President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is often portrayed as only caring about cold hard numbers and being out of touch with the public’s day-to-day lives. While this attitude is rightly critical of the government’s failure to perceive ordinary people’s hardships, it may mislead some into thinking that the overall economy has improved under Ma’s tenure and that the only problem is one of unequal distribution.
Indeed, in the televised debates between the three presidential candidates, Ma repeatedly brought up certain figures in an attempt to prove that he has performed better than the previous government, and he even blamed his predecessor, Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), for leaving a big mess for him to clear up.
The truth, however, is very different. If we compare the economic figures from Ma’s time in office with those of his predecessor, or with the other three “Asian Tiger” economies — Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea — Ma’s performance is not up to par, and Taiwan has in fact been left in the dust.
A look at Chen’s performance shows that he left Ma not with a mess, but with good starting capital.
The Ma administration has made a very poor showing during its three-and-a-half years in office. It has failed to deliver on Ma’s “6-3-3” election promise — 6 percent economic growth, 3 percent or less unemployment and US$30,000 per capita income — but Ma has not lived up to his pledge to donate half his salary if he fell short of those targets. Evidently he is not just incompetent, but insincere, too.
Some people portray Ma as an innocent little bunny in the field of politics, but he is far from that. Besides refusing to admit to his incompetence, he fabricates explanations to shift the blame. We have all heard them: Ma never does anything wrong, and it is only the mess left by the previous administration and a bad international environment that have bogged the poor man down, and that’s why his administration has little to show for itself.
Since Ma announced his re-election bid he has conjured up a pile of impressive-sounding figures, and he has recited them with great fluency and persuasion in the televised debates to make it seem as if his performance has outshone Chen’s. He may well have succeeded in deceiving people if they accept his data for fact without making any further inquiries.
Luckily there is plenty of objective data available, and if you look for the numbers and compare them it is easy to see the truth. An enthusiastic reader has been so kind as to collect some statistics and arrange them in tables that present a clear picture of the situation before and after Chen handed over the reins of government, as well as Ma’s performance. The facts immediately demolish any illusion about Ma’s so-called political achievements.
Let us examine some of the key statistics, remembering that Chen started the first of his two terms in office in May 2000 and handed over to Ma in May 2008.
Taiwan’s average annual economic growth rate measured quarter by quarter between the third quarter of 2000 and the second quarter of 2008 was 4.49 percent, but it dropped to 3.24 percent between the third quarter of 2008 and the second quarter of last year. The average monthly unemployment rate between May 2000 and April 2008 was 4.3 percent, but it rose to 5.05 percent between May 2008 and September last year.