It is a them-and-us style of organization, the exclusive versus the excluded, with decisions being made by a restricted inner circle behind closed doors.
Compounded with Ma’s elitist sense of entitlement, this gives rise to the phenomenon of “groupthink” in the way he leads the government and governs the nation.
The term groupthink refers to the situation when constituent members of a small group, in the interests of maintaining unity and harmonious consensus within the group, are incapable of effectively evaluating any alternative approaches.
Studies by US research psychologist Irving Janis on collective decisionmaking are very interesting — and particularly pertinent — when applied to how Ma and his inner sanctum expect people to perform as yes-men.
So-called group unity subjugates all, maintaining an agreed, unquestioned stance that is further consolidated by the binding effect of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) prodigious party assets. This type of group is structurally flawed. The leader gives orders, there is no decisionmaking procedure in place and the make-up of the group is highly homogenous.
A collective which has fallen into groupthink tends to believe in its own infallibility and the excessive complacency and blind optimism that this engenders often makes the group ignore potential pitfalls or warning signs.
In addition, the members of the collective are generally convinced that their decisions are just and ethically and morally sound.
A case in point is Ma’s inner circle’s mantra of “we are not selling Taiwan out, we are selling Taiwan’s fruit.” Even CommonWealth Magazine wrote that it must have been heartbreaking for Taiwanese fruit farmers to see container loads of oranges being dumped into the sea and that the contract for milkfish from Greater Tainan was political in nature.
Another symptom of groupthink is collective rationalization — such as the insistence that the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement had to be signed if Taiwan is not to become marginalized — and the suspicion with which any suggestions from those outside the inner circle are met.
Under Ma, the government often complains that others oppose their plans simply for the sake of it. Former minister of the interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源) had it right when he said, after leaving his position, that there had been no communication over the cross-strait service trade pact and that the public hearings had been purely for show.
Also, because the inner sanctum is so cut off from the outside world, very little information gets in or out. As a result, alternative ideas are thin on the ground and when an idea has been settled upon, it is rarely changed or improved.
The most evident example of this was the government’s failure to come up with an actual policy on industry, apart from daily announcements of its intention to sign free-trade agreements with a host of countries.
Another case in point was its utter failure to produce an alternative energy policy, despite announcing that work on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮) was to stop.