Showing posts with label asian_tigers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label asian_tigers. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Neither and Both: proposing an end to the "Taiwan: liberal or conservative?" debates

IMG_7576


Piggybacking on my last post about abortion, I began to think about the old dichotomy that seems to keep popping up. Given Taiwan’s democratic success and free press, recent legalization of same-sex marriage (note: not marriage equality), the more-or-less progressive-ish track record of the Tsai administration can we call this country a “liberal” one? 

Or is the ongoing human rights crisis regarding foreign blue-collar labor, often conservative attitudes of the general public, the ridiculous treatment of female public figures, the continued existence of the death penalty and the criminalization of adultery (now decriminalized!) and the continued lack of options for unilateral no-fault divorce enough to swing it the other way — is Taiwan still a “conservative” country?


Of course, as with most of these “is it A or B?” debates, it mostly seems to be people looking for something to debate. In the end, Taiwan is neither liberal nor conservative, or both liberal and conservative. Honestly, it depends on how you define it. 


I do take the liberal viewpoint as the sometimes imperfect but overall superior one; a core tenet of liberalism is to let other people live their lives non-judgmentally and not discriminate against them in any sort of transactional or legal sense. 


Early on, I realized the different ways of looking at this needed to be investigated separately.  So let's investigate! Why is it reductive to declare Taiwan "liberal" or "conservative" like it's a true-or-false question with one clear answer?



It depends on what you’re comparing it to


If your frame of reference is, say, Europe, it’s fairly easy to proclaim Taiwan “still very conservative”, dust off your hands and be done with it. In Europe, adultery isn’t criminalized, marriage equality is broadly (though not universally) recognized, there is no death penalty, in most places abortion can be obtained on request or very easily, gender equality is generally quite good, and —speaking anecdotally — I often find that moderate to center-liberal Europeans tend to equate to so-called “left-wing” Americans (who are not actually left-wing at all: most are pretty moderate.) Most of Europe also allows unilateral no-fault divorce, although the UK and a few Catholic-majority countries don’t.

I don't know as much about the internal social workings of various European nations, so I'll leave it at that.


If, however, you compare Taiwan to its neighbor states in Asia, you will likely come to a very different conclusion. 


In most of Asia, divorce is similarly restricted. No-fault mutual divorce is generally obtainable in other industrialized Asian nations, but mostly banned in the Philippines and very difficult to obtain in some other developing parts of Asia. However, rather like Taiwan, unilateral divorce generally requires proving some sort of fault. Most Asian nations retain the death penalty, even if they don’t exercise it. I can’t find information on some countries, but in Japan and South Korea, spousal consent is still required to obtain an abortion. Along with this, gender equality metrics in most other Asian countries show Taiwan in a favorable light, comparable to Hong Kong and Singapore and ahead of just about everywhere else in Asia


With changes to adultery laws, the legalization of same-sex marriage and hoped-for changes to abortion access, who can reasonably look at Taiwan compared to the rest of Asia and say it’s “not that liberal”? 


Why, if one is inclined to insist that Taiwan remains a conservative nation, does one have to look to the West to validate that view? 



But - does it even depend on what you compare it to? 


Hold up, though. Let’s look at a few examples from the West. Is it really that much more liberal? 


Divorce laws in the UK are broadly similar to Taiwan’s. They don’t have unilateral no-fault divorce either. Spousal consent for abortion is not required, but giving a ‘reason’ is — acceptable reasons are very broadly defined, as in Taiwan. Ending the criminalization of adultery and (probably) making abortion more accessible to married women will still render Taiwanese laws a bit more conservative than their British counterparts, but not by much. The UK will still be ahead due to abolishing the death penalty, which remains popular for some reason in Taiwan. But in what other ways can the UK be said to be “more liberal”? 


In some ways, one could say the tie-breaker here are social mores. Public opinion, you might say, is more liberal in the UK. Certainly you would not find a public opinion poll that showed popular support for the criminalization of adultery, legalizing capital punishment and disallowing same-sex marriage. You might point to British society and say that it’s so much more diverse, and that diversity begets a sort of liberal strength. 


