Showing posts with label economics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label economics. Show all posts

Sunday, March 24, 2019

This time, it's Bloomberg choosing its words poorly when discussing Taiwan

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Bloomberg just ran a profile article of Han Kuo-yu, and the language choices are...not great. I have it on good authority that the Taipei bureau chief is a good dude, so I'm not sure why, but regardless the language and framing in this piece (which has some strong parts) merit some detailed discussion. Let's have a look. 




For officials in Beijing looking for a Taiwanese presidential candidate who improves the island’s fraught ties with the mainland, Han Kuo-yu is saying all the right things. The question is whether he runs.

"A Taiwanese presidential candidate who improves the island's fraught ties with the mainland" implies that it is somehow Taiwan's fault that ties with China (not "the mainland" - that's politically charged terminology) are tense.

But it's not. I'm sure Tsai Ing-wen would love better relations with China, if China would accept that Taiwan isn't interested in unification. That's not a position held only by Tsai - she was elected in part because of it, and is the general sentiment in Taiwan.

Tsai has extended olive branches, but they come with the clear indication that Taiwan's sovereignty is not up for debate. China has not accepted them.

It's Beijing's fault, not Taiwan's, that relations are "fraught". So it's not Taiwan's job to "improve" them - it's China's.

Also, why are you starting an article with what China wants and thinks, rather than what Taiwan wants and thinks, Ms. Wang?



"Such blunt talk contrasts with Taiwan’s current president, Tsai Ing-wen, a cautious critic of China who’s bracing for a tough re-election fight after bruising policy battles and an isolation campaign by Beijing."

So, why is she facing a difficult re-election campaign? Is it really because of her stance on China? Most people seem fine with her approach to China - not budging on Taiwanese sovereignty, but not instigating any tensions, either. Her approach ensures that it is clear to all who care to observe that it is Beijing doing the bullying (something that was true, but not always clear, under former pro-Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian).

The reasons why her approval ratings are flagging have to do with the economy (although it's actually not doing as badly as people think) and some displeasure over her 'cool' technocratic governing style, as well as domestic governance at a local level. It's actually not that closely related to issues regarding China.

The sense that it's all due to her views on China is further implied by Wang omitting what these "bruising policy battles" were over. Mostly, domestic issues: marriage equality, labor laws, pension reform, that sort of thing.

Tsai was elected because of her pro-Taiwan views, not in spite of them.

So why is Bloomberg implying that Taiwanese people are angry with Tsai over this, and not domestic governance issues?

Besides, what exactly are we saying here? That in order to "reduce tensions", Taiwanese people might want to consider voting for a Beijing-approved candidate? Are we not aware that that is exactly what China wants, but might not turn out well for Taiwan?



Han’s shock defeat in November of a candidate from Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party in the ruling bloc’s stronghold catapulted him to the top of the list of possible presidential hopefuls from the China-friendly Kuomintang.

Putting this in the same paragraph as the quote above implies that this victory was due to China policies. It wasn't. There were a number of odd convergences here, between Han's populist appeal and some very weird and questionable sources of funding and support (when people talk about possible Chinese interference in the last election, well...I don't know about Han specifically but it wouldn't surprise me). There was anger over local governance.

But your average Kaohsiunger does not agree with Han's pro-China tendencies. Unlike Tsai, he was elected despite, not because of, these views. Look at any data about the political leanings of Kaohsiung residents, and this will be clear (Wang alludes to this later but treats it as an inconvenient aside that contradicts the "China!" narrative.)



On Friday, he begins a week-long trip to Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland cities of Shenzhen and Xiamen.

How lazy does journalism have to be to point this out but not interrogate it at all? It's presented almost like a good thing - no questioning at all of how and why Han was invited to Hong Kong and Macau, and who could have set that up and authorized it...and why? And how his insistence that this trip is "all business" is at odds with what we actually know about it?

No interrogation of whether the candidate China prefers may pose potential risks to Taiwan, and that "improving fraught tensions" is not necessarily the best outcome?

Why - after a few paragraphs implying that Taiwanese want a more pro-China leader (even though that's not necessarily the case) - is none of this considered?


Chinese President Xi Jinping, who held a historic meeting with Taiwanese counterpart Ma Ying-jeou weeks before the vote, has cut off communications with Tsai’s government and led a campaign isolate her island diplomatically.

The meeting was not particularly historic and didn't have much effect at all on how Taiwanese voted in the 2016 election. It was literally a non-event, a stunt to try to convince Taiwanese to vote for the KMT, and it failed. Most Taiwanese do want a strong economy and can accept economic ties with China if they deliver one. But seeing how Ma's push for closer ties did not result in definitive economic growth, and that Beijing showed its hand in terms of quietly tethering 'economic ties' to an agenda of political integration, Wang is making way too much of China's reaction leading up to and post-2016. 



Tsai now looks vulnerable, receiving the support of less than 20 percent in recent polls, as she grapples with both voters concerned about deteriorating ties with China and those who want a cleaner break. 

Though I don't know the exact numbers, Ma didn't have great approval ratings before his re-election campaign either, and won. It's sort of a thing in Taiwan. A smarter write-up would have compared Tsai's current approval ratings to what they tend to be at this point in their administration for any given Taiwanese president.

And it again places too much emphasis on Tsai's China policy, and not enough on domestic-level grievances (some of which, like air pollution and low wages, are merited - but which are results of decades of poor governance and can't be fixed in 3.5 years).

Even if the issue were Tsai vs. China, again, no questioning of what it would mean for Taiwan to choose a Beijing-approved candidate simply because China wished it so? No delving into alleged Chinese interference in the 2018 election? Nothing?


Tsai has sought to push back against Han’s pro-China remarks, saying there can’t be an arranged marriage with China because Taiwan is sovereign and its people have the freedom to choose. Taiwan’s official Mainland Affairs Council also took a shot at him [emphasis mine], arguing the island “must resolutely refuse China’s terrorizing affection.”  

Great way to use language to cast a negative connotation on the rhetoric of one side! "Took a shot at him"? How about "spoke frankly" or "pointed out" or any other neutral choice?

Besides, Tsai is right. Unification is impossible because Taiwan is sovereign and the people have the right to choose...and aren't interested in dictatorship and loss of rights. They can see the ways in which Hong Kong has failed and know not to go down that road.

A note here that most Taiwanese do, in fact, support the status quo (not unification), that the status quo is sovereignty (because it is), do not support unification or "One Country Two Systems", and that Taiwanese identity remains strong would be apropos, but we get nothing.


Others observing from Beijing argue Han’s candidacy could lead to a breakthrough between the long-time rivals. He supports the idea both sides are part of “one-China” -- a negotiating framework Tsai has refused to endorse.

More poor language choices.

First, why is this still being framed in terms of what Beijing wants, not what Taiwan thinks?

Second, when the intentions of one "rival" is to annex the other "rival", and they will not accept any offer of negotiation that doesn't put this potential outcome on the table (which is, to them, the only acceptable outcome), when there is a "breakthrough" that's not necessarily a good thing.

Third, Taiwanese who identify as Taiwanese don't see their goals as part of a "rivalry". Rivalries are for "two Chinas" - the ROC and the PRC. But those who just want Taiwan to be Taiwan aren't a part of that. There's no rival claim to China coming from pro-independence types. It's not a rivalry - it's a bully and a target who refuses to succumb. It's just the wrong word, period.

So on one hand we have this inaccurate, undeservedly positive phrase "breakthrough between rivals", and on the other we have a subtle denigration of Tsai/pro-independence views with "refused to endorse", as though this makes her the instigator or the intransigent side who won't negotiate - as though negotiations could ever be fair in this situation.

