Everywhere you hear people discussing tax reform. At this point in time, there needs to be a public debate in Taiwanese society about the issue of fairness and justice.
We should not be listening to rich industrialists and businessmen (or those who represent them) who speak, from a position of apparent authority, on ideals like efficiency, competitiveness and wealth creation. Ideals which have little to do with most of us, and the realization of which does not necessarily concern everyone.
In all honesty, I would much prefer these industrialists say: “The reinstatement of a capital gains tax on securities transactions is unfair and unjust,” than hear them say: “Fairness and justice are mere myths.” The former is an invitation to a public debate; the latter is just telling people to keep their mouths shut.
As I see things, a society that fails to provide fairness and justice to all, that refuses to discuss what is fair and what is just will, in the long run, stunt wealth creation, will see competitiveness fall and will become less efficient, unless this society is content with languishing in a pre-modern stage, devoid of self-awareness and the capacity for self-reflection.
However, I do have to tell you that we entered the modern era some time ago and history tells us that a modern society that lacks fairness and justice, that declines to promise fairness and justice to all, does not have much of a future. Even if it does last, heaven knows what the point of its continued existence is.
Individuals living in a universally fair and just modern society will be moved to take the initiative, to ask for that promise to be redeemed.
In this type of society, everyone will be willing and able to work together for the betterment of society and the creation of wealth. In this type of society, everyone will be able, intellectually and rationally, to accept their own place within the scheme of things, thereby escaping feelings of anomie or alienation.
I will let others decide whether or not a capital gains tax is fair and just, or how the tax should be otherwise levied to make it so.
However, what we must not do is cheapen the idea of fairness and justice, or suggest that they are somehow relative concepts. The willingness to debate this issue is an expression of that promise.
A friend once said to me that the reason these rich industrialists and businesspeople are not interested in discussing the ideas of fairness and justice is that no conclusion thereof is ever going to be in their own interests. That kind of thinking is misconceived. It is a failure to understand what is important, or where one’s best interests lie.
In a society in which fairness and justice are king, anyone committed to using their own inherent talents to making a difference will be given the opportunity to contribute, and the person who makes the greatest contribution stands to gain the most wealth.
No more would there be the need to toady to politicians or bureaucrats and no more would they have to worry about others who have contributed less to shifting the goal posts through lobbying or collusion and getting a bigger piece of the pie in doing so.
Successful people in a fair and just society stand to gain more than mere wealth, they stand to gain the recognition and approval of their peers. This kind of wealth, and not wealth in the limited definition in which it is generally understood, is what these industrialists and businesspeople should be seeking to gain.
Shei Ser-min is a professor of philosophy at National Chung Cheng University.
Translated by Paul Cooper