President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) recently said that if the unemployment rate drops below 2 percent, the economy will suffer from a shortage of labor, which would harm the nation’s industries.
People have different ways of thinking, depending on what role they perform in society.
It is understandable that businesspeople do not wish to see a shortage of labor hampering their production lines. However, it is scary when the national leader has thoughts like this.
Ma is a broker serving capitalists: He has forgotten that it is his duty to look after each member of the public and to give them access to full employment, rather than worry about what should be done in the event of a shortage of labor.
A century ago, German economist Karl Marx proved that the existence of what he called an “industrial reserve army of the unemployed” facilitated the accumulation of capital and that this was an important factor allowing capitalists to stand above laborers and keep their wages low.
This also explains why capitalist societies continue to have problems with the alienation of labor and commodity fetishism.
Marxist thought is just one way of thinking and may not always be applicable, because economic problems are complex.
Everyone, regardless of whether they are an expert in a certain field, can say: “There is nothing all that bad about a shortage of labor.”
Ma can also say this as a private individual, but as a president, he cannot. This is because what we think on a subconscious level will influence the actions we take in the real world. As such, how a president thinks will influence an entire nation.
As long as Ma is concerned with the impact of a labor shortage on industry, he will never pay any attention to the unemployment rate.
Of course, the unemployment rate has nothing to do with Ma’s results over the year, but rather the amount of effort he puts into ensuring everyone has a job.
A president should show more concern about whether people have jobs, as opposed to whether there is a shortage of labor in the business world.
I am unable to say what will happen to Taiwanese industry if the unemployment rate gets so low that we experience a lack of labor.
However, employment is deeply linked to human survival and is also related to the acquisition and utilization of many family resources, such as health and education as well as social problems like crime and homelessness.
It would be much better to see each laborer fully utilized and giving their utmost, even if that does offend capitalists.
Better this than seeing unemployed people being forced, exploited and struggling for their livelihoods, and sometimes even being stigmatized in the process.
Liao Wei-kai is a doctoral candidate in politics at the University of Sheffield.
Translated by Drew Cameron