Tsai doesn't endorse "one China" because Taiwanese by and large do not want to be a part of China. Why not say that? Why make it seem so negative? Why leave out important facts like this?


“If he wins in 2020, it is likely that he will reverse Tsai’s cross-strait policies,” said Wang Dong, an international relations professor at Peking University and secretary general of the Pangoal Institution, a Beijing-based research group. “The mainland, of course, would have much more trust in him.”

What's up with the implication that it would be a good thing for China to trust and like a Taiwanese politician? No delving at all into what that could mean for Taiwan, when China's goal is to annex Taiwan?

This is a Taiwanese candidate, not a Chinese one. China's bullying does matter, but Taiwan's views matter more.

The question isn't "will China trust him?" (seriously, quit it with "mainland"), but "should Taiwanese voters trust him?"

Why aren't you asking that question, Ms. Wang? 



Kaohsiung city spokeswoman Anne Wang said Thursday that Han was focused on promoting the local economy and “will not think about other plans for the time being.” This week’s trip was intended to promote economic and cultural exchanges and not touch on politics, she said.

You're just going to take her at her word and not actually question this? Do you honestly think China would allow this trip if there were no political motivations?



The trip will test Han’s ability to navigate sticky issues on the mainland and in the fractious former British colony of Hong Kong. His past forays into the public eye have been rocky.

Again with the "mainland". Ugh.

Anyway, again, you should be questioning whether China cooperating with a Taiwanese politician is actually a good thing for Taiwan, but that's either ignored, or you take it as a given. I'm truly not sure which.


When he was a legislator in 1993, Han punched future DPP President Chen Shui-bian, putting him in the hospital. As president of the Taipei Agricultural Products Marketing Co. in 2016, he dared a city councilor to swallow a hockey puck during a dispute. 
During his run for mayor, he told a gathering of female supporters that anyone who created 1,000 jobs in Kaohsiung would get a kiss. Earlier this month, he was forced to apologize after dismissing the idea of attracting white-collar workers from the Philippines since it was hard to believe maids could become English teachers.

Lest you think I just want to hate on this article, I am quoting this here to point out that it's pretty good coverage of his past controversies. Nice work. 



Han successfully cast himself as the “CEO mayor” during the campaign, propelled in part by a social media campaign led by his Canadian-educated daughter, Coco Han. His focus on economics on platforms such as YouTube and Facebook helped garner robust support from younger voters looking for higher wages. 
One of his slogans was: “With goods sold and talent flowing in, Kaohsiung’s people will make a fortune.”

Sure, okay. Not untrue. But it would be smart to question whether his outlandish and oversize promises had a chance of holding up. If you actually look at his focus on the economy, you'll see that he's unlikely to actually be able to deliver on his promises. Kaohsiung will never be Shanghai. It will probably never even be Taipei. We do need to improve the economy across Taiwan, including in industrial centers like Kaohsiung. But...this seems a bit vague and impossible to deliver on.

And at no point do you question this, or ask whether or not it's prudent to run a guy for president who hasn't even proven he can run Kaohsiung, whose promises seem so pie-in-the-sky that any rational person can see that they just aren't credible, and what it means that the KMT is willing to run him anyway, and China is on board.

Why not, Bloomberg? Why not, Cindy Wang?

Friday, January 19, 2018

Mr. Xi's Soft Prong

This sort-of-okay thing that veered into a steaming pile of garbage from the Economist, uh, exists. So that's...there.

Please draw your attention to this paragraph particular line towards the end:

Lin Chong-pin, a Taiwanese scholar and former senior official, calls this Mr Xi’s “soft prong”. 


Ah.

Now we know why Xi Jin-ping is so obsessed with taking Taiwan.

Now, I really hope Lin formulated this thought on purpose, as a big, fat, hard jab at Xi Jin-ping, perhaps hoping we would understand the encoded message in his long, straight, pointed finger.

But even if he didn't, this says a lot. All those powerful cylindrical metal planes circling Taiwan and it's huge rocky mountains, standing tall and erect right there across the strait. He has to take a stab (well, maybe not a stab, more like a flaccid wriggle) at Taiwan to prove to us - and more importantly, to himself - that he's packing heat (well, maybe not heat, more like those squishy hand warmers you can rub. They get warm but they never get stiff). All those big, powerful missiles pointed right at Taiwan, ready to launch.

Because I don't want to linger too long on, uh, Mr. Xi's Soft Prong, let's take a look at the flaming heap of crap that makes up the final two paragraphs of this utter head-scratcher of a piece.

Now I will say, it starts out okay. It could take more time to discuss the perspective of Taiwan, but as it stands it is a pretty clear laying out of China's coercion tactics against Taiwan, which are important for Westerners to know about.

But then....whhaaaaa?



All this is out of the old playbook. Mr Xi’s innovation is to single out young Taiwanese and to pile on the blandishments.

In terms of pay, yes, but if he thinks he's actually going to win them over politically...he's not.


Colleges offer Taiwanese teachers better pay than they could get in Taiwan. Chinese provinces are opening research centres aimed at young Taiwanese. In the southern city of Dongguan, Taiwanese tech entrepreneurs can get free startup-money and subsidised flats.


Yeah, that's the strategy. Want to talk about why it's a problem?


Over 400,000 Taiwanese now work in China. The young in particular are crossing the strait in droves.


I guess not. Well, okay.


You do realize they're not moving to China because they want to, yes? You do realize they are doing it because the economy at home isn't offering them fair wages for fair work, and because they feel it's their best opportunity to make money - but not because they actually want to live in China, yes? Why are you implying that there is anything other than economic rationalization for this? Nobody - literally nobody - thinks China is overall a better country to live in than Taiwan.


Lin Chong-pin, a Taiwanese scholar and former senior official, calls this Mr Xi’s “soft prong”.

Hahahahaha.


In some respects it seems to be reshaping attitudes towards China.


No, it isn't. Identification with China, liking China, thinking China is anything other than a terrifying enemy who must be dealt with for economic reasons, is not actually changing. This is simply factually wrong. 


It does not help Ms Tsai that she has failed to make much progress on her promise to create more opportunities for the young.


Duh, but what does that have to do with China? That's a domestic issue. Her administration is simply not doing a good job with this. 


Taiwan’s economy remains sluggish.


So does the rest of the world's. Want to put what you're saying into perspective a lil' bit maybe?


The young think older generations get the better deal.


This is true but it is not related to China. 


But she gets the blame for tricky cross-strait relations more than Mr Xi does.


Does she? I mean, personally, I think the one thing she is doing right is her cross-strait policy. What's your source on this? 


A recent poll even shows Taiwanese feeling more warmly towards Mr Xi than to Ms Tsai.


Oh, I see, a poll that you don't link to. Hmmm. I'd like to see this poll. How is it worded? What questions are asked? Where is this coming from? Where is your source? Why aren't you comparing Tsai's approval ratings to pro-China Ma Ying-jiu's (man, talk about a soft prong...ahem) to show what it means in a Taiwanese context? 


They do not admire China’s political culture.


No shit. So why don't you say more about this? And if they don't admire China's political culture, why do they admire Xi so much?


But Mr Xi may be nurturing a reluctance among young Taiwanese to bite the hand that feeds them.


They know perfectly well that they are not being fed so much as slowly poisoned. They also know - they're not stupid after all - that slow-acting poison food is better than no food. But if you think for even one second that this is going to change how they feel about China, or Taiwan, or Xi Jin-ping in a way that will get them to accept unification...


