The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) held its National Policy Vision on Television in Taichung on June 29, its second event to showcase the party’s presidential primary contenders. The topics included youth, society, culture and education.
One of the candidates, Hon Hai Precision Industry Co founder Terry Gou (郭台銘), betrayed his lack of political experience by voicing some wild, unfunded policy pledges.
Gou started off talking about fiscal policy, claiming that the nation is about to go bankrupt. He followed this by promising to provide free kindergartens for all children up to the age of six, explaining that he would fund this by creating a new revenue stream using “the nation’s big data resources.”
Former New Taipei City mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) then made Gou look rather foolish by pointing out that a government’s balance sheet is different from a company’s.
The nation’s assets far outstrip its liabilities, and its finances are in far better shape than many comparable countries, Chu said.
There are only two explanations as to why an experienced entrepreneur like Gou would conflate the balance sheet of a nation with that of a company. Either he does not know what a balance sheet is or he tried to deceive the public for some particular purpose.
This lack of understanding is confirmed when examining Gou’s policy pledge of state-funded kindergartens.
There are about 1.4 million children aged one to six in Taiwan. If all of these children are to be looked after by the state, what does this mean in practical terms?
For the sake of argument, the government could give each family NT$20,000 (US$641) a month for each eligible child, which would cost it NT$336 billion a year.
Since the central government’s annual budget stands at NT$2 trillion and local government budgets total NT$1 trillion, Gou’s idea would increase government expenditure by more than 10 percent.
Does Gou really not see how difficult that would be? It is a simple calculation, but a closer look is enough to know who is speaking without thinking.
Gou says that the funding for childcare would come from wealth created using the nation’s big data resources, which is frightening. For example, Taiwanese big data that international businesses are interested in is the National Health Insurance data, which includes all information about the health of Taiwanese — and foreigners living or studying here — a highly sensitive privacy issue.
This is why every past president has placed severe restrictions on the data and only allowed a small number of academic studies to gain access to part of it.
Is Gou perhaps thinking about emulating the Chinese government’s big data exchange — where businesses can trade data — and selling Taiwanese’s data to private businesses?
Even leaving aside the question of how sufficient funding could be created from such data, Gou would have to explain how the data would be used, how privacy would be protected and how he would build public trust in such an institution.
If he cannot provide such complementary measures, waving big data around is just another political ruse.
When Gou — an outstanding entrepreneur — enters a presidential election, it is both new and refreshing, and it creates expectations. However, his status also means that no one has ever examined his personal beliefs before, and we have only heard bits and pieces of what he really thinks and wants.
Gou has participated in two KMT policy debates, but he still cannot provide a clear, in-depth account of his childcare policy.
He has also been unable to dispel even the most fundamental doubts, not to mention transforming it into a policy highlight. There is not enough time for Gou to do all the reading up he should do.
Wei Shui-hsiu is a university professor.
Translated by Edward Jones and Perry Svensson
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