Monday, June 27, 2016

Brexit Barfing: Both Taiwan and the UK need to stop fearing immigrants

Though I haven't read of anyone quite doing this yet, I imagine in the days to come someone will publish some thinkpiece drawing comparisons between Brexit and Taiwan's fight for de jure sovereignty. Certainly people commented that China watched the Scottish independence vote very closely, so I imagine they will also have watched the Brexit vote not only for economic reasons but political ones, too. Frankly, I'm surprised that China's state media wank-factory hasn't excreted some steaming turd of churlish nonsense that reads, in short, "see, Brits voted for Brexit and look at the turmoil that is causing! Imagine what would happen if we let Taiwan be recognized for what it already is! That can't happen! DOOM! GLOOM! ZOMBIES! Also you can never understand our 5,000,000,000,000,000 years of culture and that hurts the feelings of the Chinese people".

(I'd like to say my narrative above is outdated, but unfortunately, it's not. Or rather, fortunately it’s not - it's so simple to tear apart. China makes my hobby easy).

So, I just want to beat that hypothetical pundit to the punch and say that while there are philosophical relationships between Taiwan and Brexit, they actually have nothing to do with voting to break from a larger political bloc.

First, why they are different:

The people of Taiwan are currently fighting for international recognition of what almost every Taiwanese person already takes as fact: that Taiwan is inalienably sovereign and independent. This question has been so settled in Taiwanese society, to rip off Michael Turton, that the populace has already moved beyond existential questions of national identity and toward making the nation they have a better place. Nobody thinks that the UK isn't sovereign, nobody refuses to recognize it as the nation (or group of nations, whatever) that it is. The EU isn’t a big authoritarian regime across the English channel that openly strategizes how to force the UK to join its fold.

The UK agreed to enter the European Union. Taiwan never agreed to be ruled by China (or any other colonial power, including the ROC). When British people say they "took back Britain" I have to ask - from whom? Nobody invaded you, nobody claimed you as their territory. The EU didn't insist you must be annexed because you have been a part of their territory 'since antiquity' as China ridiculously does. You agreed to something and now you don't, so you voted on it. That's all. "We fought for our sovereignty" - no, you didn't, because you never lost it. In order to have the vote in the first place you had to have had sovereignty. They are simply not the same.

What Taiwan is fighting for is recognition of their entire nation from a horrid dictatorship that has clear, acknowledged designs on annexation. The UK seems to be pissed off about a few regulations, the downsides of which I have not heard articulated well, or at all, and an inchoate fear of “immigrants”.

Not the same. Do not compare them. Don't give in to the false narrative that Britain won back 'sovereignty' that it had never lost.

Instead, compare them in terms of how the people view their national identity, and the lessons that may be learned from putting too much stock in national identity along ethnic lines, and in terms of understanding how foreign workers impact a nation's economy.

All the talk about “we don’t want foreign bodies we didn’t elect setting laws and regulations in our country”...fine, sure. I may wonder what laws they have set or what regulations they have imposed that are so terrible that the UK no longer has faith in its own agreement to join the EU, but I can understand the sentiment at least.

But the talk about immigrants? That’s nonsense, and it has parallels in Taiwan. By the logic of Brexit voters, immigrants are a problem – they are taking away jobs and tanking the economy. They are a threat, somehow, to cohesive British culture.

Nevermind that there is little proof that immigrants – workers or students – hurt economies in deep, far-reaching or permanent ways (there is bound to be a little turmoil but nothing that outweighs the benefits of attracting diverse foreign talent), and plenty of proof that they do not have a net negative impact. All of the “Eastern Europeans” Brexiters are clamoring against are not the reason why their economy is in the tank, just as Latino immigrants are not the reason why the American economy hasn’t truly recovered from 2008.

Of course, the real problems are the wealthy business owners who continue to pay poverty wages and exploit workers, thinking of their own wealth only (which I can understand, but why are they given free reign when they don’t care about contributing to the economy and country that helped them get rich in the first place? What good are they doing that they should be allowed to continue?), and the relentless attacks on social assistance programs that could actually help the unemployed and poor get on their feet – and in Taiwan, a complete disregard for the idea of personal property by developers and politicians who are in their pocket.

As I’ve written before, it was never immigrants – we are fighting for the samecrumbs of one cookie with locals, while corporate interests have taken the restof the batch. Go after them, not us. We are not the problem.

You can see the same sort of anti-foreign-labor sentiment that drove much of the Brexit vote in Taiwan as well. It is apparent in mistreatment and prejudice against foreign workers – both domestic helpers and factory workers but also, at times, of professionals and English teachers.

