Su and Tsai's Worrisome Insular Economic Perspective
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
April 15, 2011
The DPP has just held its second presidential primary debate. But the party's candidates have yet to offer the far-sighted national policies the public expects. The public has however, seen Su and Tsai Ing-wen waffle and flip-flop on economic policy. Tsai Ing-wen's "local economy," and Su Tseng-chang's "fortunate nation" are shot through with introversion and reaction. Do they really not know they are leading Taiwan down the garden path?
During the previous primary debate, Tsai Ing-wen repeatedly touted her international vision, During the latest primary debate however, she suddenly reverted to "local economy" thinking. She declared that Taiwan must head down an entirely different developmental path. It must adopt a nativist orientation. This was truly surprising. Tsai Ing-wen's so-called local economy, calls for the development of industries with local characteristics. It calls for young people to turn their creative energies to rural towns and villages, and increasing job opportunities. In fact, this idea is not new. Tsai Ing-wen lacks an adequate understanding of Taiwan's local economy. Otherwise she would have known that many regions have begun doing just this, and that the results have been exemplary. Young people have been returning home in a steady stream for years.
In recent years, Taiwan's economy has reached a bottleneck, mainly due to flip-flopping over government policies and government controls. This is not a problem that can be solved by chanting political mantras such as "local economy." Besides, problems with the local economy are rightly the responsibility of county chiefs, city mayors, and village chiefs. They are more able to respond to local conditions. They are closer to local needs. A national leader needs a broader and more far-sighted perspective. Tsai Ing-wen alas, cannot see the forest for the trees. She imagines she has offered us a grand vision of how to rule a nation. In reality, she has put the cart before the horse. Tsai Ing-wen is either unfamilar with Taiwan's local economy, or she simply cannot see beyond the island of Taiwan. Either is cause for concern.
Imagine applying Tsai Ing-wen's so-called local economy model to Seattle, Seattle is an aerospace, information technology, and biotechnology center. Many world-renowned multinational companies have set up factories there. In short, Seattle is an international city. It simply does not fit into Tsai Ing-wen's "nativist" framework. It does not have an economy rooted in the sale of agricultural products or on local tourism. People from many nations work there. Together they have achieved prosperity and excellence. Seattle may be Tsai Ing-wen's image of paradise. But if her head is filled exclusively with thoughts of "localization" and "nativism," how can she possibly set foot within such a realm?
Su Tseng-chang's economic perspective is not quite as narrow and constipated. He supports deregulation. He supports incentives for investment. But alas, he also demands all sorts of measures to "redistribute the wealth." He commits a string of logical contradictions impossible to justify. He resembles Tsai Ing-wen in certain respects. During the two primary debates he mentioned industrial policy. Both times the examples he cited concerned local agriculture and local fisheries. The first concerned angelfish. The other concerned mushrooms. Angelfish and mushrooms are indeed examples of "native" Taiwan industries. But Su has to incorporate a much broader range of technologies and industries into his economic framework. Does he really believe that reverting to "nativism," to farming and fishing, can bolster Taiwan's economy and ensure its future development?
Six decades ago, our forebears created Taiwan's economic miracle. Taiwan lacked resources. Only by aggressively developing trade and import substitution industrialization, were they able to ensure Taiwan's economic survival. Six decades later, Taiwan has become an economic giant. DPP leaders not only do not understand how to help this giant grow, they actually want to shrink its domain, and reduce the amount of room it has for growth. Is forcing Taiwan to revert to farming and fishing the only way to ensure a better tomorrow?
Hsu Hsin-liang has reiterated the need to "go west." He may have oversimplifed the problem. But Su Tseng-chang and Tsai Ing-wen are ahead in the polls. All they can think about is "nativism." All they can think about is farming and fishing. They dare not take a long hard look at their surroundings, at the world outside. Their attitude is a far more serious problem. When Chen Shui-bian was in office, he knew enough to champion such projects as "Two Trillion, Twin Stars," and "Big Investment, Great Warmth." Many of these projects were empty boasts. But at least he knew the government had to take the lead. Su and Tsai have eight years of experience in office. Yet overnight, they would overturn and discard their own important economic achievements. They would force Taiwan to revert to what it was six decades ago. That would be a giant step backwards. Su Tseng-chang has promised rosy elderly long term care and child care policies. But given his feeble economic program, who is going to pay for all his welfare programs?
Youth unemployment and industrial restructuring are problems the ruling and opposition parties must solve together. But problems cannot be solved by burying one's head in the sand. Nor should policy makers prescribe voodoo economic cures. Su Tseng-chang and Tsai Ing-wen may defy the wisdom of the people. But they must not be allowed to trample over six decades of hard-won economic prosperity. Tsai Ing-wen. Su Tseng-chang. Do your homework. Then come back.