...well, then do I have a soft prong for you! 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The color line is the power line: the new pro-Taiwan generation and attitudes toward foreign blue-collar labor

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From a foreign labor rights protest I attended before the Tsai administration took power


I want to start this post with a little story. Every Saturday morning I tutor one of two intelligent, thoughtful young women - sisters. Which one I teach changes periodically. They used to have a domestic worker from Indonesia, whom the whole family liked (she eventually returned). She would cook Indonesian dishes for them to try, bring them gifts from her visits home, and was generally a part of the family. I liked her a lot, too. The girls called her Auntie. They call me Jenna.

She seemed older. Her face was lightly lined, a few silver wires in her hair. I guessed that she was in her forties, both by her appearance and attitude.

One day, while the helper was in the next room, one of the girls let slip that she thought I was in my twenties. I laughed and encouraged them to guess my real age. We were sitting in the living room, and they guessed and guessed but just would not make it up to my actual age. It's not their fault: I really didn't look it. No wrinkles, no visible gray hairs, a youthful personality.

I finally spilled: I was 33.

They were both silent.

"33?" one of them finally said. "But that's Auntie's age!"

"It is?"

They called her over in Chinese and asked her age.

"33," she answered simply.

"Oh," I replied in Chinese.

"...I'm 33, too."

But the truth thumped gracelessly in the pause.

She smiled sadly. I don't know what my face did. The girls were merely surprised, and I can only think that someday in the future they will reflect on that moment.


* * *


I often hear that a sense of Hoklo nationalism (think "Taiwan for the Taiwanese") and anti-foreigner sentiment once marred past pro-Taiwan movements. And I've seen it: more than once, I've watched Southeast Asian laborers march in demonstrations demanding better worker protections, only to be ignored by the government and the Taiwanese population. I've watched demonstration, mostly by older people, holding signs saying things like "foreign workers (外勞) go home." I was worried they meant me, but was told (by way of "reassurance") that I was welcome, it was foreign blue collar (mostly Southeast Asian) labor they didn't want.

In one notorious case, the Liberty Times - that bastion of the older pan-green "left" - reported on the horrific traumas one foreign domestic worker had suffered as a rape victim who was repeatedly ignored by authorities, making it all about Taiwan's "loss of face" rather than the woman in question (link in Chinese).

I have had more than one conversation with older pro-Taiwan people who still say things like "Taiwan isn't racist, we treat you well" and "I don't think we should bar employers from holding foreign workers' passports, because those foreign workers can commit crimes in Taiwan and then just leave the country!"

In short, the Hoklo chauvinism that also deterred many non-Hoklo Taiwanese from supporting the DPP in the past, while writhing in what I can only hope are the throes of death, was a problematic attitude held by many which caused them to either view immigrants with suspicion, or only want 'certain kinds' of immigrants (i.e. Westerners).

While it's not fair to tarnish every pro-Taiwan supporter of past generations, or even most of them, the lack of regard for foreign labor was a real problem. This doesn't mean that Taiwanese activists shunned making international connections: they have worked hard to build networks around the world, lobby for support and garner high-profile allies. Rather, this attitude ran parallel to that sort of activism.

I'm here to tell you it is unfortunately still something of a problem.

Let's get a few things out of the way first: this is also a big issue in the pan-blue camp, too: the KMT not only doesn't care about foreigners, their chauvinism is Han chauvinism - just another type of prejudice. They are just as likely to welcome white Westerners but turn their noses up at Southeast Asians, and they are not off the hook.

What's more, the worst of the old-school chauvinism is on its way out. You will generally not hear young people trashing foreign workers in the same overtly racist ways that their predecessors may have: they'll speak out against communities that want them to leave simply because they are foreign, and they'll argue that they deserve fair treatment and a non-exploitative work environment in Taiwan. They won't take to the streets holding signs admonishing anyone to "go home". Certainly most would recoil at expressions of Hoklo chauvinism.

Many, if not most, support better pathways to dual nationality, with some of our staunchest allies in this regard being people like Freddy Lim and Hsiao Bhi-khim. Note, again, though, that the dual nationality they support is aimed at foreign white-collar workers, not labor.

And, with the DPP in power, we are seeing more movement on foreign workers' rights, although this is still a hotly-contested issue when, frankly, it shouldn't be. Unless I missed something, I don't recall ever seeing so much talk from the government end about foreign labor in Taiwan under the KMT. For example, it wasn't until 2016 that exit rules requiring foreign labor to leave every three years (often at great expense, often funneled through corrupt brokerage agencies) were changed to lift this requirement. There are DPP legislators working to protect foreign worker rights.

There is plenty of evidence showing that working conditions in Taiwan for foreign labor are poor, and you will find plenty of support in the pro-Taiwan camp for changing this.

So, I want to make it clear that this is not a hit piece. I don't want to make anyone look bad, nor do I want to take a swipe at the new generation of pro-Taiwan advocates. I don't even want to imply they all share these views.

However, we still have a problem when it comes to how people, even in this otherwise progressive camp, view foreign blue-collar and mostly Southeast Asian labor.

It is still strikingly common for someone agreeing one minute that working conditions for foreign labor in Taiwan should be better, and then the next express opposition to giving such workers a path even to permanent residency. Foreign professionals such as myself can obtain permanent residency fairly easily, although some of the rules seem a bit arbitrary. Foreign blue collar workers, however, cannot. Even if the visa allowed for it - and I am fairly sure it doesn't - they wouldn't meet the income requirements. It's fine to let them come here to work, apparently, but giving them the same opportunities as white-collar workers is apparently too much.

There are new laws, but some of these don't strengthen worker protections enough, and none of them expand worker rights to include the same opportunities I enjoy in Taiwan. It's a line drawn between types of foreigners, as though one type is better than the other. For example, it is simply not acceptable that being convicted of sexually abusing a foreign worker would bar you from employing another one after just 2-5 years, rather than being barred for life. Nor are the protections to stop employers from holding workers' essential documents, including passports, strong enough. "Strong dissuasion from doing so without a good reason" is too weak.

So, essentially, the narrative seems to be that foreign labor deserves better working conditions, but not more rights.

I don't agree with the reasoning behind this. The first reason given seems to be that they will "swamp" Taiwan. I'm not sure about that. Of foreign workers already in Taiwan, it's like that only a fraction would be eligible for whatever sort of permanent residency requirements the government sets. Of those who are eligible, only a small fraction would ever obtain it. Perhaps they will do so at higher rates than professionals as there are more of them, but it wouldn't likely be a majority.

Most intend to only stay a few years, and the option is not on their radar. Although there are far more foreign laborers than professionals in Taiwan, it is safe to assume most do consider their native countries home and intend to make money for awhile, but eventually return.

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You can see from the photos of politicians at the back how old these pictures are, and yet the same issues remain


Remember, for many, they work here to earn money to send home. Home. They will stay as long as they need to earn that money, but they don't intend to live out their lives here. Just like us, they have family, friends and connections where they come from.

What's more, I'm not sure what "swamped" is supposed to mean here. Taiwan has a labor shortage, not a surplus (the fact that this has not translated into increased wages is all about fiddling at the top). The birthrate is going down, not up. The average age is going up, not down. The population is set to decline, not rise.

We talk about foreign talent being part of the solution to all of these problems, although I think the bigger solution is to stop the top-level cronyism that leads to artificially depressed wages for locals, and to improve working conditions (and pay) across the board so the brain drain gets plugged. But people seem to assume that including immigration as a solution to Taiwan's economic and labor woes means professional foreign labor - frankly, we also need foreign blue-collar labor. They are consumers too. They sometimes marry locally. Many have children locally. One in five marriages is to a foreigner.

This is good for an aging population, not bad. It's not swamping, it's replenishing. That is, unless you are worried about the racial makeup of your country changing. And why would you be worried about that if this wasn't about race?

In any case, the people who would be eligible are the people who are already here. Nothing would change, really.