Sure. I’ll buy that. (Taiwan is also multicultural and multilingual but that diversity is less immediately apparent.) 


But I’ll also point out that while it’s nearly impossible to get dual nationality in Taiwan if you don't have the right ancestry, it’s fairly easy to immigrate here, at least for foreign professionals. Even the salary and qualification requirements to do something other than teach English (2 years’ relevant experience or a Master’s degree in anything) are fairly permissive. If you come to Taiwan to study and can get a job offer upon graduation, it’s fairly easy to stay. 


Once in the UK, there is a path for most to citizenship. However, it’s extremely hard to actually immigrate to the UK to get that process started. Once there, you might still be kicked out, possibly for deeply unfair reasons. For all that diversity, it seems as though the United Kingdom doesn’t actually want non-British people to settle there. 


I would call that a distinctly illiberal view. (In fact, in general, I find my fellow liberals tend to have oddly regressive, even reactionary views on immigration. In non-pandemic times, I consider being pro-immigration to be a fundamentally liberal value.)


Of course, it’s not fair as an American to sit here wagging my finger at the UK. 


The US seems to be unable to reconcile the fact that most Americans support abortion rights with the legions of conservative clownwaffles who keep trying to take those rights away. Abolishing the death penalty in the US feels like a faraway dream. Supposedly one of those “more liberal” countries, we (sort of) elected Donald Trump in the same year that Taiwan chose the comparatively liberal and pragmatic Tsai Ing-wen. We only legalized marriage equality a few years ago — look how fast Taiwan moved in comparison. As with the UK, it’s very hard to immigrate to the US. In fact, it’s difficult to immigrate to most Western countries.


You might look at the US and again point to the nation’s visible diversity. Well, I grew up in the US and in most of the country, diversity doesn’t mean mixing. I don’t want to speak for people of color when I haven’t experienced the same things, so all I can say is that many White people I know in the US live in almost exclusively White areas, and for many, there doesn’t appear to be a single non-White person in their circles. I have heard the same sort of conservative or right-wing rhetoric — the same old racist, sexist, anti-LGBT rhetorical trash — in the US as I have in Taiwan. In fact, as I’ve noted before, it seems to be one of the US’s major cultural exports here


So although adultery is not an offense and unilateral no-fault divorce is possible. But in what other ways can I say the country of my citizenship is more liberal than Taiwan? It’s hard to think of much. 


Placing a high importance on making sure all of its citizens have what they need is a core tenet of liberalism for me. In that way the US again fails, with not just high rates of inequality but a total breakdown in the accessibility of quality health care to all but the upper classes. Few in Taiwan would disagree that everyone deserves access to affordable basic health care. In wealth equality generally, Taiwan is comparable to many Western nations. 



And of course, the people


Now that I’ve made the country of my birth sound like a terrifying hellscape — which these days, from a distance, it seems to be — remember that there are plenty of liberals, lefties, progressives, radicals, socialists, whatever you want to call them and all of them are slightly different. On both sides, I've met people who challenge assumptions. They could be anyone, from carceral feminists to liberal/leftist activists with misogynist views to people who are pro-healthcare but anti-immigration, to conservatives in every other sense who are finally embracing marriage equality or no longer trying to dictate whether mothers should stay home or return to paid work.

The youth tend liberal, but Young Republicans are a thing. For every BLM activist, there’s surely a Brocktaniel Craigstopher Broseph Dorpington III who is certain he’ll be a senator someday and can't wait to turn his opinions on women's bodies into legislation. My grandparents, when they were alive, always seemed surprised to hear that liberals were a real thing and it wasn’t just me.


My liberal friends always knew that the other side existed — they didn’t live in quite as much of a bubble — but often underestimated exactly how many people really felt that way. That is, after all, part of how we got Trump.


Taiwan is similar. How can you say a whole country is conservative when the youth tend to overwhelmingly support liberal causes (except, for some reason the death penalty, which seems odd...though perhaps not that odd) and then are surprised when those causes meet strong resistance. But how can you say it is liberal when their aunties and grandpas are more likely to vote, though perhaps less overwhelmingly than in the past?


