Can a Society devoid of Hope honor its Checks?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 27, 2007
It's the end of the year, and political candidates are rushing from one event to another, partaking of the festive atmosphere. Frank Hsieh took part in a "I Love Taiwan, Happiness Party" with "economic prosperity" as his theme. He issued blank checks to the youth of Taiwan, including: housing for young people, cheap rents, good jobs, and an end to debt slavery. Hsieh said the government should encourage young people to pursue their dreams, not just make money. He said the government must provide an environment that makes young people happy and helps them fulfill their dreams.
This is merely a rehash of the Democratic Progressive Party's campaign slogan from eight years ago: "Dare to hope, follow your dream." The mood now however is considerably different. Some new trends and new terms have appeared. For example, the Directorate General of Budget and Manpower's latest survey makes reference to a "hop hop class," i.e., a work force subject to rapid turnover. According to the Job Bank, nearly a quarter of this year's college graduates have yet to find work and have joined the ranks of the unemployed. Among those who found jobs, 48% have already quit. According to the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics' latest survey, the number of people employed part time this year has reached 252,000, a record high.
Young people who attend raves are modern Taiwan's "lost generation." Surveys conducted by employment agencies found that as many as 23% of college graduates have yet to find jobs five months after graduation. Their pay was low -- an average of 23,000 NT. Even those with Master's degrees earned only 34,000 NT. Low wages were among the principle factors behind high turnover among younger employees. The Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics found that the number of part time workers has soared. This is a new phenomenon that took place over the past two years. From only 100,000 part time workers in 2005, a sharp recession last year created 200,000 part time workers this year, a new high. The quality of the workplace is declining. Taiwan has the world's longest work hours. Over the past five years, the average hourly wage has experienced zero growth. Even though the minimum wage was increased to 95 NT, hourly workers worry that corporate managers will reduce their manpower demands.
Scholars have expressed concern about the workplace. It is not merely the economy that is in decline, but an entire generation's confidence in the future. Such low salaries in today's inflationary environment are sure to make life hard. Young people no longer have confidence in the future. Worse, if young people do not find suitable jobs within a short time, they can easily become frustrated from long-term unemployment, sink into poverty, and begin abusing drugs. They may even commit crimes or end their own lives. These warnings come not from ivory tower academics, but from the school of hard knocks.
After Japan's bubble economy burst, the negative impact expanded from the economic to the social. The incidence of suicide, unemployment, part time work, job shopping, and domestic violence, all soared. Students abandoned their studies and after graduation became "single parasites." Japanese sociologist Masahiro Yamada's disturbing treatise, "A Society devoid of Hope" described young people's sense of sheer futility, the feeling that "No matter how hard you try, the cards are stacked against you." Isn't the same thing happening now on Taiwan? According to a study by the Academia Sinica, Taiwan's society has changed over the past 20 years, and not for the better. The public now believes that "Unless one is extraordinarily lucky, one is unlikely to be promoted and to become wealthy." The public now believes people no longer trust each other, no longer feel they are in control of their own destinies, and no longer feel that society supports them. In Japan, the collapse of a once dependable education and employment track led to "A Society devoid of Hope." The same pattern is appearing on Taiwan with the younger generation.
Frank Hsieh has written a blank check promising "Jobs and Homes for Youth," targeting today's "low income, no income, single parasite" class. Hsieh has promised a pie in the sky. But these problem cannot be addressed by reversing cause and effect. They can only be addressed by issuing the right prescription for the ailment. The question is which regime was responsible for the "low income, no income, single parasite" phenomenon? Presidential candidates' promises of economic prosperity cannot be fulfilled overnight. The question is who can lead Taiwan out of its current status as a "Society devoid of Hope?"
2007.12.27 03:21 am