Sat, Jan 31, 2015 - Page 8 News List

[ LETTERS ]

The basic cost of living has nearly doubled in 10 years and the cost of housing has gone through the roof. Even Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) and his wife — two doctors — could not afford a house in Taipei without parental help.

In Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, he writes that when wealth inequality reaches a certain level, democracy devolves into plutocracy — rule by the rich. The root of the problem of income inequality, besides the natural tendency of capitalism to favor the rich, is political corruption. Moreover, the campaign cost of an election continues to escalate as big money is more than willing to grab power.

The cost of Taipei’s mayoral election appears to be a high percentage of the city budget — exceeding the percentage of the US’ presidential election costs in terms of its federal government budget. This is the best money can buy, since the return on the investment can be huge, as evidenced by the alleged food-scandal criminals the Presidential Office has been accused of protecting.

The city government under former Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) was very much of the rich, by the rich, for the rich. The collusion between Hau and the rich is beyond belief. He purchased a flower arrangement at 10 times the market price for the 2010 Taipei International Flora Expo, asserting that art is priceless.

Some build-operate-transfer (BOT) projects signed by Hau appear to make outrageous concessions to business owners. Their intimately close relations can only encourage corruption.

Other cities do not fare better in terms of money politics. The alleged vote-buying at the council speaker elections in Tainan is perhaps the tip of the iceberg, since evidence is hard to collect for these cases — and prosecution harder still. The effort to turn the current plutocracy back to democracy might be too little and too late.

Citizen support is important for Ko to negotiate with businesses fairly and squarely, and to set up a model for future BOT projects. To open all related government documents on the Web for citizens to examine would be the best way to make the government open and transparent, and to allow citizens to police contract implementation. Ko’s smart city concept is urged to, first and foremost, make good use of this intelligent tool to safeguard against the plutocracy.

The nation is at a crossroads. The public financing of an election model Norway has put forth is a good approach to take, and next year’s presidential election is set to be most crucial in determining whether Taiwanese will choose plutocracy or democracy.

James Hsu

Santa Carina, California

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