Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) spokesman Charles Chen (陳以信) recently submitted a letter to the media questioning comments Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) made in Washington about how the Sunflower movement was linked to the growing wealth disparity in Taiwan.
Chen cited the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics’ (DGBAS) data on household incomes and said that the figures showed that wealth disparity, far from widening — “as has been disseminated in certain sections of the media or by interested politicians” — is actually shrinking.
If we look at an alternative metric for measuring the wealth disparity in this nation — the 20 categories in the Ministry of Finance’s tax return forms — we find that in the returns for this year the wealthiest 5 percent earn 85 times more than the poorest 5 percent, compared with 65 times for the same groups in 2008, at the end of former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) term in office. That difference speaks volumes.
It is a cast-iron fact that the relative difference between the wealthiest and poorest, from the incomes declared on their tax returns, has climbed since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office in 2008, reaching an all-time high now.
There is something else worth exploring. If you analyze the DGBAS figures for income earners in terms of their level of education, you find that those with a university education or higher had an average personal disposable income of NT$700,000 in 2008, but this had fallen to NT$660,000 last year. If you isolate age groups, you find that the average personal disposable income of earners in the 30 to 35 age range was NT$480,000 in 2008, compared with NT$470,000 last year. It had shrunk, not increased. The average personal disposable income of earners under the age of 30 has stayed the same in the six years Ma has been in office.
Once we strip away all the extraneous details, a picture closer to reality emerges, and the problem becomes evident.
The reason for isolating the figures on level of education and age is that the specific context for the comments Lai made in the US was his trying to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between the Sunflower movement, the wealth disparity and increasingly close cross-strait exchanges.
What Lai was trying to draw attention to, not only for the authorities, but also for the public, was that the fruits of the cross-straits exchanges policy are not being felt evenly across the board, that educated young people are faced with uncertainty about their own futures, and that the resulting wealth disparity is neither fair nor just and something for which the government has to take responsibility.
However, Charles Chen’s wilful avoidance of the point and obfuscation of the facts shows his party’s reluctance to reflect on the problem.
Both in 2012 and last year, people in the 65-years-and-over age group enjoyed more than NT$30,000 more in disposable income, on average, than those in the below-30 group. Young people rely on what they earn to get by, but they are finding themselves left further behind society as a whole.
How to even out the inter-generational wealth disparity in this country — and whether or not capital accumulation in the hands of the privileged, politicians and businesses is the main culprit behind the younger generation finding it difficult to make ends meet or get a start in life — is something that we cannot ignore when looking into the issue of the wealth disparity in Taiwan.
It is really no wonder that there is a growing disconnect between the KMT and the younger generation, when the latter sees the former as standing on the wrong side on this issue.
Chiu Li-li is a Greater Tainan city councilor.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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