Of course, the aunties and grandpas assume the youth to be a minority of loud kids, perhaps not even realizing that their younger relatives agree with those “other kids”, but have decided it’s easier not to bring it up. Many are traditionally conservative, but some of their views -- such as understanding the fundamental need for universal health care -- would look liberal to your average American. 


In other words, for every young urbanite who was shocked to see marriage equality referenda slapped down in 2018, there is someone like the Bread of Life lady in my building who keeps putting up anti-gay brochures and seems surprised when they are taken down. 


Both groups are loud, and both can mobilize. One is older and on their way out, but will be engaged voters for several years more. The other has shown they can defeat an attempted pro-China “populist” wave. 


It’s very hard for me to say the US is ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ when different Americans are, well, so different


So it is with Taiwan. 



What does it mean to be ‘liberal’? 


The notion that Western-style liberal/conservative dichotomies have dominated these conversations is not new. When looking at non-Western societies, it’s quite common for someone to point out that notions of ‘freedom’, ‘choice’ and ‘equality’ can look very different through different cultural lenses. 


I don’t mean this in the old ‘individualist vs. collectivist’ debate, another binary that I find a bit overstated. People who proclaim some societies ‘individualist’ and others ‘collectivist’ forget that nothing is that polar, gloss over the interplay of personal and collective choices at the individual, small-group and larger social levels. They further tend to blur the very different definitions of ‘individualism’ with ‘individuality’. Just as an ‘individualistic’ European or Brit (sorry, Brits, you’re separate now) can insist that national health care and affordable education are common goods, so can a ‘collectivist’ Taiwanese find their own path and express their individual spirit while caring about society and family.


Instead, let me illustrate this through a series of anecdotes. Although this is now considered a somewhat traditional or even out-dated practice, some men still hand their salary over to their wives, who run the entire household budget and give their husbands ‘allowances’. (This also happens in Japan and the practice might originate there; I’m not sure.) This has led to society as a whole believing that women are good with money. As a result, accounting tends to be a more female-dominated profession, and ask any family business who keeps the books. I bet you a beer it’s likely a woman. 


And to think, I grew up in the “more liberal” United States hearing dumb jokes about how women just spend money shopping and a husband might have to cut up his wife’s credit cards because she bought too many purses! 


And yet, a 老闆 (laoban) is assumed to be a man, whereas 老闆娘 (laobanniang) can be translated as "female boss" (as though it needs to be a gendered term) or...the boss's wife, even if she's really the boss.


Here’s another one: the Taiwanese government, despite all of its recent progressive leaps, still seems to think that more babies and bigger families are always a good thing, despite the country being already fairly densely populated. And yet, they now seem willing to look at the country’s current abortion laws and realize that they need to be liberalized, without compromising their view that families should have more babies. 


I believe (and hope) they see that abortion isn’t what’s stopping people from procreating; that a person who wants to have a child will try to have one, and abortion being more accessible won’t make them change their mind. That encouraging people to have more kids means ensuring a better standard of living, that families have enough time, money and housing to raise children. Do that, and most people will choose to have children. Abortion is a separate issue entirely. 


Oh, how I wish I could get anti-abortion politicians and reactionary voters in the US to realize the same thing! 


In fact, here's a quick aside: let's jump back to my assertion in the last post that making abortion accessible to unmarried women had nothing to do with giving women choice while valuing the partnership of marriage. We know it's more about which babies are "desirable" to society than about rights, because single people and same-sex married couples who do want children aren't allowed to access fertility treatments

The government is finally starting to act on improving abortion access, but nobody seems interested in fixing this problem despite it being a protested issue since at least 2016, and probably earlier. So is it acting in a liberal manner, or not? It's hard to say.


I could add more cultural anecdotes from other parts of the world — for example, the fairly liberal stance of Islam on family planning compared to much of the West through history — but they would be cultures I haven’t spent as much time with, and thus would be less informed. However, such examples exist. 


The short of it? I don’t think it’s fair to measure Taiwan by a liberal/conservative spectrum informed by Western assumptions, when the way people make sense of the world through a Taiwanese cultural lens is just...different. Sometimes, I think better. In some ways, perhaps not. 

