Tue, May 02, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Capital and Taiwanese democracy

By Jerome Keating

The world that we live in is far different from that which experienced the Cold War mentality and ideological struggles at the end of World War II. At that time, the Allied powers had defeated the Axis alliance, and a new struggle appeared between communism and democracy.

Ironically, however, even as that ideological struggle emerged, it was itself being subtly questioned in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. One of the basic points that Orwell was making and which is often lost in the allegory is that at the end of the story, the other farm animals found it difficult to distinguish between their previous capitalist rulers and the pigs that replaced them.

This insight is what makes Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century all the more intriguing and worth re-examining from at least two perspectives. First is how capitalism, which contains many destructive seeds of humanity, can span ideology, and second, the highly important and slowly realized attention that this places on the burgeoning democracy of Taiwan.

Piketty’s main thesis treats the growing problem of wealth and income inequality, which he found in Europe and the US since the 18th century, and how it threatens democracy.

What Piketty does not delve into are those countries allegedly fashioned by Marxist communism, where the same wealth gaps and disparity hold true as well. Age-old desires for power and control remain the sought-after ends and unchecked capitalism has quickly supported this by creating new oligarchies in Russia and China.

These two nations, along with the US, are the top three countries with the largest number of billionaires. The families and princelings of oligarchs have replaced the families of the czars and emperors in Russia and China.

On the US side, capitalism appears to be returning to the past days of the robber barons. In short, oligarchies are becoming the new bloodlines of inherited power and the new despotism; this is a point that fits Orwell’s allegory.

Unfortunately, oligarchies and privilege are the same the world over. A different book by business journalist Duff McDonald, The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and its Secret Influence on American Business, shows how this firm has become the “godfather of CEO megapay” in a leading democracy.

This contributed to the new phrase: “We are the 99 percent.”

The truth of this slogan is increasingly becoming real. One can argue with Piketty over the means of determining wage gaps, but one does not need to be a rocket scientist to see the disparity in a country where its Congress and state electors argue over a minimum wage of US$15 for average citizens while CEO pay has skyrocketed to 500 times that of ordinary workers. This is the new “Animal Farm.”

Who can tame the new pigs? Transparency and a free press are essential to this and often lacking even in the US where the growing consciousness of the meaning and implications of who the “99 percent” are is taking hold.

Transparency, transparency, transparency. For US citizens, those who put their faith in the blustering and boasting promises of US President Donald Trump, history states that they are asking to be disillusioned. There is a weasel quality about a man who now even seeks to hide who visits him in the White House and who refuses to honor his promise to show his tax returns.

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