Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Whence the Term "Economic Voters?"

Whence the Term "Economic Voters?"
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
November 27, 2014

Executive Summary: The current election has caught the eye of many Mainland tourists on Taiwan. Many of them feel the attraction of Taiwan’s democracy. What they don’t realize is that Taiwan's democracy is incapable of solving economic problems. It even hinders long-term economic development. On this point, the public on Taiwan should be  worried indeed.

Full Text Below:

The nine in one elections are merely local elections. The hour of reckoning is near. Yet an endless procession of government officials and private entrepreneurs have appealed to voters concerned about the economy, so-called "economic voters.” They have asked them to help pass the STA, MTA, and other free trade agreements. They fear Taiwan's economy will lose its competitive advantage. Will playing the "economic card" work?  That remains to be seen. But the unique appeal to "economic voters” is itself an intriguing phenomenon.

"Economic voters” is an invention unique to Taiwan's democracy. It is a peculiar product of Taiwan’s political divide, identity differences, and developmental disorders. Man is an economic animal. People participate in politics primarily to make their own lives better through democratic means. In Western democracies, political parties are classified as left, center and right. They attempt to help the underprivileged, increase equality, and increase prosperity, respectively. Changing economic circumstances in other countries lead to changes in the ruling party. But on Taiwan, differences between the blue and green parties are not based on ideological differences. They are not based on right vs. left political differences. They are based on strategic differences between the ruling and opposition parties vis a vis the Chinese mainland. Over the years, these entangled political and economic considerations have created additional obstacles to Taiwan’s pursuit of common prosperity.

Left vs. right divisions have long confused the public on Taiwan. They have never been clearly defined. Politically the KMT has long been regarded as pro-capitalist, while the DPP has been regarded as populist. But this impression is a consequence of early period KMT one-party dominance. Democratization led to dramatic changes. During the DPP's eight years in power, capitalists competed to pay tribute to the DPP. They bestowed gifts of jewels and cash. As we can see, capitalists cozy up to those in power no matter what the era. Nor do those in power also bother with distinctions about the capitalists’ political coloration.

The TSU is located on the “deep green” end of the political spectrum. It trumpets its opposition to Mainland China. In fact, it seldom proposes any economic policies to take care of the poor and underprivileged. Conversely, the New Party, which is located on the “deep blue” end of the political spectrum, urges cross-Strait exchanges, but has has no specific policy on the economy. As we can see, left vs. right political labels on Taiwan have long been idiosyncratic and inaccurate. They cannot be equated with left vs. right political labels in the West. The problem is that Taiwan has paid a terrible price for this political and economic confusion.

Taiwan was once bore the title "economic miracle." It also boasted a relatively balanced distribution of income. But over the last decade, the domestic wealth gap has continued to widen. The reasons are not difficult to imagine. One. The rise of emerging economies. Taiwan has been complacent and closed off. It has lost its dynamism and vision. Two. All countries face global competition. The Chinese mainland has become the world's factory. Yet Taiwan remains mired in cross-Strait political opposition, binding itself hand and foot. Three. During democratization Taiwan accumulated many insoluble problems. These led to vicious ruling vs. opposition party struggles and vendettas that hijacked the public interest. The economy became the victim. Four. When the economy slows, calls for a more equal distribution of wealth are silenced. Government officials and private entrepreneurs have appealed to "economic voters.” Essentially they hope to catch the attention of more rational voters. They hope that people will not to allow Taiwan's economy to further deteriorate. But their appeal may fail. Politics on Taiwan has long been mired in blue vs. green confrontation. Politics is perceived as opposition on economic issues. As a result, the green camp opposes Mainland China, environmentalists oppose industry, homeowners oppose rezoning, student oppose the STA, and mothers oppose the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant. Everyone opposes something or another. Their goal is not to seek solutions, but to leave everyone paralyzed. This can only be construed as political failure.

The PRC-ROK FTA has been signed. Taiwan's economy will be hard hit. The ruling and opposition parties differ dramatically. But the most affected are small and medium enterprises in central and southern Taiwan. That is beyond dispute. Unemployment in the depressed center and south are much higher than in the north. But economic issues cannot impress voters in the center and the south. Those regions lack so-called "economic voters." Political demagoguery has also stigmatized the term "economic voters" as supporters of exploitation and injustice, and equated them with capitalist lackeys. This is the result of long-term ruling vs. opposition party confrontation and political demagoguery. It has led many to express indifference to economic considerations, to vilify economic growth, and express contempt for entrepreneurs, even as they complain about low wages and grim futures.

People on Taiwan have coined the term "economic voters." But economic voters are merely rational voters. The term “swing voters” was worked to death. Out of desperation people were forced to invent a new term, "economic voters." This was clearly a response to such terms as "political voters" or "anti-economic voters.” Ironically, "economic voters" has become a rallying cry in the campaign. Taiwan's economy is in decline. The scene provokes melancholy.

The current election has caught the eye of many Mainland tourists on Taiwan. Many of them feel the attraction of Taiwan’s democracy. What they don’t realize is that Taiwan's democracy is incapable of solving economic problems. It even hinders long-term economic development. On this point, the public on Taiwan should be  worried indeed.

2014.11.27 02:21 am










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