Sun, Aug 27, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Letters: Ireland has what it takes

I read with interest Lin Cho-shui's (林濁水) article ("Which country should we emulate," Aug. 24, page 8). Lin makes a number of valid points about Ireland's economic development. Ireland is going through a 10-year economic boom which has transformed its position and standing in the world. However, much of what he writes is rather misinformed or willfully generalized.

Some of the development is due to property speculation and rising real estate value. Having said that, Ireland does have a number of advanced multinational corporations such as Cement Roadstone Holding and Smurfit Ireland. I would agree however that it does fulfill an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) role in the electronics industry. Even so, the key point is that Irish OEM firms would not work for gross margins below 20 percent to 30 percent, while most Taiwanese companies on the stock market would happily settle for 10 percent.

It seems that the sole aim of large Taiwanese companies is to earn more revenue, and I suspect the ulterior motive is for the directors and main shareholders of these companies to grow rich on cashing out a significant shareholding, with little thought given to other shareholders. This phenomenon is hardly positive for economic efficiency and wealth creation as a whole.

As an Irishman who has been living in Taiwan for the past nine years and running a business here and in Ireland, I have seen for myself that both countries have their unique values and advantages.

Ireland has a relatively bureaucracy-free corporate culture. Practically anyone can come to Ireland to set up a company. Contrast this with Taiwan, where it takes months of effort and large capital investment to set up a firm, along with severe restrictions on company activity. Financing is extremely difficult, and banks will not issue loans or credit cards to non-Taiwanese.

In Ireland, anyone residing in the country for five years can get an Irish (EU) passport, but in Taiwan a foreigner must give up one's original nationality and do one-and-a-half years' military conscription (if male). This is not reaching out to the world.

On the domestic economic front, the average Irish person sees wage increases of 3 percent to 10 percent yearly based on a contract between the Irish government and the most powerful unions. This helps to ensure wealth creation is spread down. Contrast this with Taiwan, where workers' salaries have not increased in all the time I have been here. I blame this squarely on a government system that allows rich companies and individuals to earn enormous profits and park these overseas.

The average Irish worker would not accept this system. In Taiwan, however, society is fed a dream based on the concept of "work hard enough and you will succeed." In this way the people on the lower rungs scrabble away for the scraps, desperately hoping that they can get on the wealth ladder. In the process they are conned into accepting low wages and worse working conditions.

I believe the reason why South Korea is surpassing Taiwan is precisely because the Koreans as a nation are confident in themselves, and because the workers collectively bargain with the government.

Ireland would never accept the system of brokered foreign labor employed in Taiwan, in which Taiwanese workers are denied a decent salary by government and big business colluding to import low-cost labor.

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