TL;DR – Don’t demonise people for having a different opinions from us.
Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat announced the Budget for 2018 recently. Soon, Parliament will debate the budget. But even before that, there has already been a lot of discussion and debate. Obviously not everyone agrees with the measures that have been announced. Some have suggested alternatives.
There will always be some people who disagree with some things
One such person is Donald Low, Associate Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. He suggested that we can use a greater proportion of the Net Investment Returns (NIR). He agrees that we shouldn’t use 100% of our NIR. But he questioned why do we limit ourselves to only 50%. How do we justify that 50% is ok, but 60% is not?
As expected, not everyone agreed with Mr Low’s suggestion. But even those who didn’t really agree with Mr Low, agreed that his question is a reasonable one. One such person is ex-NMP, Mr Calvin Cheng.
Mr Cheng and Mr Low are known to disagree quite a lot with one another. So it’s quite surprising that Mr Cheng wrote a Facebook post publicly acknowledging that Mr Low’s question is reasonable.
Because we value different things
Mr Cheng made a few important points that we should bear in mind. He pointed out that most of the debate arise from “based on value judgements where there isn’t a clear right or wrong.”
Mr Cheng highlighted Mr Low’s question about the NIR as an example of where the debate on the budget is based on value judgements. Mr Cheng said:
“Take economist Donald Low’s opinion of perhaps using more of the NIR contributions instead. His argument is plain: If 50% is acceptable, and 100% is unacceptable, is there any reason why any number that falls in between isn’t also acceptable? The truth is that there isn’t – but the government has made the value judgement that using half and saving half is prudent. But it’s a rule-of-thumb not a divine law.”
Mr Cheng also pointed out another example of a decision that the government had taken which is based on a value judgement. He didn’t agree with the Government’s opinion that introducing a capital gains or wealth tax will jeopardise Singapore’s position as a wealth management hub. He thinks the government’s opinion is based on a value judgement, not “gospel truth”.
Mr Cheng thinks that Singaporeans are a reasonable lot. He said:
“If you ask us to pay more so Singapore can be a better place, we will. But we want to know what we are paying for. Why the 2% (GST) increase? What are we spending on? Why in the decade after 2020? Why not after?”
The government has to answer these questions and forge a new social compact. As they try to convince us, as they try to forge the new social compact, there will bound to be people who disagree with the value judgements of the government.
And there will some people amongst us who may hold fierce partisan loyalty. As a result of that, we might end up demonising those who disagree with us, even if they are perfectly reasonable in their disagreement with us.
Avoid demonising those who have different opinions
And that’s something we should try to avoid. Mr Cheng reminded us that even as we disagree with one another on issues of value judgement, we should not get overly divisive. He emphasized:
“… most of the matters involved are issues where reasonable people can disagree. We don’t have to demonise people for having a different opinion from us.”
That’s something we should certainly bear in mind as we debate this Budget, as well as other important national issues.
(Featured image via)