I've heard the 'culture' argument too: as more Southeast Asians want to come here than people from other parts of the world, allowing that many (although I disagree it would be so many) of them in would change the cultural makeup of Taiwan. Would it, though? Let's take one cultural marker for example - Islam. Right now the Muslim population of Taiwan is about .03% of the population (Christians are about 4.5%, and I've also heard 5% as a figure). Even if that number grew exponentially, it's still a long way to even 1%. I honestly just don't think it would change that much, even taking into account the fact Taiwan is quite a bit smaller than the US.

Even if that were a legitimate fear, it strikes me as another form of discrimination based on national origin - ethnocentrism, perhaps. We learned in the 20th century that nation states based primarily on ethnicity were a bad idea (I'd double underscore that if I could), so I'm generally wary of this line of thinking.

Another reason seems to be that "more foreign labor hurts Taiwanese labor". I didn't believe this when Bernie Sanders said it about immigration in America (he eventually modulated his message to be anti-corporate exploitation, but his original platform was anti-foreign-labor as a defense of American workers) - and I don't believe it now.

Foreign labor has been coming to the US ever since we've had work for them, and it has never significantly slowed down the US economy. If anything, accepting scores of low-skill workers who eventually assimilate and move up so their children can do better and the whole country can grow more prosperous is what made us what we are.

What's more, we do need people to do that work. Anti-immigration Americans insist that Americans will do it, but I'm not so sure about that. I'm not so sure about it in Taiwan, either: there seems to be a real prejudice against 'black handed' work (that is, work that gets you dirty). As it stands now, in the US, foreign labor pretty much ensures that our agricultural and service sectors run. In Taiwan the industries are different (elder care and factory and fishing work) but the story is essentially the same.

I'm not happy with the exploitation I see in any of those industries, in either country, but the solution isn't to tell foreign labor to stay home, it's to improve the industries to be less exploitative. They want to come, and they do work we need done - don't punish them. Punish the people who victimize them.

Bernie still doesn't seem to have figured this out, and unfortunately Taiwanese who think similarly don't seem to, either.

The most persuasive argument is that foreign labor is so cheap that it undercuts Taiwanese wages.

As for domestic workers, however, I'm not sure this is persuasive enough. Salaries in Taiwan are stagnant, and the population is getting older. People can't afford to pay more to hire someone to care for their elderly family members, but it is difficult-to-impossible to hire a Taiwanese person to do this work at the same rate you would pay a foreign caretaker. If we had a shortage of domestic workers, the work would most likely fall to the women of the household: yet another family obligation that pushes women to scale back on their other goals and ambitions. I can't condone that.

Regarding factory and agriculture/fishing workers, research seems to indicate that the impact is small and short-term if it happens at all, but foreign blue-collar labor is overall a benefit. Remember, without them prices would go up, storefronts that now house shops and restaurants aimed at Southeast Asian immigrants would be empty, the population would drop, certain work would not get done and lower production, even in the short term, would harm the economy. It's not so simple as saying "they can just hire Taiwanese (and pay them more)".

And, frankly, wages in all of these sectors (and all other ones too) need to go up whether the workers are foreign or not. I don't want to see Taiwanese wages drop because of foreign labor. I want to see foreign labor wages increase to rival that of Taiwanese workers, so that industries hire the workers they need, not just the ones they can get at a cut-rate price.

I have tried to talk to friends about this issue, reminding them that I too am a foreign worker. The only thing that differentiates me from them is my skin color and, well, white Western privilege (and the education that comes with it). I remind them that by supporting expanded rights for me, but not for a class that is almost entirely Southeast Asian, that they are essentially rewarding born privilege. Rewarding me for being born Western, with means. At the same time, they are punishing other people for the less fortunate circumstances they were born into.

I know my friends and other pro-Taiwan advocates well enough to know that they aren't intending to be racist. They are just as happy to welcome foreign professionals of any race, including Southeast Asians, and are horrified to hear stories of racism in professional labor (which do exist - ask...well, any given one of my non-white foreign professional friends in Taiwan).

However, it can't help but be about race. The race divide is too clear: most foreign labor in Taiwan is Southeast Asian, most professionals are Western, and most (but not all) of those are white. Although the intention is not to discriminate based on race or skin color, that is essentially what they are doing. It's playing into that same old socioeconomic game: they see it as a line between what helps Taiwan and what they think doesn't, but it is also a color line, whether we like it or not. That color line is a power line: I have the power to gain certain rights and privileges in Taiwan simply because of the circumstances of my birth: the country and family I was born into. There is no universe in which I think this is fair.

Not wanting to consider that the line drawn is, in effect, a color line as much as everyone would like it not to be is a real problem. It's still discrimination. It's still saying "some people deserve more rights than others". It's still saying I deserve something better than a woman from Indonesia because I happen to have been born with more money and in the right country. And if you group people by who is on the 'preferred' side of that color line, of course it's the people who are mostly white. Who, again, is kept down? Non-whites.

Whether you like it or not, that is what it is saying.

But that line is also a poverty line: these views advocate rewarding people who were born in the right place to the right people, and punishing those who weren't. People who want a better life, just like anyone else. People who just want to work hard and make money to better their circumstances. People who do contribute to the Taiwanese economy in invisible ways, whether one wants to admit that or not.

With these attitudes still in place, I'm not sure how the New Southbound Policy will remain on solid footing going forward: Taiwan already has a bad reputation in SE Asia as the worst of all the industrialized Asian countries to move to for work due to low wages, long hours and rampant exploitation. Are these same countries supposed to happily work more closely with Taiwan for mutual benefit in industry, tourism, trade and culture, when Taiwan still doesn't want to give immigrants from those countries in Taiwan more rights? This whole strategy can only work if both sides stand to benefit, not just Taiwan as it weans itself off reliance on China. That means extending rights and benefits to foreign labor from Southeast Asia in Taiwan, not more of the same.

No one is an island, whether you like it or not. 

It also bothers me that, as I've talked to so many friends recently about how to talk about Taiwan in a convincing way with American liberals, that I essentially have the same problem in Taiwan: I don't know how to talk to Taiwanese liberals about foreign labor, especially blue collar labor. They seem to have gotten the message regarding foreign professionals and dual nationality - not that that is moving any faster - but cross that color line and I feel like I hit a discursive brick wall. There is a lot of sympathy for ending abusive treatment, but none for giving foreign labor real opportunity in Taiwan.

It's also just a bad look: I know the intent isn't racial discrimination but as that's the practical effect, it's bad optics when it comes to getting foreign support. We are foreigners too. We are, essentially, foreign workers with more privilege and different skin. We do - especially the more liberal among us - feel solidarity with Southeast Asian workers. When a party isn't doing everything they can for some foreigners, all politically astute foreigners notice. If they want more 'New Taiwanese' to support them, loyalty is bred by treating all 'New Taiwanese' well, not just the comparatively privileged ones.

It is quite problematic, as well, that when these issues do finally get discussed, they feel filtered down through layers of acceptability. First, the NPP didn't support changes to regulations regarding foreign professionals. I'm not sure that ever changed, but they did start to support relaxing dual nationality requirements...again, for professionals. The DPP relaxed these requirements, but only for certain professionals. It might be extended to the rest of us plebes someday, but not laborers. Only once that happens does it feel like the conversation might open to include talk of increasing their rights, too. It's like ideas of inclusion in Taiwanese society have to drip down through a layer of white Westernness for them to finally be acceptable to think about also including people who are not as privileged.

The US also has a problem when it comes to how the majority of people view blue-collar immigrant labor, although the liberal landscape is changing enough that Sanders took some heat for his views. It was ultimately not enough for most to abandon him or even reconsider their support. For us, that labor tends to come from Mexico, Central and South America.

