Fri, Oct 17, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Slap a `wife tax' on the wayward Taiwanese

By Chen Tian-jy 陳添枝

statistics from the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics show that 173,000 couples registered their marriage nationwide last year. Of the grooms, 168,000 were Taiwanese and 5,000 were foreigners. Of the brides, 128,000 were Taiwanese and 45,000 were foreigners. In other words, there was approximately one foreign bride in every four couples.

China accounts for the largest number of imported brides, followed by Southeast Asia. Foreign brides have recently attracted attention by taking to the street and protesting the policies on their rights to residency and work.

Because it is difficult for foreign brides to work, they can be full-time mothers and give birth to relatively larger numbers of children. Our future generations will be the offspring of foreigners. This has worried many people.

Cross-national marriages involve two issues -- the desire to marry and the question of one having to migrate to another country. If the migration is from a poor country to a rich one, it is relatively easier for the immigrating spouse to agree. The foreign spouses in Taiwan primarily hail from countries with lower average incomes than those of this country.

Among these marriages, however, there are also cases in which a strong immigration motive causes the two sides to tie the knot without being too happy with each other.

Back when Taiwan's economy was poorer and its politics unstable, there were cases of beautiful Taiwanese students marrying overseas Chinese laborers in New York -- "a flower was stuck in cow dung" for the sake of a green card. Now there are stories of young Chinese girls marrying elderly Taiwanese. Such marriages seem not to have resulted from people liking each other, but from the attraction of incomes to be gained after the husbands die.

In cross-national marriages that contravene the immigration motive, either the other spouse possesses extraordinary qualifications [a famous Taiwanese singer marries a tycoon in Southeast Asia, for example] -- or there is a special mission involved [as in the case of Wang Chao-chun (王昭君), a court maid during the Han dynasty who was married to the king of the Hun nomads in order to appease the Huns.]

Personal qualifications belong to the individual while the incentives for immigration are created by society. Because rich countries can attract immigrants from poor ones, Taiwanese men are taking advantage of the nation's wealth to marry Chinese and Southeast Asian women. They are using society's shared assets to make up for their own inadequate qualifications in order to marry.

In contrast, Taiwanese women share the same social assets but they find it difficult to attract rich foreign husbands because foreign men moving to Taiwan must tackle barriers in a traditional culture that views men as the center of the family.

Taiwanese men are thus sheltered by society's assets and gain "external benefits." They should be taxed for this. In contrast, Taiwanese women should be compensated for the harm caused to them by the men's preference for foreign brides.

Generally, one good policy for resolving trade imbalances is to change product prices, not to limit imports. Therefore, we should find ways to raise the cost of importing brides and lower the price of importing grooms so as to balance the numbers of foreign brides and foreign grooms.

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