There is no poverty in Singapore because I’m not poor


Nas Daily’s recent video titled “Crazy, Poor Asians”, received plenty of support in its coverage of inequality and poverty in the country, and how unlike the super-rich portrayed in the film “Crazy Rich Asians”, most Singaporeans are simply “getting by”.

However, the video also attracted many negative responses. Based on these responses, one thing is clear: we will always find it difficult to deal with poverty because for many people, admitting its existence is too embarrassing and ignoring it is too convenient.

Many of the negative responses centred around the idea that Nas Daily has misrepresented Singapore, and that the video was fuelled by an agenda to undermine Singapore’s success as a nation. Some have even called the video “fake news”.

In fact, in a public post on Nas Daily’s page (see full post here), one netizen (who is a prominent commentator in certain circles) ridiculed Nas Daily’s observation that most Singaporeans are “just getting by” by saying that:

“my friends marvel at how I can afford my multiple cameras and have an expensive computer rig, together with a 42″ TV in my room which is connected via Google Home… and (I) still pretty much have enough in the bank to take a break for a year and still have more than them”

He goes on to further criticize Nas Daily’s coverage of elderly Singaporeans who cannot afford to retire by saying that

“my dad is a retiree. My mum has been a housewife for years. It’s proper financial planning that my family has one through to be able to afford all this”

In other words, this person believed that there is no poverty in Singapore because he is not poor.

What was also startling, however, was that many people commented on his post to support his views. The comments include the following:

While these comments (hopefully) do not represent the views of most middle-class Singaporeans, they nonetheless demonstrate why it is so difficult deal with poverty in Singapore.

First, when people have been conditioned to think that Singapore is an exceptional, flawless country, their continual belief in the existing system becomes tied to their self-esteem, and serves to justify their participation in a system from which they have greatly benefited from. They become unable to understand that we are not a utopia, and that our rapid economic growth, low taxes and free-market policies come at a cost. Admitting this undermines their self-worth, and forces them to accept that they have a part to play in the suffering of others. And so they take the easy way out by simply denying that that suffering even exists.

Curiously, I noticed that many of the people who criticized Nas Daily’s “Crazy Poor Asians” video and called it fake news also shared, and in fact praised, his first video, which showed Singapore in a completely positive light.

Second, plenty of Singapore’s poverty is invisible; it is therefore very easy to live one’s life without ever interacting with those living in poverty. This could partly be because of issues of “face” – any person who has volunteered with their local community will know how difficult it can be to reach out to those in need because they are often too embarrassed to seek help. Perhaps it is also partly because the government has introduced sufficient social welfare initiatives to ensure that Singapore’s poor need not sleep or beg in the streets, which is a good thing. However, this does not mean that Nas Daily is wrong in suggesting that these initiatives do not create lives of luxury, but merely help them “get by”.

Third, due to our pious commitment to the idea of meritocracy, we have created a system that distributes rewards based on fixed, controversial notions of success and we keep telling people that there exists an equality of opportunity; therefore, people are fully deserving of what they have. This plainly ignores the fact that there is fact an inequality of opportunity in society, and many people are “unsuccessful” not out of choice, but due to circumstances beyond their control.

As a result, we often hear comments like the one above that people are poor because they have bad financial planning. In the minds of some (perhaps many) Singaporeans there is no such thing as poor people, only lazy people, or people who choose to be poor. In other words, poverty is not a problem because the poor deserve to be poor.

All this needs to change. Dealing with poverty is difficult, and we need all the political will we can get to achieve this. This means changing people’s minds about poverty, and asking them to reconsider their notions of success and rewards. People need to stop worshipping the state and stop treating criticisms of Singapore as some sort of traitorous attempt to bring down the country. They need to start thinking clearly about the effects of policies, and accept that even policies that are generally good can have negative side effects. The government needs to reconsider its approach towards meritocracy, and alter its narrative to take into account the inequalities that continue to subsist in our society.

Nas Daily’s video did show a negative side of Singapore, but it was not malicious. Thinking that poverty does not exist simply because you are not poor, is.

By Rio Hoe


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