Is economic development bringing us happiness?

By Annie Chang 張安妮  / 

Wed, Jun 02, 2010 - Page 8

Many have asked exactly what impact an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) will have on Taiwan. Can the signing of an ECFA with China bring happiness to the public? Is an ECFA really what we need? Nobody seems to have a definite answer, but we can consider this issue from several aspects:

First, former national policy advisor Huang Tien-lin (黃天麟) has urged the government not to fool the public with economic figures any more. After being in power for two years, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government achieved a high economic growth rate of 13.27 percent in the first quarter of this year. However, Huang argued that these figures were misleading and cited Iceland’s impressive economic figures from the past few years as an example, warning about the myths propagated by numbers.

Second, on Monday, Society of Wilderness vice president Chen Chun-lin (陳俊霖) pointed out in an opinion piece (“Wealth does not bring genuine happiness,” May 31, page 8) that British psychologist Adrian White published the first World Map of Happiness in 2006. Chen stated: “The correlation between income and happiness forms a saturation curve. When income grows beyond a certain point, the corresponding increase in happiness is limited. Taiwan is already close to this saturation point. However much more money Taiwanese make in future, it won’t have much effect in bringing happiness. So why do those in government still use economic development as a lure to persuade the public that tomorrow will be better than today?”

Third, in the past, we often evaluated gains and losses from a purely economic angle. However, as the impact of environmental and other factors have started to affect the economy more and more, gains and losses have become much more unpredictable. According to estimates from the UN, Taiwan suffered about NT$110 billion (US$3.4 billion) in economic losses after Typhoon Morakot hit in August last year.

Fourth, Lee Yeau-tarn (李酉潭), a professor in the Graduate Institute of Development Studies at National Chengchi University, and Wu Hui-lin (吳惠林), a research fellow at the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research, released papers at the 2010 World Summit on Human Rights for World Citizens that advocated “zero economic growth” so that the nation can rest and build up its strength for a sustainable future. Lee emphasized that people need to learn how to cut down on consumption, saying that “respect and constraint” are the greatest virtues in this new era. Wu also said that many natural disasters are actually manmade. We should therefore restrict development, live a simple life and allow the environment to take a rest. Otherwise, as economic growth hastens, greater and more frequent natural and manmade disasters are likely to occur.

From the government’s push for an ECFA, we can clearly see that our national policies are still based on economic development under an old, authoritarian ideology. In other words, economic development is emphasized over environmental protection, GDP levels over employment, conglomerates over laborers, broadening income sources over cutting down expenses, punishment over guidance and administration over human rights.

The government of a democratic society should always make its people its first priority, instead of treating them as fools. Since an ECFA is such an important issue, there should be sufficient discussion in a real civil society and the public should be given the chance to seriously think over the issue from all sides. Then, the administration can give full play to its strength. This is the only way to create a prosperous and happy future for Taiwan’s people.

Annie Chang is a former research fellow at the Cabinet’s Council for Economic Planning and Development.