This was apparent watching so many otherwise liberal Taiwanese go pro-Trump, who is about as right-wing as it gets (though it's hard to tell how much of this was straight-up malicious trolling, as people seemed more reasonable in real life). I don't agree at all with their reasons -- nobody who thinks Trump's pandemic response is an acceptable price to pay for anything is welcome in my life -- but the reasons did exist. They mostly don't care about our political binaries, so it's not fair to measure Taiwan based on those same binaries.

I’m also not a total cultural relativist; I too have my lines and I too make personal and individual judgement calls. But I am open to conceiving of liberalism in different lights and will criticize or praise individual ideas, not entire belief systems, including my own.


There are people who insist that any and all conservative ideas they don’t like which exist in non-Western societies were put there by colonialism, and decolonization will therefore liberate those societies from such beliefs. I don’t fully believe that; although I occasionally come across examples of this (say, certain aspects of Taiwanese society that seem to have been shaped more by the outside influence of Christianity on ROC politics than on any local cultural norm), it’s far too ‘noble savage’ or Orientalist. In other words, I’m not impressed by ‘every Western idea is bad, every non-Western one is good’. The West has had some pretty good ideas and some atrocious ones. Every society is capable of both, and a whole lot in between. Every society is going to have some ideas we might see as ‘conservative’, and others that could be called ‘liberal’. Taiwan is no different.


What matters is that we recognize that there is no objective yardstick by which to measure any of this, and perhaps it’s wise not to make any sort of proclamations about it. 


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Some of my latest work for Ketagalan Media

As y'all know, I like to update here on what I'm writing elsewhere. Well - I have two pieces out - now a few weeks old - in Ketagalan Media and one in the latest issue of Taipei Magazine. I especially enjoyed writing the Taipei Magazine one, an interview with Taipei-based illustrator and activist Ai ee mi, the sort of work I enjoy but don't get to do very often.  

I was going to wait until the Taipei Magazine one was available online through Taiwan Scene, but that seems to be taking awhile, so I'll just put this out there now.

First, I expanded on my earlier post about Taiwan being the most successful Asian Tiger, adding a few new sections, updating a little data, and streamlining the whole thing. You can read it here. It's chock full of numbers that I think make a convincing case.

Then, I took a look at the proposed abortion ban referendum by a Christian group, and pointed out that our strategies in dealing with the ant-equality referendums were not successful, so we need to counter this new proposal with new tactics updated now that we know how the conservatives operate, and we need to do it soon.

Enjoy! 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The case for why Taiwan is the best of the 'Asian Tigers'

I needed a cover photo that screamed 'Taiwan' so...here you go. 


As we enter the 2020 election season in Taiwan, I've been hearing a common sentiment from people I've talked to  - not just friends but students and random people I chat with in my daily life. Anecdotally, support for Tsai's re-election is strong, but there's a general sense that the economy is 'bad', and Tsai hasn't done that much about it. I've also picked up on a sentiment that Taiwan continues to lag behind the other 'Asian Tigers' - while nobody is jealous of Hong Kong these days, there is some envy of its status as an 'international city', and I hear jealous yearnings to be as well-off and nice as South Korea and Singapore.

It's easy to see why, on the surface. Let's be honest - South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong all look so much...shinier. The public spaces and roads look better-maintained. It just feels like there's more money floating around. 


This is reflective of two pieces from 2018 and one from 2016). So while I can't measure the strength of this sentiment, I can say with confidence that it's a thing. 

But you know what? I just don't think it's true.


It's not that the data are wrong. Salaries are in fact low. Business do take conservative investment approaches (and I personally feel that they do not invest nearly enough in talent, nor do business owners trust the talent they hire to innovate.) I'm not sure that Taiwan's GDP per capita is lower than the other Asian Tigers as CommonWealth claims - at least in this data, it beats South Korea. And none of this from the Today link above is wrong, per se:


But Taiwan did not woo multinational companies to set up facilities, as Singapore did. It did not develop a financial centre like Hong Kong’s; or establish large conglomerates or Chaebols, the way South Korea did. 
Instead, Taiwan is home to many small and medium enterprises, known as original equipment manufacturers (OEM), making devices at low cost for brand-name companies. The island became a high-tech powerhouse in the 1980s on the backs of these OEM manufacturers.... 
Today, young Taiwanese face dim job prospects. They have been dubbed the “22k” generation — a reference to their minimum monthly salary of NT$22,000, which works out to just over S$1,000. Youth unemployment is more than 12 per cent [I checked that number, and this website confirms it as does Taiwan Today and the government], and many young Taiwanese are disillusioned.

