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Don't forget social inclusivity as cities urbanise: Tharman

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AS cities urbanise, they cannot neglect social inclusivity.

AS cities urbanise, they cannot neglect social inclusivity. Urbanisation - and globalisation in the broader picture - have to benefit ordinary people across all age groups.

Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, said this at an hour-long "In Conversation" session at the World Cities Summit on Monday.

"I think if you were to poll people all over the world, I suspect most people are frightened by innovation and they don't particularly like globalisation, whether it's products that infringe on their own jobs, or people moving cross-borders.

"It could be just natural human instinct, and our challenge is to be able to keep borders open, make the most of globalisation, take advantage of technology in a way that benefits ordinary people of all ages."

The session was moderated by Tommy Koh, Ambassador-at-Large at Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Mr Koh said that he was worried that there seems to be a reversal from the post-war labour economic models, towards economic nationalism and protectionism today, especially in the US and in Europe. He asked Mr Tharman what could be done to reverse this flow.

Mr Koh said: "More citizens in both continents are opposed to globalisation and free trade and also the mobility of people. Even immigrant nations have become intolerant of new immigrants."

The "Brexit" outcome of the recent European Union (EU) referendum was good evidence of this, he added.

"One of the reasons why majority of the rural people in Britain, the older, less educated people voted to leave the European Union, is not because they don't like the EU, but because they have not benefited from globalisation, from economic integration."

In response, Mr Tharman said what is needed are social and economic models that are inclusive, strategies that give people a good chance of seeing their lives improved over time with globalisation.

Unlike many developed cities, there is still a lot of absolute mobility in Asia, and people's lives are improving, such that even if there is an inequality, everyone is moving up, he said.

He added: "We have to find ways in which taking advantage of an open world economy or technology doesn't mean that some people win, some people lose, and that that results in a zero sum game. That need not be the case.

"There will always be some people winning more than others, but everyone basically needs to see their lives improved. And it requires government intervention. It requires social compacts ... Government intervention working with communities and businesses can ensure that it is not a zero sum game."

He added that governments have to help people who are "losing out", eg, those retrenched and displaced by technologies. Governments have to provide them with training and resources to re-train them with the right and relevant skills - which Singapore is already doing.

"We now have to think of human capital as something to be developed throughout life, where you keep reinvesting in people at different stages of their career … We also need to ensure that everyone is able to take advantage of the opportunities of an open world economy and take advantage of technology as well."

He added: "It is not a contradiction to say we want a highly informative society and an open society as well as an inclusive society. It can be achieved... Innovation is going to be a source of inclusivity, but take a long-term attitude, invest in innovation that can be spread across society, in a way that helps every worker get a better job by working with technology, that helps every citizen enjoy cheaper products and services because we are part of an open world. Make sure that you don't just get winners and losers, but everyone is moving up."