On Jan. 21, international development charity Oxfam published a report titled Public Good or Private Wealth? in which it proposed that governments around the world reduce inequality by taxing the rich more heavily. This is a very reasonable suggestion.
Former Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co chairman Morris Chang (張忠謀) once said that problems with Taiwan’s tax system, including tax cuts and exemptions for many businesses, made him feel that he paid too little tax.
This century, Taiwan’s total tax income has on average been less than 13 percent of GDP. That is lower than that of Hong Kong, which has no defense budget, and it is about 2 percentage points lower than it was during the 1990s.
This means that the government’s annual tax revenue over the past few years has been about NT$300 billion (US$9.72 billion) less than in the past. That shortfall is equal to about 40 percent of the entire special budget for the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program.
Seen from this angle, the fuss around the start of the year concerning the government’s supposed “fiscal surplus” is actually a matter of the government having left items out of the budget.
Taiwan has for nearly 20 years been one of the lowest-taxing countries in the world, making it necessary for the government to borrow on a large scale. The accumulated debt must be borne by future generations, which is a great generational injustice.
A responsible government should work out countermeasures long in advance. One of its tasks should be to make society understand that a fair taxation system does not hinder economic growth; it can provide the public with more adequate public services and better infrastructure, improve the environment and cut pollution.
At the same time, by redistributing resources more fairly, it can reduce people’s resentment so that they are more inclined to stay put in their jobs and perform them well, thus improving efficiency and raising labor productivity.
France is a case in point. France’s taxes add up to more than 46 percent of its GDP — among the highest of all countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Most of this tax revenue is spent on high-quality infrastructure and on providing free education, top-quality healthcare, childcare, care for the elderly and so on.
Before adjusting spending by means of taxation, French households in the top decile of household income — the top 10 percent — have an average income 22 times higher than the average in the bottom decile, but after progressive income tax, this ratio is reduced to six times.
At the same time, real household incomes in France have grown by 8 percent from 2008 to 2017, which is a much greater growth than seen in most wealthy countries.
Why, then, has there been such an outpour of anger from France’s gilets jaunes (“yellow vests”) over the past few months? It can hardly be because they are unhappy about these successes, so it must be because they worry that new changes to the system might erode or destroy those accomplishments.
For example, in October 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron partly abolished the wealth tax. Then, a few months ago, he said that his government would impose higher taxes on gasoline and diesel.
This should have been a viable way to cut air pollution and promote energy transformation, but French people could not help asking whether it was not very unfair to cut taxes on the rich while imposing fuel tax on everyone, given that such a tax is regressive in nature, as you pay the same tax no matter whether you are rich or poor.
It would not be possible for Taiwan to catch up with France quickly. However, we should bear in mind the words of 19th century British philosopher John Stuart Mill, whose works include On Liberty and Principles of Political Economy.
In the latter work, which dominated Western scholarship for half a century, Mill wrote: “The laws and conditions of the production of wealth partake of the character of physical truths. There is nothing optional or arbitrary in them… It is not so with the distribution of wealth. That is a matter of human institution solely. The things once there, mankind, individually or collectively, can do with them as they like.”
Clearly, Mill’s ideas have been more thoroughly put into practice in France than in the UK. Taiwan cannot duplicate other people’s experiences, but if the government is duty-bound to consider generational (economic) justice, how can it not explain to the public the facts and reasoning of the French example?
Feng Chien-san is a professor in National Chengchi University’s Department of Journalism.
Translated by Julian Clegg
French firm DCI-DESCO in April won a bid to upgrade Taiwan’s Lafayette frigates, which has strained ties between China and France. In 1991, France sold Taiwan six Lafayette frigates and in 1992 sold it 60 Mirage 2000 fighter jets. To prevent arms sales between the nations, China negotiated an agreement with France and in 1994 in a joint statement, France promised that there would be no future arms sales to Taiwan. From China’s point of view, the DCI-DESCO deal constitutes a breach of the agreement, but the French stance is that it is not selling Taiwan new weapons, but instead providing a
Chung Yuan ChristiaN University is clearly in bed with the People’s Republic of China. This can be the only explanation why the school’s authorities have done their utmost to shield a student, who lodged a complaint against an associate professor, and then used thuggish tactics to compel the teacher to issue two separate apologies to China. The original complaint, filed by an unnamed Chinese student, was for remarks by associate professor Chao Ming-wei (招名威) during a class on the origin of COVID-19. A second complaint was filed by the same student after Chao, during an apology, stated that he was a
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in her inaugural address on May 20 firmly said: “We will not accept the Beijing authorities’ use of ‘one country, two systems’ to downgrade Taiwan and undermine the cross-strait status quo.” The Chinese government was not too happy, and later that day, an opinion piece on the Web site of China’s state broadcaster China Central Television said: “While Tsai’s first inaugural address four years ago was read by Beijing as an ‘unfinished answer sheet,’ the one she presented this time was even more below-par.” Speaking to the China Review News Agency, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies vice president
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc worldwide. Despite countries being under pressure economically and from the novel coronavirus, China’s National People’s Congress last month passed national security legislation for Hong Kong, a decision that has shocked the world. Let there be no doubt: This move is the beginning of the end of China’s plans for “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Proposed amendments to extradition laws last year ignited massive protests in Hong Kong, with millions of participants, shocking the world and making confrontation between government forces and those who opposed the change a permanent part of Hong