Income inequality has become a subject of heated debate in many developed as well as developing countries. In this roundtable, Professor Paul Cheung will discuss employment and education as they relate to the problem of income inequality; and the necessity for a new social compact.

It is generally accepted that Singapore has to import skilled foreigners to supplement our own workforce so as to sustain Singapore’s economic growth. But foreigners also compete with locals for jobs. Some may occupy high-paying jobs that might otherwise have gone to locals; while others may settle for wages lower than Singaporeans would have accepted, thus suppressing income at the low end. In education, there are significant differences in educational attainment among the local population.

The workshop will explore the following questions:

  • What is the economic impact on locals of the influx of foreign worker and how can this impact be mitigated?
  • What are the possible policy measures to accommodate both economic growth as well as provide locals with adequate job prospects and reasonable wages?
  • Is there an underclass emerging in Singapore? How do we define and monitor an underclass?
  • Is the prevailing educational system compatible with the needs of Singapore’s economic model?
A new social compact is called for. The current compact, premised on the ‘many helping hands’ approach, seems insufficient. Despite strong economic growth, income inequality has grown, especially since 2001. Various economic indicators show that the middle and working class populations have a declining share of total income. Income growth for the working class has been particularly slow. Over time, the economically vulnerable group may increase in size.
  • What are the future trends in inequality? Countries with strong economic growth tend to face widening inequality between the rich and the poor. Can inequality be avoided while pursuing economic growth?
  • How should policymakers constrain rising inequality as they pursue economic growth? What is the Singapore approach?
  • To what extent should the ‘many helping hands’ approach be modified so the government can assume a more proactive role in safeguarding the well-being of citizens?
  • What is the long-term impact of rising inequality? What might be the mitigating factors?


Paul Cheung_80x100Professor Paul Cheung, Director, United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations Professor Paul Cheung, a Singaporean, is the Director of the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations. In this role, he facilitates the development of the global statistical system and coordinates the work of the United Nations Statistical Commission. He oversees a programme of work that includes the development of international statistical standards, the dissemination of global statistical data, and the provision of technical advice to member states in the development of national statistical systems, the coordination of international statistical activities, and the delivery of programme support to the United Nations System on all statistical matters. Professor Cheung also has the responsibility of implementing the United Nations (UN) mandates on geospatial information, cartography, and geographic names. In 2011, his initiative of establishing an inter-governmental platform to address issues on Global Geospatial Information Management (GGIM) was warmly endorsed by the member states and the first global forum was held in Seoul. Prior to joining the UN, he served as the Chief Statistician of Singapore from 1991 to 2004, and was awarded the Public Administration Gold Medal in 2002.  
Thursday, 19 January 2012