Fighting Our Way Out of the Economic Doldrums
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 3, 2009
The first problem the government must tackle in the Year of the Ox, is unemployment. The Executive Yuan has not had an easy time this past year. Immediately following the Lunar New Year, it introduced its "New Programs to Revive the Economy." It intends to invest 300 billion in the coming year, creating at least 150,000 job opportunities. The Executive Yuan is hardly jumping the gun. Job seekers packed employment agencies on the first day of work following the Lunar New Year. The Year of the Ox may "change heaven and earth," but severe challenges remain.
The Legislative Yuan began a new session. Legislators kicked off the New Year by dressing up as immortals from traditional Chinese opera. Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng dressed up as the Jade Emperor. Ruling and opposition party legislators, who are normally at each others' throats, called a truce. They posed next to the Jade Emperor, resplendent in their costumes, amidst an atmosphere of festivity. These high-ranking officials play an important role in the human world. Perhaps they really were demigods in a previous life, who have now descended to earth in this life. They command the power of the budget. We can only hope that these ruling and opposition party legislators will take pity on us mere mortals, that they will feel our pain. We can only hope that they will transcend partisanship and ensure swift passage of the budget and other bills affecting the economy.
The Executive Yuan's small scale works program to revitalize the economy is merely an emergency measure. It will not lift people out of destitution. But with the global economic slowdown, every government is combatting unemployment. They do not have time for long-term planning. They cannot save the poor. They can only fight fires. Like the consumer vouchers issued just before New Year, they cannot save the economy. They can only boost consumer spending. They can only buy time. They can only help the economic recession from falling into a vicious cycle. People have different opinions about the consumer vouchers. But judging by the results, they have undoubtedly stimulated consumption. Government heads have even taken the lead. They have used the vouchers and made cash donations of their own. Charitable groups have received substantial donations.
Past government programs to stimulate domestic demand were handled by local governments. They held bids and awarded contracts. After passage by the central government, these programs were again reviewed and approved by local legislatures. This wasted valuable time and interfered with the bidding and awards process. Quick results were out of the question. This time, the Executive Yuan allocated central government funds directly to local governments. They authorized them to handle the matter, bypassing the middle-man -- local legislatures. Therefore the speed at which the "New Program to Revitalize the Economy" can be implemented is limited only by the Legislative Yuan's own review process. During the last session, the Legislative Yuan burned the midnight oil, passing a number of budgets. This allows the Executive Yuan to adopt its programs this spring, creating many job opportunities.
From the figures alone, one really can't tell how the 150,000 jobs were calculated. But since the budget has already been allocated, the Executive Yuan must watch local governments like a hawk. It must not allow its good intentions to come to naught. It must guard against local governments divvying up the loot, sacrificing the interests of the unemployed.
The Executive Yuan's small scale public works program was a response to the needs of blue-collar workers. Programs for university graduates and technical institute graduates will be announced within the week. Basically the central government will inject funds through the National Science Council and other agencies, providing jobs for research assistants. How many long term jobs these programs will provide is hard to say. Again, this is merely a band aid, a way to make life a little easier until the economy recovers.
Last year the financial crisis inundated the globe. The world now faces the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. Plants have been closed and workers have been laid off. No country has been spared. Governments have become the most important pillar amidst the crisis. When the private sector loses economic momentum, only the government can provide the economic engine, and start a new wave of economic activity. Obviously the executive branch cannot do the job by itself. The Legislative Yuan, which provides a check on the power of the Executive Yuan, is equally important. In addition to watching over the purse strings, it must also ensure administrative efficiency. In such trying times as these. ensuring efficiency may be even more important than approving budgets.
Combatting unemployment requires mobilizing all the people. The Executive Yuan must be swift, decisive, and precise. The Legislative Yuan must understand the public's needs. It must set aside partisanship, and give economic issues priority. Above all, those with jobs must save themselves. At times like these, one cannot consider only easy, high paying jobs close to home. One must roll up one's sleeves, and dedicate oneself to one's work. One must first get on track. Only then can one think about changing tracks. One must think of one's job as a means of stimulating the economy, as a way to liberate oneself from the consequences of the economic slump.