It's not much different in Taiwan, the only difference (beyond the origin of the majority of laborers) being that not even the liberal electorate is admonishing the progressives they support for their views on blue-collar immigrant labor.

In both countries there is a power and a poverty line, and in both it is difficult to get certain liberal thinkers to really consider how it is also a color line - but in Taiwan it feels so much harder these days.

I know the progressives of whom I speak, so I know the intention is not to keep certain people considered 'undesirable' based on their race. We cannot ignore that this is the practical effect, however, and if Taiwan doesn't provide better opportunities for Southeast Asians within its borders, then Southeast Asia has less incentive to grow the stronger links with Taiwan that this country needs to weaken China's grip. There are times when the effects of globalization are not positive, but this, I feel, is not one of them.

Let's end with this: not too long ago, one of the strains of Taiwanese public discourse was that it wasn't good enough to just seek independence. That Taiwan has two gauntlets before it - de jure recognition of the independence it already has, and deciding not that it is a country (it very obviously is) but what sort of country it wants to be. At the time this discussion was about marriage equality, and it later evolved to include aboriginal land rights.

I'd like to extend that and say that Taiwan also has to decide what sort of country it wants to be vis-a-vis how it treats its immigrants - all of its immigrants. Not the ones that most obviously benefit the country, but those who benefit the country in less visible ways. Not the ones it is easy to welcome, but the ones you may have to overcome prejudice to welcome. Not the ones who already have the benefits of privilege, but those who don't, so they have the opportunity to do better and, as they raise themselves up, help make your country better as well.

Does Taiwan want to be the sort of country that gives all immigrants rights, or does it want to be the sort that discriminates based on old prejudices about what sort of people are desirable, drawing a line that, as much as we wish it weren't, is a color line?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

"Confucian values" are not the problem

So I was reading this article linked to by a friend on what's wrong with Taiwan and its approach to the business in the post-industrial era. 

And I have to say, I didn't care for it. I didn't absolutely hate it, but it missed the mark in a few key ways.

First, I'll give Stocker points for referring to Taiwan as a 'nation' and 'country' and not using the old 'island' cop-out that so many pussyfooting writers do. Thank you for that. More people should be so brave as to speak truth to power or just, I dunno, use language to describe a situation realistically. I don't know why that's so hard for so many writers, publications and weak-willed editors. All it takes is a backbone and some damn principles. And realistically, Taiwan is a country. It is a nation. It is also an island, but using that as the de facto descriptor is devaluing and belittling. I have trouble taking journalists writing on Taiwan seriously who do this, so much credit to Stocker for not doing so.

And he's right to criticize the ODM mindset that lower costs and ramped-up production based on what other people are ordering, absolutely. ODM itself is not the problem, the issue is that Taiwan can't compete on price. It just can't. That's not going to change. It's time to find something new.

In his words:

Taiwan’s four decades of economic development were built largely on a single business model: winning export orders by delivering a quality product at a lower price (aka CP Value). Despite the increasingly uncompetitive nature of this business model, and in spite of sales of millions of copies of books like Blue Ocean Strategy and Value Proposition Model, Taiwan has failed to break its reliance on the CP Value model; not much unlike a college student who continues to rely on mom and dad for money after graduation.


I can't honestly disagree with that.

He's not wrong, either, to criticize the educational system, which sees fantastic scholastic achievement but mostly in the realm of test scores, and even then, much of it is the result of the private after-school cram school industry:

The business environment as far as I can tell is a reflection of the classroom. People are trained into this way of thinking/acting over 16 years, and when the company they join reinforces this mode of operation, people just default to what they are used to.
“When each individual is taking his/her own test, you aren’t going to build a very innovative culture. No experimentation. No exploration. No observation. No conversation. No debate.
Sure, but I'm not sure that's the biggest reason for business problems in Taiwan.

I used to defend Taiwan's educational system more vociferously, but I've grown more disillusioned with it the more I learn about it. I will not, however, go as far as some commentators do and say it teaches Taiwanese kids to become drones incapable of critical thought. No, it doesn't do that any more than the American public school system, which is still very much in an Industrial Age mindset, does. And anyway, it's not like Taiwanese don't learn to become critical thinkers - they do, just not from school. They learn it from their families, their friends, from life. Just like most other people in the world, including Americans. I was lucky to have a few decent teachers who really were dedicated to teaching us to think, but honestly, I could have gotten through school fairly easily simply memorizing what I needed to know and regurgitating it. Often, I did, and did my real learning in other ways (such as through my parents' extensive library). So, I don't think American public schools were any better at teaching me critical thinking than Taiwanese schools are at teaching it to Taiwanese kids, so please lay off on that stupid stereotype. We are not any better. That's not to say the Taiwanese system is great, just that our pot is pretty black too.

What can I say - one of our most famous folk songs includes the lyrics "20 years of schoolin' and they put you on the day shift"!

The same is true looking at testing culture: the West (at least, the US) is getting worse in this regard, not better. If anything, the Asian model should have shown that testing culture doesn't work. Taiwanese schools are more focused on bigger tests (such as the college entrance exam) than the US, though, and that is a problem. Most tests are not reliable and many have deep validity issues.

My one other true criticism is that teachers who study education in Asia, in many cases, don't actually learn to teach. They learn their subject matter well but don't go much into pedagogy, curriculum development, methodology or approaches.

Hell, if the education system were really to blame, Korea and Japan would be stagnating too in terms of brand reach. Both have education systems not that different from Taiwan's. Japan has its own economic turmoil but nobody doubts its international branding, and Korea just seems to keep climbing the ladder, outshining its old Asian Tiger rival, Taiwan in economic growth and global visibility. China, too! China is a bit of a rollercoaster economically, but people are touting it as the next great superpower, and it is already a global economic powerhouse. China's educational system is, if anything, far more repressive than Taiwan's.

So no, there is plenty to criticize about education in Taiwan but it is simply not the reason why business and international brand reach in Taiwan have been stagnating.

As for "no conversation, no debate", has Stocker walked down the street in Taipei on any given day to hear people sitting around outside their homes or the stores of their friends/neighbors debating issues of the day? Has he hung out in cafes overhearing student groups meeting to talk about politics and the way forward for the country? I have. In fact, I feel like I come across this more often in Taiwan than in the US, where "public discourse" seems to now mean throwing insults at each other over Facebook and saying stuff like "it's people like you who..." and "you [insert pejorative catchphrase here] make me sick" and "typical neocon/fundie/liberal/SJW crybaby". (To be fair, I argue with people on Facebook too, but I never stoop to that. It shows a lack of ability to support one's views with evidence).

People do converse, and they do debate. They experiment, too. Have I ever told you about my student who - as a child - would throw cats to determine their mass and velocity and tie firecrackers to lizards' tails to see what would happen? I mean, that's animal abuse and it's wrong, but you can't say he didn't experiment.

As for "Confucian values":

This leads to one of the big three challenges facing Taiwanese business as he sees it: Confucian values.
Says Stocker: “Unfortunately, too many Taiwanese are afraid to tell their boss what is going on and what should be done. Taiwanese employees don’t feel they have the right to make decisions, and for this reason they refrain from communicating (anything) with their superiors. There is no debate, there is no challenging of the status quo; there are no crazy ideas. The boss has to do all the talking, and over time since he/she is doing all the talking, he/she starts to do all the thinking as well. We end up with these incredibly flat organizations, with a boss on one layer and all employees on a second layer. Employees wait for the directive from the boss, and ignore anything coming laterally from co-workers. They also won’t collaborate with other employees to find an idea to work on, because the only relationship they need to attend to is that with the boss. It is very hard to be innovative when the only interaction is boss-to-employee in a downward direction.”
I mean, yes, I do often see a 'keep your head down, do as you're told, don't rock the boat' mentality in businesses in Taiwan. He's not wrong on the results, just on the reasons behind them.

