Singapore has much to look forward to in spite of global fragility and pessimism: Tharman Shanmugaratnam

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In a time of profound global fragility and contestation, there are still reasons for Singapore to be optimistic, to collaborate with others, and to emerge as an even more valued partner, said Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said on Thursday (Oct22).

In a speech spanning global and domestic affairs at the Ho Rih Hwa Leadership Lecture Series held at the Singapore Management University, Mr Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, said the world is entering an era where different insecurities are coming together - geopolitics, energy and food, and existential insecurities such as climate change and pandemics. Social polarisation, too, is leading to insecurities within societies.

This combination of complex and unprecedented events has led to a loss of optimism globally. In the advanced world, Pew Research survey results show that barely 27 per cent of parents expect their children to have a better future than them financially - a dramatic change from the advanced world of the 1960s and even the 1990s.

"These are not due to temporary shocks or events. They are not just due to bad events and bad actors," he said.

"These are structural insecurities that are going to be with us for many years to come. This is not just a perfect storm...it is a perfect long storm."

In Singapore, the only country among those surveyed where more than half of parents expected their children to do better than them, there are bases for optimism - by not only refreshing and strengthening the social compact, but also by developing deeper intrinsic capabilities for the future.

The country is starting from a position of some advantage. This is because the bottom 20 per cent of the population by income is catching up, Singapore has a higher degree of social mobility than most countries, and it has avoided the stark polarisation seen elsewhere.

"We still have the concept of 'we' in Singapore, not us versus them. We need to keep it that way," said Mr Tharman.

"But we have to invest more and work harder at social mobility, and what will be critical...will be the earliest years of life, because that's where so much of life opportunities are shaped."

He added that while this means stepping up the scale and intensity of programmes such as KidStart, which provides support to lower-income families with young children, developing a strong social compact is not only about uplifting ...

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