But I'm just not buying that this makes Taiwan 'the worst' of the Asian Tigers or somehow 'left behind'. Here's why.

First, the same things have been said about Hong Konger, South Korean and Singaporean youth - 'bleak prospects', 'disillusioned', 'low salaries', 'can't afford to buy a home', 'no future'. Salaries for young workers are low around the world - Millenials everywhere can't afford to buy property at the rate their parents and grandparents did, and Taiwan (and Hong Kong, and Singapore) is no exception. Taiwan's economy is slower than it once was, but that's true everywhere

Yes, a crude comparison of salaries shows higher pay in the other Asian Tiger countries, but Hong Kong and Singapore suffer from such high living costs that I doubt youth - or people of any age - who get jobs there actually enjoy a higher living standard.


Poverty and Inequality

In some metrics, Taiwan actually wins out over every other Asian Tiger. Looking at wealth inequality, Taiwan's GINI coefficient is 33.6 (the lower the number, the better). South Korea's is 35.7, Singapore's is 45.9, and Hong Kong's is a whopping 53.9. Although the numbers are getting a bit dated, Taiwan's poverty rate is stunningly low, at 1.5% (though I wonder how much of that is massaged by people of meager means living with family). In contrast, South Korea's is 14.4% and Hong Kong's is 19.9%.

Singapore doesn't provide data (seriously, check that link above). Thanks to journalist and Twitter buddy Roy Ngerng, however, I was able to find a few reliable sources that estimate poverty rates in Singapore to be a whopping 20-35%. 



Yup. 

So hands down, Taiwan wins on equality - despite lower salaries, you've got a much lower chance of ending up indigent. Given the lower cost of rent in Taiwan than Hong Kong and Singapore, even if you do end up struggling financially in Taiwan, you can live a little better. There is no way, as a teacher, that I could afford the three-bedroom downtown flat I have in Taipei if I lived in any other Asian Tiger nation.

Although there's some contradictory info on purchasing power coming up, I'd also argue that the overall lifestyle in Taiwan is simply better. Coffin homes are not a thing, nor are cage homes. All of these countries have inexpensive food if you eat like a local,  but I've found that you can get more value for money in Taiwan (with South Korea as a close second). Overall, those little things that make life easier when you're broke are just a bit easier to come by here.

Is that not worth the trade-off of a few unsightly buildings? Would you not give up your glass skyscraper dreams to have more flexibility in your lifestyle? Just because a city looks a little ganky around the edges doesn't mean it's not wealthy.



Healthcare

I also want to take a look at healthcare - a lot of my data comes from here. Hong Kong's public hospitals have preposterously long wait times for procedures you can get done quickly and cheaply in Taiwan. The only way around them is expensive private hospitals, which not everyone can afford. South Korea's benefit package is quite narrow; a great deal of medical services are simply not covered. Singapore went through a process of privatizing hospitals, with mostly negative consequences, including increased cost to patients. Out-of-pocket expenses in Taiwan are similar to Hong Kong's (for better service) - they're higher in South Korea (due to so many uncovered services) and far higher in Singapore (due to privatization of hospitals, I suppose). While Taiwan does have a fairly high rate of private insurance, mostly purchased by wealthier people to supplement NHI, this doesn't make up for differences in out-of-pocket expenses.

After putting all that together, I'm gonna call it: Taiwan's got the best cost-to-benefit ratio of health coverage among the Asian Tigers. You won't be worrying about uncovered services like South Koreans, waiting years for basic tests like Hong Kongers or paying out-of-pocket like Singaporeans, and t
his is all despite having fewer doctors per 10,000 people than any of the other three countries. 


