Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Occupy Taipei!

Occupy Taipei is coming on Saturday!

I won't be there - I'll be somewhere in Massachussetts between my parents' house and my in-laws', but I wish I could be there.

On the bright side, I'll be in New York twice next week and hope to get the chance to stop by Wall Street, stand around and shout socialist slogans, because I really do believe in what Occupy Wall Street is trying to do - even if the media doesn't seem to understand it.

It's no secret that I teach in a lot of financial institutions - the whole gamut of that industry, not just banks. A lot of my students and some of my friends work in Xinyi near where Occupy Taipei will take place, and work for the institutions that the protesters are decrying as aiding the "1%" and taking money from us 99%. I justify this by reminding myself that the economic structure of Taiwan is not the same as that of the USA. Pay disparities between the normal and the very rich aren't as pronounced. It's not as wealthy a country in absolute terms (even if it has a PPP higher than that of Japan, meaning that the average Taiwanese enjoys a higher standard of living than a similarly positioned Japanese person). Americans are being crushed by student debt - an issue most Taiwanese don't face: rare is the Taiwanese student who pays his or her own way at a private institution, and the public universities, widely acknowledged to provide a better education, are affordable. Americans are being crushed by housing debt: while the real estate market in Taipei City is facing some major problems and massive price inflation, the issue is more that new buyers and families needing to expand can't afford to live in Taipei City - it's not people who bought McMansions and can't meet their mortgages (or regular folks who bought modest houses and still can't afford them due to layoffs or structural problems in the economy). I don't see Taiwanese crushed by medical debt or health care they can't afford: the excellent NHI system takes care of that for the most part.

The issues I see in Taiwan are different: new graduates and entry-level workers are ridiculously underpaid. I'm sorry, but in Taipei especially, for the hours they put in, $25,000-$30,000 NT a month is simply not acceptable. I wouldn't work so hard for such little pay, and I wish there would be a grassroots change, spearheaded by the young, who refuse to work so much for so little. I see new graduates who can't get a job (which, come to think of it, is just like the USA) because their qualifications are nothing special. I see management that honestly and truly does not care about employee well-being and work-life balance, no matter the age, seniority or level of the employee. I see them willing to let valuable employees go rather than pay them fairly or ask them to work reasonable hours (the worst of this is in the accounting industry - don't even ask the hours that an auditor, especially one in their first two years of work, has to put in. It's criminal.)

I see a country where people use tradition as a reason why young people live with parents well into their twenties or even thirties, while everyone ignores the truth: this generation doesn't live at home entirely because they want to (although some surely want to), or because their parents won't hear of them living on their own if they're unmarried (although some parents surely do insist on this, and some children do capitulate). They live with their parents because they have to: they don't get paid enough to get their own accommodation.

I see a country where there is still workplace gender discrimination - although it's much better than the rest of Asia and continuing to improve - and couples are choosing not to have children because a.) they can't afford it or b.) the wife doesn't want to be the one pressured to give up her career or take on more than she can handle. I see a system where childcare, if you don't have parents close by who can watch your child, is just as unaffordable as in the USA.

That is why I'd have liked to join Occupy Taipei (with apologies, but also no shame, to my friends in finance). That's why I regret that I won't be in Taipei for it. That's why I hope it takes hold and is still going on when I come back. I may work with many businesses, but that doesn't mean I don't see the problems therein.


Brendan said...

I've taught a lot of finance people in Taipei.

These are very well-paid individuals who work for UBS, Prudential, and the Taiwan Stock Exchange, and have no trouble paying for expensive property in Taipei City.

And yet I've heard them express views that are very sympathetic to those of the Occupy Wall Street folks. They probably wouldn't go out and protest on the streets, but they'd understand and appreciate the protestors' sentiments.

JDeasy said...

Pass through Sanchong, Luzhou and Xinjuang: this is where the movement must start, where the real poverty and huge population of Greater Taipei is.