans; 20 million Twitter followers. Spectacularly successful, but not everybody can be as talented or as lucky as Ronaldo.

People will have to work a lot harder, may not be earning a lot more but enjoying less job security than before. Singaporeans are affected by these global trends and feeling uncertain and anxious because in Singapore, too, technology and globalisation are widening our income gaps.

And in addition, we have domestic social stresses building up, population ageing, society becoming more stratified, less mobile, children of successful Singaporeans more likely to do well, children of lower-income families, fewer of them rising than in previous generations.

It's a reality. We acknowledge it, we have to do something about it. These trends are compounded by day-to-day problems: cost of living, public transport, you know them as well as I do.

Singaporeans sense correctly that the country is at a turning point. I understand your concerns. I promise you, you will not be facing these challenges alone because we are all in this together. We'll find a new way to thrive in this new environment.

My colleagues and I have been pondering these problems over the past year, thinking hard about them; what principles have worked for Singapore, what changes do we have to make, how can we continue to thrive and prosper?

And the OSC process and reflections have given us valuable inputs into this. They've expressed Singaporeans' views and feelings on where we stand and what we want Singapore to be, and given us confidence to set out a new way forward.

We must make now a strategic shift in our approach to nation-building. Singapore has been built on three pillars: the individual, the community and the state.

Each has played a role complementing each other. The individual working hard, saving for himself and his family, the community getting together to help different groups of people whether it's the unions, whether it's voluntary welfare organisations, whether it's business federations, their clans, each group coming together, strengthening one another.

And overall, the Government creating the conditions for a vibrant economy and for good jobs, investing heavily in our people through education, housing, health care. But keeping state welfare low and targeted, stringent. Some people call this tough love, but it's tough love which has worked well.

Today the situation has changed. If we rely too heavily on the individual, their efforts alone will not be enough, especially among the vulnerable, like the lower-income families, like the elderly. There are some things which individuals cannot do on their own, and there are other things which we can do much better together.

So we must shift the balance, the community and the Government will have to do more to support individuals.

The community can and must take more initiative, organising and mobilising ourselves, solving problems, getting things done. We have to be a "democracy of deeds and not a democracy of words", as Mr S. Rajaratnam, who was one of our founding fathers, said many years ago.

The Government will also do more to support individuals and the community. What we used to do, we will continue to do; to provide core public services: housing, education, health care.

But at the same time, we will make three important shifts in our approach:

First, we will do more to give every citizen a fair share in the nation's success, raise the incomes and the wealth of the low-income Singaporeans.

For example, through our housing programme - home ownership.

Secondly, strengthen social safety nets, assure people that whatever happens to you, you can get the essential social services that you need, especially health care.

Thirdly, do more to keep paths open upwards for all, to keep our society mobile, to bring every child to a good starting point and make sure that however, whichever family you are born to, whether you are privileged or not privileged, you are never shut out from the system, from opportunities and especially through education.

These are three strategic shifts.

One, to level up people; two to share the risks, to make sure that whatever happens in life, you will not be alone. And three, to keep our system open, mobile so that if you have talent, you can rise. If you work hard, you can get ahead.

We will apply these shifts progressively to all our social policies....

We may have made major shifts in our policies but our core purpose has not changed - to create opportunities for Singaporeans to fulfil their potential, do their best, to invest in every Singaporean and develop their innate talent, to keep Singapore a place where the human spirit thrives.

We are not done building Singapore, we never will.

Work with each other, work with us. Together let us forge our new way forward, together let us build a better Singapore for all of us.


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