A free society

There are also personal freedoms to consider. Although I can only speak anecdotally, living in a society as free as Taiwan's counts for a lot. Again, South Korea is the closest comparison here. Hong Kong, on the other hand, is simply neither democratic nor free. Aside from the recent protests, the government is ultimately beholden to Beijing, and activists, publishers and journalists disappear (or are attacked or murdered) on the regular. In Taiwan, activists are mostly free to agitate for change. In Hong Kong, you're brought to trial and found guilty. Attend a protest - exercising your basic right to free speech and assembly - could get you fired. Singapore isn't wracked by protests (at the moment) but is absolutely an illiberal state where peaceful assembly and freedom of speech are so strictly controlled as to not exist.

If you're not a political activist, you may not think this is particularly important, but just try having a dissenting viewpoint one day, and realizing you can never voice it without potentially dire consequences. What if you want to be a journalist, political analyst, writer, artist or even academic, and find that your ability to speak truth to power is limited or outright censored? It does matter. 


South Korea offers similar freedoms - public demonstrations are popular there, as they are in Taiwan.


Work culture

When I first visited Seoul in 2003, I stayed with my now-husband in his (paid-for) flat in a nondescript building, in a nondescript part of the city. The buildings stretched on and on, and they all looked basically the same. They had huge numbers painted on them so you could differentiate your building from the others at a glance. It was all a bit sterile. These days, I'm given to understand that many companies provide identikit housing for their employees. When we returned in 2014 for a visit and had to catch an early shuttle to the airport, I noted as the bus snaked through downtown Seoul that the streets were full of Korean men in identical black suits (with the occasional navy-clad rebel), carrying similar briefcases, with similar haircuts, going to similar jobs in similar cubicles in similar office buildings for similar companies, and they were all made out of ticky-tacky and they all looked just the same


In other respects, I love visiting South Korea. I have to admit that Seoul went from a city that looked a little, shall we say, crumbly around the edges (sort of the way Taipei looks now) to something more similar to Tokyo between my two visits. People certainly revert to expressing individuality outside of work hours. But I think this samey-samey work culture would just destroy me.

Looking at numbers, Hong Kongers work about 50.1 hours/week on average, or 2,296/year according to a UBS study. Singaporeans clock in at 2,334 hours/year, or 45.6 hours/week. The results here don't quite add up as some say Hong Kongers work longer hours, and others say Singaporeans do (and neither yearly average matches 52 weeks of work at the weekly average). In any case, both are higher than Taiwan.

I can't find weekly averages for South Korea, but they appear to be at the top as well, at 2,069/year. Taiwanese are right to complain about their long working hours, but they're actually lower than the other Asian Tigers (2,035.2/year). 


Sure, just as the quote far above points out, Taiwan did not turn itself into a financial center or international business center like Hong Kong and Singapore  - but its wealth inequality is lower, which is quite possibly a direct consequence. It did not set up chaebols (massive conglomerates) the way South Korea did. But I've spent a lot of time in corporate offices in Taiwan and I can assure you that, while there is a standard 'corporate' mode of dress, that the level of conformity expected among office workers is nowhere near the level of what I saw in Seoul. I would not wish that identikit lifestyle on Taiwan; while some people might be willing to slog through such a work culture for a better paycheck, I suspect a huge proportion would chafe against it. Taiwan's small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) may not have brought in the big bucks the way Samsung and Lotte did for South Korea, but what they contributed to Taiwan's cultural landscape is a net positive, I think, and should not be underestimated. 

Brendan's oft-repeated comment about his long-ago move from South Korea to Taiwan is that "Taiwan has long work hours, maybe as long as South Korea. Wages are lower. But people just seem more chilled-out. You don't pass drunk salarymen passed out on the sidewalk who will get up and go to work the next day. Everyone seemed so stressed in Korea. People here just seem...more relaxed." And it's true - on my brief visits to Seoul, even I saw those passed-out businessmen. I've never seen that in Taiwan, though I routinely pass groups of friends enjoying dinner and drinks - beer or Kaoliang - on folding tables on the sidewalk, keeping the local gossip machines going and looking, well, just more relaxed.

I wonder how much the chaebol vs. SME culture divide plays into that. No idea, but it's a thought. 