By the logic of Brexiters who think, among other things, that “immigrants” are the problem, an immigrant like me in Taiwan could contribute nothing positive to this country. According to that train of thought, the best I could hope for would be to not leech too much off of another country, and I could never hope to be a part of it, do something good for it, be an overall advantage rather than disadvantage to have around, or even fully assimilate. Note that a lot of Brexiters say immigrants ‘don’t assimilate’ into British society, but when that is proven wrong with examples that they do in fact assimilate, those same immigrants are the target of harassment and insult. The same can be true in Taiwan – if foreigners don’t assimilate, they are held up as examples of why “IMMIGRANTS BAD, THIS IS OUR CULTURE”. When they do, they may be told they are not and can never be Taiwanese, or simply not treated as locals, ever, despite their best efforts.

It can be seen in the lack of enforcement of labor laws in the English teaching industry, fishing industry, many factories, many households that employ domestic laborers, and the brokers who bring all but the English teachers here.

And lest you retort with “but English teachers have it good here” – no, not really. Many don’t get enrolled in the labor insurance they are legally supposed to have. Most don’t get paid Chinese New Year even though it’s the law, even for hourly workers. Employer control of visas is a real problem, and plenty of complaints to the labor bureau go unresolved. 

It can be seen in the harassment faced by legislators who try to make things better for blue-collar workers, who receive actual death threats for their efforts because it would mean less money for shady labor exploiters brokers.

It can be seen in attempts to amend the law for professional workers (the class English teachers fall under), which would end the requirement that hires in fields other than teaching have 2 years’ experience or a Master’s degree (technically a relevant one but in practice this is often ignored), which then get resistance from groups I otherwise generally support, such as labor groups and the New Power Party with the excuse that it could “hurt local labor”.

Again, there is no evidence that this is, or would be, the case, and plenty of evidence that attracting foreign talent has more net advantages than disadvantages. Remember, most local companies prefer to hire locally because they feel more comfortable culturally and linguistically with other locals. If they want to hire a foreigner they probably have a specific reason for doing so, and should be allowed to.

By that logic, someone like R. (a person I know of tremendous intelligence and potential) who loves Taiwan and wants to stay, and has 1.5 (not 2) years’ media experience and no Master’s, can’t legally get a job outside of English teaching. R. doesn’t want to teach English, but her intelligence and interest in Taiwan could help her contribute a great deal both locally and internationally in the form of soft power. By the “immigrants hurt local workers” logic, someone like R. would be a hindrance, not a help, to Taiwan if she were allowed to do something other than teach – a job she doesn’t really want. If she can’t get something else, she will leave. Is that really good for Taiwan? How does it help in any way to ‘ghetto-ize’ R. and people like her in an industry they don’t want to be in?

If the problem is a fear that companies would hire foreigners at lower rates, rest assured that Taiwanese are among the worst-paid professionals in the developed world and most professionals, even from less-developed countries, want better salaries than are generally on offer here. If you are still worried about exploitation, then deal with salary stagnation and exploitation, don’t cut off foreign talent from potential jobs out of a misguided attempt to “protect” locals.

I know I’ve said it before, and repeated it, but I will keep repeating it until more people listen. For the same reasons Bernie Sanders’ outdated immigration policy is not right, this is not right either. I like the New Power Party, but they got this one way wrong.

Just as the UK seeks to cut itself off from open borders with 27 other countries, and thereby threatens depriving itself of foreign talent all out of fear of “immigrants” who “hurt local labor” (except they don’t) and “threaten our culture” (except they don’t), Taiwan has a real problem with its love-hate relationship with foreign talent. They say they want to attract more, then do everything possible to make it difficult to accomplish. Otherwise good parties like New Power take on straight-up terrible anti-foreigner policies despite calls for social modernization and progressivism.

In short, what we can learn from Brexit as it relates to Taiwan is not the oversimplified story of a country seeking ‘freedom’ or ‘sovereignty’ against a larger power, but that if you fear and push away your foreign talent, it will come back to bite you in the ass. In the UK and in Taiwan, we foreigners can and do contribute positively and we can and do assimilate. 


Mike Fagan said...

"The UK agreed to enter the European Union."

Wrong. The UK government joined the European Economic Community in 1973, and that was essentially a trading and customs union which, many years later, evolved into the regional superstate that came to be known as the European Union. The UK public were given a referendum on membership of the EEC in 1975, but they were never given any say over membership of the European Union until last week. A lot of people have been waiting more than three decades for this. So it's no good you berating Cole or anyone else for getting their facts wrong and then proceeding to make a basic and easily checked factual error of your own.

