|See entire cartoon here: http://thewireless.co.nz/articles/the-pencilsword-on-a-plate|
Lamenting the lack of concentration of brilliance in Singapore, PM Lee Hsien Loong in a IPS dialogue held recently said that he believed in having a certain natural aristocracy in the system (a form of elitism where people are respected because they have earned that) for without that society will lose out. (Transcript of Speech here: http://bit.ly/1JOtiYP)
His views are of course not new and he had articulated them in another Speech in the year 2007, expressing why he believed that Singapore does not have enough talent for two A-Teams (link: http://bit.ly/1NFyA9s).
I am not sure if this view is healthy for Singapore. Why I say that? Let me quote a few persons and articles before I make my point.
An academic speaking at a forum focused on Singapore's middle-class in November last year said, "when we think about the middle class, we think of security, comfort and social mobility. But all these are sort of in decline".
2 years ago, a secondary school's Vice-Principal had this to say:
"How many of our leaders and top officers who say that every school is a good school put their children in ordinary schools near their home? (Only) until they actually do so are parents going to buy (it)." (http://bit.ly/1TdM3Jq)An Economist article discussing America's New Aristocracy has this to say about the culture of tolerance for dynasties in the USA:
"today’s rich increasingly pass on to their children an asset that cannot be frittered away in a few nights at a casino. It is far more useful than wealth, and invulnerable to inheritance tax. It is brains."DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam replying to a question if 'Lee Kuan Yew's family will always be in-charge' while acknowledging that it would be the most unusual if it were so and that most Singaporeans would not expect it, also said:
"I mean to be frank, if you look at parliamentarians below the age of 30 in India, every single one of them is a member of a political dynasty. Every single one of them. So, we believe in meritocracy, it’s hard work, sometimes it’s imperfect. There’s always advantage in family connections and wealth but we got to keep working against that.” (http://bit.ly/1G1eSiI)Every parent would want to ensure that his or her child has a good shot at life, a better one than he or she has had. And in trying to ensure that they have the best of opportunities in life, they will not hesitate to use their wealth and connections to give them a leg-up in education and career.
In the case of natural aristocrats, it is in their interest to ensure that the talent pool remains small so that their own children will have the best opportunity in taking a bite of the cherry.
In that sense the view that Singapore needs natural aristocrats and that our country does not have enough talent for 2 or more A-Teams is unhealthy because it is circular reasoning.
It is extremely hard to work against wealth and connections. Even if we keep working against it, after the passage of a generation or two, natural aristocracy may become the basis for a prescriptive one - much to the detriment of our society, where ordinary citizens may have to scrape and bow.