Perhaps I'm just sick of the stereotypical invocation of "Confucian society" as a Western rejoinder to every issue they see in Taiwan. Don't like something or find it different from your own culture? Assume it's worse, and blame Confucius! It's so easy! Certainly all you have to do is go to an expat bar in Taipei to hear it. And I'm sick of it.

Because again, if that were really the problem, then how come the issues uniquely affecting Taiwan are not affecting Japan, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong or China, or at least not to the same degree? They are all "Confucian societies" too, and again, while they have their own economic woes, they're not facing economic stagnation in quite the same way or for quite the same reasons as Taiwan is.

That's not even getting into how what Stocker describes as "Confucian values" are not actually very Confucian at all. Confucius cared about hierarchy and the chain of command, yes, but he also admonished those at the top to listen to their underlings and treat them fairly.

So clearly, "Confucian values" are not the reason.

What do I think are the main reasons?

Because what I think is important, at least on this blog?

They are wage stagnation, exhausting work culture, brain drain (a direct result of the first two) and China.

So here we go:

1.) Wage stagnation

Stocker almost gets it, here:

To the converse, if you as an individual do come across a good idea, you are going to keep it to yourself, and when the timing is right you will ‘start your own company’.


Do you, Mr. Boss Man (because you are probably a man, maybe you even have a top had and monocle or just secretly wish you did), want to know why your employees aren't sharing their great ideas with you?

Do you think it's because of "Confucian values" and all you have to do is tell them to make more decisions, talk more to each other and be responsible for their own roles as they play into the success of the company? Is that why, Mr. Boss Man?

Let me speak for Mr. Boss Man: "Yes, that is why. I shall tell my employees to talk more and make more decisions when we have our next annual meeting."

To which I say, no. That is not the reason.

The reason is that you don't pay them enough to make it worth their while to tell you their great ideas. 

I know this because I used to be someone's employee too. I used to have great ideas for how to improve our materials, our seminars, our support, our non-existent training. Years later, holding a Delta (meaning I'm now qualified to professionally assess the quality of my previous ideas), I still feel I had some great input.

I never bothered to share it with the company, though, because they didn't pay me enough to make sharing it worth it to me. I wouldn't see a pay bump, or a promotion. There wasn't a job to be promoted to. I would see precisely no benefit from sharing my thoughts with that company...why should I have given them my creative output for free, so they could profit and I could stay in the same place?

No, I kept my ideas to myself, created my own materials, syllabuses and teaching style and used it to build my own freelance business where I charge a rate commensurate with my abilities - a rate my former employer would never have paid me.

And that was the smartest thing to do.

I don't know anybody in Taiwan who would think "I have a great idea but I'm not going to tell the boss because she really cares about the chain of command and will see my speaking out as insubordinate."

No, every decent boss, "Confucian" devotion to hierarchy notwithstanding, knows a good idea when she hears it (there are plenty of bosses who aren't so decent, but let's assume enough of them get to be bosses by having some sort of talent) and if it is going to make her money, won't care where it came from.

More likely that worker thinks "I have a great idea but I'm going to keep it to myself because these people don't pay me enough to give a damn how successful their company is. It doesn't benefit me at all to help them make money while I continue to be underpaid and overworked, whereas I could stand to benefit a great deal from pursuing my idea on my own".

If you pay someone peanuts, they will give you monkey work. They may not actually be a monkey, but you will not be motivating them to talk to you with their most innovative ideas. Did anyone else read Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, in which one of the protagonists invents the idea of advertisements on chopsticks through screens that can cycle through different images/ads? And he notes that that invention made his company billions, and all he got was his regular paycheck as always?

That's how it feels when you give your best at work, throw your crazy, wonderful ideas to the boss, and watch the company make scads of money while you are consistently underpaid. You might get promoted, but wages are so stagnant in Taiwan that not even that job is going to pay you what you are worth and what you might expect in literally every other developed country in Asia, if not the world.

Again. There is no incentive to do anything but save your best idea for yourself when you know you will continue to be underpaid even if it takes off wildly after telling your boss.

And no amount of "tell your employees to collaborate and speak openly!" is going to change that, Mark.

Pay.

People.

More.

PERIOD.

Until companies do, they can expect more of the same. You can't just tell people to hand you their good ideas if you show them through their lousy paycheck that you don't value them. They're not going to, because they're not stupid.

Final note - if you beg the question in your article with an assumption that people in Taiwan don't think/experiment/debate/collaborate/innovate, and then go on to say they take their ideas and start their own companies, doesn't that contradict your first point? Doesn't striking out on your own with your own idea require a huge amount of chutzpah, experimentation, thought, collaboration and innovation?

If Taiwanese really were indoctrinated into being mindless drones who always listen to their boss in the hierarchy, they would be happy to drone on in their jobs. But they're not - they're starting their own companies. This is clear evidence that they aren't educated to just obey the system.

And I say good for them!

2.) Exhausting work culture

I think this one speaks for itself - how are you going to come up with your best ideas and find creative new innovations, solutions to problems in the company and market, or come up with the next big thing, if you are constantly exhausted? If you are working 60, 70, 80 hours a week for less money than you'd be making in - again - every other developed country in Asia if not the world, constantly on the verge of nodding off, you just aren't going to be an asset.

In fact, studies show that more than 6-8 hours of work per day leads to decreased, not increased, productivity. And working people much more than that leads to a steep decline - you get literally no benefit, and in some cases you start to feel a deficit, in productivity from pushing your employees to work longer hours.

How can we fix this?

Simple - hire more people. Stop asking Ah-Chen to do the jobs of 3 people and then knowingly lie to him about it being possible to finish in a normal 8-hour day. A-Chen knows you're lying and you do too. (Again this may be a reason why he's not giving you his best ideas - you overwork him. You don't appreciate him so he doesn't appreciate you. What did you expect?)

Hire 3 people to do the jobs of 3 people (I mean for Christ's sake the math isn't even hard, come on guys) and pay them fairly, at internationally standard rates. Sure, this will cost you money, but you'll get it all back and more as your company roars to life.

Also, when you are expected to stay late as nothing more than a show of loyalty, or expected to do more than you can reasonably do in one work day, you tend to rebel, don't you? At least I do. Taiwanese employees don't sit on Facebook because they're lazy or unproductive. They're rebelling in the only way they can - by giving monkey work to employers who treat them like monkeys, regardless of how creative or innovative they actually are.

I don't blame them. I would too.

You want better work? More innovative staff? Start treating your employees like people. Give one person the work of one person, not 2 or 3.

3.) Brain Drain

This is a direct result of the first two problems. Again I don't blame those who leave - if office work in Taiwan were the option I was looking at if I stayed, I'd leave too. No thanks. Pay me what I'm worth and let me go home at 6, or I'll go abroad. Bye!

4.) China

I won't spend too much time on this, but I do think it's a factor. What does every country not have to deal with that Taiwan does? China openly and actively trying to undermine its economy to make annexation easier. Few people seem willing to admit this, fewer still are willing to debate it. It's obvious to anyone who cares to look - I mean hell, China admits it openly! They can and do interfere with Taiwan's ability to negotiate economic agreements with other countries and are quite open about the reason being that a weakened Taiwan is a Taiwan that's easier for them to take over. They are quite open as well that economic talks are, for them, an entry point to later political talks that they aim to "win".

This is not news.

China is actively trying to repress Taiwan's economy so as to render it both hopeless and economically dependent on China, for reasons that are obvious to everyone with two eyes and ears and a brain to process input with.

