Tue, Jan 15, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Expose the mythmaking, Mr Hsieh

For the presidential poll in March, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) strategists should employ optimism rather than the defeatism that DPP candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) indulged in on Sunday, when he spoke of political retirement should he lose.

Ending defeatism cannot be accomplished without an energetic campaign to counter accusations that the DPP is to blame for everything that has gone wrong with the country -- or even that things went wrong to begin with.

For years, the idea that the DPP has been responsible for an "economic downturn" in Taiwan has been beaten into the consciousness so vigorously and with so little resistance that it has become received wisdom. Every day we hear about Taiwan's "slouching" or "limping" economy or, if we listen to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), about people struggling to make ends meet and barely eking out a living.

These economic "doldrums" and the DPP's culpability are examples of mythmaking, the result of a campaign of lies that successfully tapped into the irrational and uninformed fears of people who, in many cases, have never had it better.

At times the public seems to inhabit a psychological realm that can border on the downright gullible. As a result, a long series of reports on big retail companies making record profits, the stock market reaching new heights and unemployment falling to its lowest level since February 2001 were ignored.

Instead, everything is seen through the gloomy lens of pessimism: GDP growth is "only" 5.9 percent; unemployment is at a "high" level of 3.9 percent. What many fail to realize, however, is that GDP growth of 5.9 percent is more than respectable, while a unemployment rate of 3.9 percent would be the envy of many a country.

Part of the problem is comparing Taiwan with developing countries such as China -- a practice most unfair, as Taiwan is a modern, developed country and double-digit GDP growth will never happen again. The US, Germany, Britain and France haven't experienced sustained growth of this magnitude in decades, if ever, and economists there would be dancing in the streets if they experienced Taiwan's 5.9 percent growth.

Developing countries like China, Thailand and India have primitive economic circumstances and social and environmental dangers that are rarely factored into long-term economic forecasts.

True, there are grounds for complaint for middle to low-income workers. They rightly say that their wages have not risen -- for close to a decade in some cases -- in response to inflation. But instead of noting the effective absence of labor unions -- an important feature of most advanced economies -- and confronting employers who prefer to reroute entitlements into unpredictable annual bonuses, the government is blamed, even though it can only legislate for the minimum -- and minimal -- wage.

With all its faults, the DPP came to power at a time when the very paradigms of international relations were being shaken. Blaming the government for this is invidious. Love it or hate it, the DPP didn't orchestrate the Sept. 11 attacks, the US-led "war on terror," the invasion of Iraq, the US subprime mortgage crisis or record oil prices.

Once and for all, as it prepares for the March elections, the DPP and its presidential candidate should get their act together and light a candle in the dark to ward off the imaginary monster of economic failure.

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