Friday, 7 January 2011

Rethinking Government...


I would like to take the opportunity today (my birthday) to applaud the sentiment in today's editorial (Friday 7th January, "Rethinking Government"); the unnamed author is quite right to be outraged at the attitude taken by government on this island toward the poor and disadvantaged. Whatever the circumstances of their birth, no child deserves the stigma of being implicitly labelled as "trash" by the State. It is no different from stigmatizing a child according to race; in neither case does any child deserve such stigma. All children are born innocent and undeserving of the disadvantages encumbered upon them by State supported prejudice. Likewise, the continuing plight of farmers in Houlong Township, Miaoli County is a disgrace. The dismissal of the right to private property for farmers such as the late Chu Feng Min, of Dapu Borough, amounts to nothing less than the legalization of theft on condition that such theft is sanctioned by the seal of government. Is the inclusion of the right to property in Article 15, Chapter II of the ROC Constitution a mere irony? Surely it is a sad indictment of the current legal system that members of the Miaoli County Commission have yet to serve time in jail for what they did to Chu Feng Min and other farmers last year.

Yet the two cases highlighted by the author in today's editorial merely scratch the surface of a problem that must be understood dialectically.

Childhood disadvantage and later social inequality is entrenched psychologically and culturally as well as by structural features of the political economy, for example the recurring bouts of unemployment brought about by the credit cycle. Demanding that central government dole out money to single mothers is not an acceptable answer, for it will do little to erase either the social stigma attached to the children of single mothers or to erase the injustice of State-supported privilege of certain professions and classes of people from whence such stigma derives.

Similarly, protests against the construction of an industrial park in Miaoli are misguided while they remain principally tied to the problem of pollution. The "expropriation" of farmland in Miaoli was immoral, not chiefly because of environmental concerns, but because it was theft, i.e. the violation of one of the most basic principles upon which any free society must be predicated. To protest what is happening on environmental grounds amounts to conceding the most vital principle - the integrity of private property - by which we may yet hope to redress the injustices of State-entrenched inequality and, indeed, problems of pollution.

And we must remember that such problems are likely to become worse the longer they are left unchallenged. Any serious reform effort to secure conditions of freedom and prosperity for all people in Taiwan must aim to bring about systemic rather than itty-bitty changes to the political economy. We must start with an honest appraisal of the myriad ways in which the State entrenches privilege and advantage to some at the expense of others and ask ourselves which particular institutions and policies bring about the most harmful systemic effects and consider rational criticism of them.

Yours freely as always,
Michael Fagan

(Sent: Friday 7th January 2011. Published in the Taipei Times, Tuesday 11th January 2011)

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