And that's why we can't seem to get the economy off the ground.

Why am I so sure it's these issues, and not the ones Stocker points to (real issues though they are) as the true mechanics behind Taiwan's economic stagnation?

Because they are the only ones unique to Taiwan. Wage stagnation is not a problem on the same level in South Korea, Japan or Singapore, and even China pays competitively now on the relatively prosperous urban east coast. (Hong Kong is another matter - wages are globally competitive but the cost of living has skyrocketed, especially vis-a-vis housing, to the point that it doesn't feel that way to locals). It's the same for the threat from China. Brain drain doesn't seem to be much of an issue for other competitive Asian economies - if anything they're the ones getting Taiwan's best and brightest.

Exhaustion at work is an issue common to other countries in Asia, and as such may not be the key driver, but I felt I should mention it because it is such a massive problem.

Want to fix whatever is holding Taiwan back?

Start here.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Dissecting Flowers: Rainy Day Musings

It's pouring today. This is a good thing in that we need rain thanks to the legislators tasked with keeping water management infrastructure up to date have done such a shitty job of it, but also a bad thing in that it's my only day off this week.

On the way to a cafe, I passed a familiar face - the woman on the corner who sells those fragrant flower blossoms wired onto little hooks that you hang around the house to give it a fresh, natural scent. I know her - she's a Taroko aborigine, a wife and mother, in her early 60s, a devout Christian (she gives me Christian literature sometimes that I don't read, not because it's in Chinese but because as an atheist it's just not my bag). A few health problems that you'd expect a 60-year-old woman who stands outside all day to have. Obviously she doesn't have a lot of money, if she did she wouldn't sell flowers on the sidewalk.

Today (or tomorrow?) is Mother's Day, by the way. It makes no difference to the story, except to highlight how crappy it must be to be 60, a mother on Mother's Day, when it's pouring out, selling flowers on the sidewalk.

So, I often buy flowers, but not always, as I am not always headed home when I pass her. Today I pass her and honestly, I didn't really want flowers. I already had some hanging up around the house that I bought from another guy who sells them on the sidewalk near one of my workplaces. I was heading to a cafe with a cat that is likely to try to eat the flowers (I'm pretty sure they're non-toxic but the owners don't really like it when he does that). I felt like as a consumer it's my right to decide if I want to buy something or not, I shouldn't be forced into it by a guilt trip, a sob story or a hard sell. My money, my choice (for my private money, obviously when it comes to taxes and contributing to the running of a society that's different).

But, I did get the hard sell: it's Mother's Day, it's raining, I want to go home, maybe buy some on your way back?

I don't have the heart to tell her that I already have flowers hanging up, and I don't know when I'm coming back.

I still don't really want the flowers.

Yet, reader, here I am in the cafe with a little plastic bag full of flowers on wire hooks.

On one hand, I'm not wrong about feeling I have the right to spend my money as I choose. On the other, what a privilege it is for me to not have to sell flowers on the street just to make ends meet. Even if it's raining. Even if I'm tired. Even if it's Mother's Day (if I were a mother - I don't think being a Cat Lady counts). Even if it's raining, I'm tired, and it's Mother's Day. What a privilege to have enough money to not have to, to have enough, even, to go to a pricey cafe and get a Bailey's latte and sandwich. What a privilege to have the discretionary income that I could drop NT$100 on some flowers I don't need and hadn't intended to buy and not have to worry about it. I haven't always had that luxury (see: Jenna ages 23-25, and briefly after first arriving in Taiwan). As a foreigner here I am relatively well-paid, though I lack a lot of the securities enjoyed by citizens despite their lower salaries - jobs with paid leave, bonuses, pension plans, access to credit in Taiwan. Does that status of being paid well above the average for a teacher - more like the average for someone of my age and experience in finance - confer a responsibility? If so, a responsibility to do what?

Put in a situation where I could say "no", keep my NT100 (about $3 US), meaning she'd have to stand in the rain that much longer until someone else bought them, leaving my right to only buy things I want intact, or spend the $3 for something I really don't want or need so she could go home that much earlier, I chose to spend the money. (I would have just given her the money and turned down the flowers, but that probably - and rightly - would have offended her. She wasn't a beggar).

This brings with it all sorts of tough questions of privilege and right - exercise my right not to buy an unnecessary item and feel like (and, honestly, be) kind of a jerk? Or be a nice person - a softie even - but give up my ability to resist a hard sell? What would you think of the sort of person who said no? The sort who said yesWould it have been better if she'd not given me the hard sell and I'd chosen, without any push, to buy the flowers? Then it would be me owning the fact that I didn't really want them.

What is to be done about the fact that there are people who need to make money to survive, or need money to accomplish certain worthy things (like feeding their children or going to school), and people with the money to make sure everyone is fed and can get a level of education that suits them, but that we can't force that money to be more equitably distributed? (While I'm in favor of using tax dollars to redistribute wealth - make sure everyone has access to the necessities of life, health care and an appropriate level of schooling - not even I would agree that it's okay to force people to spend their non-tax dollars in this way).

I thought about this especially as Stephen Colbert made headlines recently by funding every single teacher grant request in his home state. He chose to do this - nobody asked him, nobody told him he should, nobody gave him the hard sell. He got to own that decision. I do think it's a shame that our children's education is now in part funded not by communal tax dollars, which are inadequately allocated ([s]I guess we gotta feed the military industrial complex somehow because that's soooo important[/s]) but at the whims of the wealthy, but what he did was fundamentally good.

Would it still have been so good if he'd been pressured by teachers to do so, and relented?

I can only dream of having the kind of money that would allow me to do something like that. I like to think that I would. But even then, would it be the same if I'd been pressured into it?

People calling on a random rich person to fund something - however important - when that person would not have been inclined to fund it otherwise - has the whiff of "moocher" to it, and would probably be whipped to death by the media, especially in the USA (I can't say for Taiwan).  A flower seller calling on a random relatively-rich person to buy some flowers out of pure empathy, not so much. Then the person who does so feels like she had her agency taken away, but the person who doesn't comes away feeling like a bit of a selfish prat.

And how is it that the intertwining narratives of consumer discretion and relative (lack of) privilege turned a fairly simple exchange into something so complex?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Conga conga conga...conga conga conga...

That was me after a glass of hot wine last night doing a one-woman conga around our Christmas tree thanks to the pounding, the slaughter, the stomping, the trouncing, the up-the-bumming, the spanking, the slapping down, the kicking to the curb, the killing, the decimation (used in its modern sense so shoosh), the machete-ing that the KMT took last night! Yippee!

They deserved it too. The Taiwanese did not need to prove that they're not idiots and don't like being treated as such or condescended to, but like the elevator at one of my workplaces, the KMT is a little slow on the uptake. 

Side note: they really are like the Republicans of Taiwan - they have policies that benefit the rich and well-connected, they don't care much about the middle and working classes let alone the poor, they're socially conservative (although this is not as much a problem with the KMT, the KMT's issue is just not giving a damn about women's or LGBT rights whereas the Republicans actively oppose the equality of both groups), they're in bed with some very bad people (though you could say the same for the Democrats so I'm not sure that one counts) and they rely on a horrific amount of propaganda to get their bitter pills swallowed. They think very poorly of anyone who is not rich, intellectually lazy or well-connected and especially not anyone of a different race (for Republicans that'd be white, for the KMT that'd be Han Chinese both ethnically and culturally), they try to smear opponents with "they're not patriotic" and "they don't understand foreign policy" nonsense, and they have shitty foreign policy. And even the Republicans have more high-profile women than the KMT. 

