EDITORIAL: Taiwanese not so optimistic

Sat, Jul 27, 2013 - Page 8

Taiwanese are down in the dumps, according to a Gallup poll on people’s satisfaction with their lives — coming in sixth in the latest ranking of most pessimistic countries.

The statistic places Taiwan right behind Haiti — which is still struggling to recover from the magnitude 7 earthquake in 2010 that killed at least 200,000 people — but ahead of Spain, which has seen its economy plunge into recession and unemployment soar to almost 30 percent, while it required a bailout from the EU and IMF. Greece, whose problems are too numerous to list here, topped the list for the second straight year.

It is hard to feel optimistic when more than a thousand Chinese missiles are pointing at you and wages have stagnated, if not dropped, over the past decade, but are we really so badly off?

According to the poll, 26 percent of Taiwanese — when asked to envision what their lives will be like five years from now — think the future is going to be worse than the present. One thousand people were questioned in Gallup’s telephone poll from June 20 to July 10 last year.

Taiwan did not make it into the top 10 in the previous poll. It was in 16th place with 21 percent pessimistic in a survey that was conducted from June 15 to Oct. 6, 2011. Moving up 10 places in a year is a pretty big jump. What was making people so fatalistic a year ago?

Reviewing the headlines from that period, the nation was embroiled in former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih’s (林益世) corruption scandal; Tropical Storm Talim had triggered widespread flooding; the controversy over residue levels of ractopamine in beef had been dragging on for four months; President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) leadership of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was under fire; Miaoli County residents were protesting a construction project; and the special “extra” session of the legislature had gotten bogged down in arguments.

This raises the question of how much higher Taiwan will rise in this year’s pessimism poll, given all this summer’s bad news. Another of Ma’s close aides has been indicted on corruption charges. Ma’s performance both as president and KMT chairman is continually under fire as his popularity ratings set new lows. Miaoli County residents and supporters have been clashing with the county and central government over a science park development project. The signing of a cross-strait service trade agreement led to contentious debates that derailed the “extra” legislative session because a growing number of Taiwanese fear they have been sold down the river. The military is under fire over the suspicious death of a conscript. Rabies has reappeared on the island after being absent for more than five decades.

One of the biggest changes between last year and 2011 was that “Confidence in national government” dropped 13 percentage points to 34 percent, although “Confidence in honesty of elections” was up 4 percentage points to 33 percent. Given the litany of complaints about the government, it is tempting to predict another big drop will occur when this year’s figures are compared with last year’s.

The government was quick to take umbrage when Transparency International’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer said that 36 percent of people in Taiwan who had used one of eight government services in the past year had paid a bribe, far higher than the 7 percent who reported doing so in the 2010 report. It has yet to make a peep about Gallup’s pessimism numbers.

Just as corruption can be corrosive, pessimism and hopelessness can have a serious impact on social stability, as can citizens’ loss of confidence in their government. Taiwanese would be better off if their leaders spent less time trying to earn a place in the history books and more time concentrating on the here and now.