"..."We fought for our sovereignty" - no, you didn't, because you never lost it. In order to have the vote in the first place you had to have had sovereignty."

You are playing with semantics. This was the biggest issue for most of us because we had effectively no democratic control over EU legislation. This is for two reasons: firstly, Britain's MEPs could not check legislation because they would typically be outvoted by MEPs from other countries; second, the EU Commission members are appointed by national governments rather than elected by the people, so they cannot be voted out of office if they contrive unpopular legislation.

I was arguing with a fellow Brit down the pub last night and his counter to this was that we should expect to only have limited say in the EU Parliament because it is necessarily shared with other European countries, but that is to misunderstand our objection; we were not demanding that Britain have a veto over all proposed legislation, we were demanding to get the fuck out of it as we were never asked if we wanted to join the European Union in the first place.

"The UK seems to be pissed off about a few regulations, the downsides of which I have not heard articulated well, or at all, and an inchoate fear of “immigrants”."

Then you have not bothered to educate yourself about the topic you are holding forth on. We are not simply "pissed off about a few regulations", or an "inchoate fear of immigrants"; that is a slander. We are enraged about EU laws that, in addition to the stupid laws enacted by our own treacherous Parliament, violate our civil liberties and the basic tenets of a liberal society and do untold damage to individual lives. Take for example, the EU arrest warrant; it allows British citizens elsewhere in Europe to be arrested without a shred of evidence, jailed for weeks on end, saddled with tremendous legal fees and then eventually told that the cops had made a mistake and that they were free to go. But it's not just rubbish EU-born legislation which is the issue here; it's also the case that some EU laws and institutions allow the U.S. to fuck us over by granting U.S. entities various permissions irrespective of national borders, so for example under the E.U.'s new Unified Patent Court, U.S. patent trolls would be allowed to sue just about any web-based start up in the UK and whilst many if not most of these will be nuisance lawsuits, a lot of start-up people simply won't be able to afford the legal fees to challenge them in court. Look, I mean I could go on and on and on, but you should do your own research.

I may respond to the rest of your piece if I have time tomorrow, but you clearly have not done your homework.

Jenna Cody said...

You are from a democratic country. Your government decided to remain in the EU as it evolved, and you continued to elect leaders who did this. That is sovereignty. Just because you didn't vote directly on the EU doesn't mean that the British people, by dint of who they elected and what they did *not* insist on in their leaders (as well as what they did) doesn't mean you "didn't have a say". When you decided you didn't like it anymore, you elected a leader who promised a referendum, and you got that referendum. You decided you didn't want to be in the EU anymore, which, while I disagree with the outcome, is an exercise of sovereignty. You never lost your sovereignty and it is not playing with semantics to point out that you don't get votes like this if you don't have sovereignty. If you didn't, the EU would have just banned you from voting. They didn't.

No less than we as Americans have a say in who we elect, and therefore we bear some responsibility for what our government ultimately does. This is Civics 101, buddy.

As for the rest of it, none of that seems particularly unique to the EU. Do you honestly think the second you leave that unlawful/unjustified arrests will simply stop? Do you honestly think patent trolls will just disappear? And do you honestly believe, given all the **documented** racism that has been reported leading up to and after the vote, that plenty of leavers (not all, sure, but plenty) really didn't just think "leave means the immigrants have to go home"?

Cole didn't say anything about this, by the way. I have heard the comparison made on Facebook but not by him. He's not that stupid.

Mike Fagan said...

Jenna, I am not arsed about the definition of "sovereignty" here. I have already described for you the substance of the objection (i.e. the EU's democratic deficit) and I couldn't give a rusty bollock what you call it.

You are simply ignoring that substantial objection.

Jenna Cody said...

I am not ignoring it - I simply think you are wrong. The "substantial objection" is mostly fear-mongering, mangling of words that have meanings (like "sovereignty") and ignoring the bulk of what the leave campaign actually said in its drive to win voters to its cause (which was mostly claptrap about how much it costs to be in the EU and how getting that money back is worth more than the benefits you get from staying in, how much more money you'll have for the NHS, regulations that aren't actually that scary, this idea that you were forced somehow into being 'ruled' by an entity you have no say in - all either over-inflated fearmongering or outright lies - or outright anti-immigrant racism.)

Disagreeing with you - which I mostly do anyway, and I won't hesitate to delete your comments if you are much more of a condescending prick about it - does not mean "ignoring the objection". I do not think the objection is sufficiently substantive or based in, well, fact and reason. Therefore, I am not swayed by it.