Thursday, November 29, 2012

Let's Burn Some Stuff

Here is just a brief thought on the rising utility and health insurance premiums in Taiwan (I believe the premium rate hike has not taken effect yet, no? If so, I haven't noticed it in my paycheck).

You know, I do think this stuff was necessary. Costs go up - at some point the cost of electricity probably did have to be raised. Gas went up, if I am remembering correctly - well, gas is going to do that if we keep relying on it as supplies dwindle (whether due to natural means or market manipulation), and we as a global society are better off pouring money into renewable energy research rather than pretending that continuing to rely on fossil fuels is in any way a viable long-term strategy.

Health insurance premiums have to go up, too. While I do feel the government needs to look at National Health Insurance as a social welfare issue, and not an institution that needs to break even - which means that yes, the government should be willing to pour money into it if there's a gap, and absolutely not let it or labor insurance/pensions go bankrupt - there's a point at which more money is needed, and we've reached that point. If I felt we'd get better coverage out of our National Health Insurance plans, I'd be happy to pay higher rates. We probably won't, but coverage is good enough now (with room to improve, though) that I still feel that paying a higher rate is acceptable.

I am absolutely in favor of a higher capital gains tax - and not the joke of a tax that they want to push through. A real capital gains tax. I know, I know, rich people get all skittish when others suggest that maybe society and taxpayer-funded infrastructure (not to mention cronyism and predatory market practices) helped them amass the fortunes they have, that they did not in fact Build That (or more accurately build those) all by themselves, and that they should be required to give back to the society that helped them get ahead. They get all huffy and sell off stocks and make a big stink. I say too fucking bad, boo hoo, let me call the waaaahhhmbulance on ya, and play a tune on this tiny violin while you are taken away. I feel this way about Taiwan and the USA both.

But...see...here's the problem. That's me. I count as middle class if not upper middle class in Taiwan (although I certainly don't own any luxury apartments or anything like that - I consider such things to be the provenance of the wealthy, not the upper middle class). I can afford these price hikes. I can just about keep ahead of inflation and, unlike most of the country, I have seen my real wages increase over the past 6 years, from crummy cram school ghetto (thanks Kojen, for paying me crap, that's why I quit after a year - that and the Saturday hours and not really liking my coworkers - but mostly the pay and the hours) to "doing pretty damn well". I can say I am willing to pay higher health insurance premiums and not get too het up about my own electricity bill, because I can afford to absorb the costs.

So, is it any wonder that people are upset that they're being told to pay more for necessities, and yet aren't earning any more money to cover the costs, while still being among the most overworked and underpaid people not only in Taiwan, but in the world? I'd be upset too! I'm upset just thinking about it!

Which - I'm at least happy that in the US that didn't quite happen. Despite Obama being arguably better for business, big business's Guy was Romney, and that loser, well, lost. So there's hope.

What's wrong with all this - and wrong with the poor administration of Ma Ying-jiu and the ruling KMT - is that all these costs are going up, as they arguably need to, but nothing substantial is being done to address wage stagnation and inequality. New graduates are being offered wages as unacceptably, absurdly low as NT$18,000/month. Who in their right mind thinks that anyone can live on this? I realize many bosses expect their underpaid new hires to live with Mom&Dad, but that's not always an option. It's dangerously close to Wal-Mart paying employees such low wages that they hover at the federal poverty line (fuck Wal-Mart, by the way), and by "dangerously close" I mean "actually worse, but you don't see it because these kids have parents who help out".

I mean, it's absolutely clear that neither Ma nor anyone else in the KMT gives a damn about people whose real wages have not increased in about a decade, who will have trouble absorbing these higher costs. While Ma didn't come from great riches, it's clear he's never experienced poverty, and doesn't understand it. He's Taiwan's Mitt Romney (except people actually elected him - why, oh why did they do that? But they did...so oh well). I am not sure anyone in the government who has any power to do something has even the faintest idea of what it's like to be lower middle or working class and struggling, worried in very real terms about how they're going to pay their higher bills and afford food, housing and school fees.

So - why are the costs going up, while nothing is being done to help those who can't keep up afford them better? Who thought it would be a good idea to tell the most struggling segments of the population, in no uncertain terms, that you couldn't give a crap about their overwork, lack of employment opportunities (underemployment and overwork being two other huge problems), and certainly not about their stagnant wages, but oh, they're going to have to pay more for these things, 'cause we all gotta chip in? But oh, no, we wouldn't think of inflicting an actual higher tax on the wealthy people who support our party. Then they might be angry at us. OH NOES!

Honestly, if I were a middle class, mid-level Taiwanese office worker, I'd be furious. Like 我歸懶趴火 furious. Like let's burn some shit DOWN! furious. Like, "you want me to work 12 hours a day, never give me a real raise, pay me at well below international rates so YOU can remain competitive while *I* struggle, and then raise my utility and health care premium fees? Well you can just suck it! BURN!"

But, of course, that's not what's happening. What's happening are those resigned sighs, those "what can we do?" faces, those "this is life, we can't change it" eyes, those "I could change jobs but the new boss wouldn't pay me any better or work me any less hard" undereye circles, and nothing changes. Even if the KMT were voted out, would anything really change?

No. That's why I say let's BURN THINGS!

Or not, because that wouldn't fix anything either.

It's enough to drive you mad.

Don't worry, middle class people of Taiwan - the KMT'll help you out by putting a little more into your red envelope to buy your vote again in a few years.

3 comments:

Blythe said...

I just came across your blog from your comment on offbeatfamilies, and I'm so excited! I lived in Taipei for four years as a teenager and just. loved. it. I'm looking forward to living there again... vicariously, through your blog!

Anonymous said...

WOW "歸懶趴火", where did you learn that phrase? I thought that only men would or could use that phrase. Nonethless, enjoy your blog.

Jenna Cody said...

A friend taught me. Yes, it's sth generally men say, but rather like in the West, if a woman uses it, it's stronger because it is unexpected. It's like, I'm SO angry that I grew a 藍趴 AND it's full of fire!