Gender parity

It also seems to me - and Brendan concurs after living there - that South Korea has a much bigger problem with sexism than Taiwan. Every culture in the world struggles with sexism (yes, all of them), but Taiwan arguably has the best gender equality in Asia. For some hard numbers, the gender wage gap in South Korea is the biggest of all OECD countries (34.6%), and Brendan recalls seeing job advertisements that blatantly offered more to male candidates for the same work. Taiwan's gender wage gap is 14.6% - on par with a lot of Western countries and not great, but also a huge improvement.

Hong Kong's gender pay gap is 22.2% as of 2017. Singapore's is a bit lower than Taiwan.

There's more that I might include about gender equality in the four Tigers, but the wage gap really says it all. 



The bad news

I don't want to wax rhapsodical about how Taiwan is better than the other Asian Tigers in every way, implying that there's no data to suggest it's not true. So, let's take a look at what's not going well for Taiwan.

Just looking at unemployment, Taiwan looks a little less lustrous. In South Korea and Taiwan unemployment rates are similar, at 4.4% (a rise from 3.8% in December 2018) and 3.7% (average 2018) respectively. Rates are lower in Hong Kong and Singapore, at closer to 2-3%. Youth unemployment in South Korea is around 10.4%, for Hong Kong it's about 9.4% and Singapore is lowest at 5.2%. As above, Taiwan's is in the vicinity of 12%. There's no getting around it - Taiwan's unemployment looks low by European standards, but it's not as robust as its Asian Tiger peers. 

Purchasing power doesn't look to be much better, with Taiwan ranking high globally - 19th in the world according to the IMF, 28th according to the World Factbook -  but behind both Singapore and Hong Kong on both scales (remembering, of course, that that's still higher than Canada, Australia and a huge chunk of Europe). South Korea was quite a bit further down in both cases. I'm not sure why this is, and don't have the requisite knowledge of economics to analyze it, but I love making myself look stupid publicly so here goes.

First, a lot of Singaporean and Hong Kong relative 'wealth' by purchasing power can be explained by how this purchasing power is calculated. Their large foreign labor populations, who have much lower incomes and purchasing power, are not counted in these metrics as they are not citizens or permanent residents (Taiwan News makes a similar point). Taiwan also has a large foreign labor population, but while I can't find reliable data on this, I'd wager that the ratio of foreign labor to local population in Taiwan is lower than in those two city-states.

Second, Singapore gets around the one thing that might sap a large chunk of their citizens' purchasing power: housing. Most housing in Singapore consists of public housing projects, which builds accommodation at a variety of budgets. Roughly 80% of Singaporeans live in these flats. That might explain how Singapore can have such a high Gini coefficient and estimated high levels of poverty, but still come out blazing on purchasing power.

Why Hong Kong ranks well in terms of purchasing power, I have no idea. I'd think real estate alone - which Hong Kongers are less able to afford than Taiwanese even with higher salaries - would knock it down.

I suspect in both cases that all that purchasing power on the part of Singapore and Hong Kong, given their relatively high poverty and inequality, is concentrated in the hands of the wealthy. If you're just a regular person with a regular job, however, you can make your comparatively lower salary go a lot further in Taiwan (or perhaps South Korea, with its similar inequality rate despite its higher poverty rate). If that's true, all Singapore and Hong Kong really have on Taiwan in terms of purchasing power are more rich people who can do more purchasing. Most people will never be rich, so that doesn't mean much.



Taiwan #1! 

To bring this back to the original point, despite some troubling economic data, I still think Taiwan is the best Asian Tiger in which to build a life. Salaries are low, but so is inequality and poverty (and the rent is pretty good, too). You won't do better for health care, and you have fairly strong human rights protections - better than Hong Kong or Singapore. You're quite likely a lot better off as a woman, especially compared to Hong Kong and South Korea.

The whole world is struggling now, and if anything, I think Taiwan's made the best of this. It's not being 'left behind'. Don't listen to the haters telling you that not only is Taiwan dwarfed by China - when, in fact, China scores well below Taiwan on most of the metrics above - but also the other Asian Tigers. Nope - Taiwan has built something less flashy, less shiny and a little-slower paced, but there are good arguments out there for why it has actually done the best.