The voters sent a clear message: don't condescend to us. We won't take it. Don't tell us we're lazy and privileged, that we say we want change but we don't really, that the reason we don't like a policy is that we just "don't understand it", not because it's a bad policy. Don't act like you were born to rule us, and that we should just accept being lorded over by a bunch of kleptocrats. Don't treat us alternately like ignorant peasants or idiot children. And listen to us. Public opinion means something - just because we elected you before doesn't mean you're the emperors of this country. Listen to us, or get the fuck out.

The KMT didn't listen, and here we are. They're out. BUH BYE.

They're a party of intellectually lazy nepotists - "we MUST get closer to China because it's the ONLY WAY and we can't consider any other ways because it's the ONLY one and if you even think about other ways you JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND...and can we just forget that whole genocide thing we did and haven't really apologized or made reparations or fully released records for? Also vote for my son. He's an idiot with no clear policies, but vote for him anyway." - so I bet they're sitting around now not thinking about how they lost because they didn't do the one thing fundamental to getting elected in a real democracy - - listening to the people. They're either whipping Sean Lien in a back room somewhere and blaming this whole thing on him, or they're grousing about how they lost "because those ignorant Taiwanese farmers who have misguided nationalism as a result of DPP propaganda and don't understand the right and good and morally correct value of being Chinese, not Taiwanese, and they just don't understand our good and morally correct policies and platforms". 

Because that's exactly what they showed us in this last campaign. Today's youth are privileged and dumb. The Sunflowers were just a trendy thing for airheaded children. You say you want change, but you really don't. If you can't get a taxi you'll be so upset that you'll steal vegetables. The only political protest you're willing to stick with is liking or unliking something on Facebook. Listen to us, we know better than you. You hate Koreans, right? Here's an ad about how Korea will beat us. Since you don't really understand free trade agreements, just be racist and vote for us because you hate Koreans. Also, the only reason people argue about politics is that they don't all support the KMT. If we win people will stop arguing about politics because we are the only correct choice.

And yet they are probably wondering why they got spanked. Even Sean Lien said not "I'm sorry I wasn't a better candidate" but "I'm sorry I didn't try hard enough to win." You did try hard enough to win, Sean, it's just that you weren't a very good candidate and you didn't try to be. You didn't stop to think that maybe the citizens of Taipei are smarter than the KMT gives them credit for and they want good candidates. Jason Hu's people are probably thinking "Taichung residents are just spoiled and don't see that the BRT is simply ironing out some flaws", rather than "Jason Hu was a bad mayor and got what he deserved - he should have done a better job". 

And nationally they are probably not thinking "Even Eric Chu won by only a thin margin, maybe we should do better generally and appeal to public opinion, because he's not necessarily a safe candidate in 2016", but "Eric Chu won, let's run him, it'll be fine". Or "the people are genuinely unhappy with Ma Ying-jiu for some good reasons, perhaps he should change tactics and step down as chairman of the KMT, a position he should never have been allowed to retain in the first place". Instead they're probably thinking "well these were regional and local elections, they have no bearing on the presidency". Except they do, seeing as Jiang Yi-huah has resigned. GOOD RIDDANCE, but not good enough.

Of course, some news outlets got it all wrong. The Economist, as usual, is full of shit:

The polls on November 29th, for 11,130 mayors, councillors and town chiefs, saw big gains for the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which has attacked the KMT’s efforts to forge closer economic ties with China.

Way to not be biased, jerks! "attacked the KMT's efforts"? I want to criticize this but it's so obviously subjective garbage that all I need to do is highlight it. Your reporters clearly missed the class on avoiding biased language.

The elections, being local ones, were more about such issues as urban development rather than relations with China. Candidates sought to win over voters with plans for building infrastructure and public housing. But the poll did reflect widespread dissatisfaction with Mr Ma’s handling of the economy, says George Tsai of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. Salaries have stagnated for years and there is a widespread belief that only Taiwan’s business elite is reaping the economic rewards of closer ties with China. (Mr Ma has signed 21 agreements with China, including a ground-breaking free-trade pact in 2010.) 

WRONG. The people of Taiwan are pissed off about relations with China - not so much that they're overly warm but that the KMT has bowed and scraped and given handjobs under the table to get these "warm relations". These elections were the only way that the people could show their unhappiness, as there were no national elections this year. So they showed it locally. This is a rejection of the KMT's let's-whore-out-Taiwan-to-China garbage, whether you want to believe it or not.

It's not even conspiracy-theory madness to say that China's strategy and end goal is to pull Taiwan into an inextricable vortex towards annexation...they've come right out and said it! And the KMT has gone along with it. Would you like another handjob, Mr. Xi? And it hasn't even helped the economy, except for a few very wealthy people who have benefited, and a few more jobs for Taiwanese that are in China - where few if any Taiwanese really want to live - not Taiwan.

And it's not "a widespread belief" that only the wealthy have benefited. You're making it sound like people believe something that's not necessarily true. But it is true. It's a belief, but it's a belief based in fact and it does you no favors as a credible news source to imply otherwise.

Also, "groundbreaking". Screw you and your biased language. Go suck a butt.


It will be even less convinced that Mr Ma will have the political strength to push for more measures to improve cross-strait ties before he steps down in 2016; there had been talk of setting up representative offices in each other’s territory as well as greater liberalisation of cross-strait trade. The DPP’s strengthened popularity might cause some KMT lawmakers to become more lukewarm in their support for these projects (early in 2016 they will be up for re-election too). The coming year will be a tense one in Taiwan’s politics.

Blah blah blah free trade is great we all love it and take it as a given that it is good and right and necessary and there can be no other way and it must be with China and this is always a good thing under any circumstances blah blah blah. Intellectually lazy garbage full of all sorts of biased language (relations have only "improved" if you think Ma's efforts have been good for Taiwan. I happen to think they have not).

All in all, I do think the DPP will do better than the KMT, because they, for all their many, many (many) faults, actually listen to the people, and the people deserve to be listened to. Plus, it'd be hard to do worse than the KMT.

Of course China will blow its wad - I look forward to reading about that, anything that angers and frustrates the Chinese government makes me want to get up and re-start that conga line - and of course The Economist and other crappy news sources are going to say it's the DPP's fault, that they're not good at governance, that they're "troublemakers", when China's the real troublemaker. The DPP isn't anti-China (anym0re). They're in favor of respectful dialogue with China - that is, dialogue in which Taiwan's sovereignty is respected. If China can't manage even that, they are the problem, not Taiwan and not the DPP.

The people of Taiwan understand that. I wonder when The Economist (and the US government) will. 

In the end, I know this is not the end of the KMT (too bad). I'm not against changing parties every few years, but I'd like to see a more pluralistic system, and I'd like to see a better party than the KMT challenge the DPP. It's good and healthy for parties to change up every few years, even if you like - or at least don't hate - the party that's just been swept into power. In a few years these headlines will switch around, I'm sure. And that's good - it keeps politicians on their toes. Forces them to work harder and be better (a lesson the KMT did not learn, it seems...let's see if my predictions of their reactions are accurate or if they finally get with the program and start treating the voters, especially the youth, with respect). I just wish the opposition was better than the KMT is (I feel the same way about Republicans - the Democrats need to be kept on their toes or they grow complacent and non-transparent as well - but can't we have a party less odious than Republicans?). 

The KMT ran Taiwan like its own personal fiefdom/treasure chest/gift to China for 6 years, with 2 or so remaining in the presidency. So I hope the DPP gets a crack at running things at least till 2020 or 2024. 

Then we can talk about changing up the guard a little, perhaps with another party that can challenge the DPP and do a better job than the KMT, and without a history of dictatorship and genocide. 

Today, we celebrate.

Tomorrow, we build a better Taiwan.