Saturday, March 20, 2010

Thoughts on fooling oneself

Online death threats against President Ma's daughters and Ma himself made the news this week, although it looks like the former is a protest move. Such threats serve no one.

Threats or not, Ma's popularity remains in a ditch, and is likely to stay there for the foreseeable future. Both the prediction market at NCCU and current polls appear to say Ma would lose if the election were held today, though much depends on who the DPP runs. The Liberty Times trumpeted today (via Taipei Times translation):
The embarrassing truth about how President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has concerned himself with electioneering rather than running the nation is becoming clearer by the day. Despite this, his approval rating keeps falling. Not only Taiwanese, but also foreign academics are starting to doubt his chances of re-election.

Shelley Rigger, associate professor of political science at Davidson College in North Carolina, recently said Ma’s prospects for re-election look bleak because of his abysmal approval rating and public dissatisfaction with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
But the Liberty Times is wrong on what Rigger thinks; Rigger said in a Q&A session at a hearing this week that she thinks Ma's chances of losing in 2012 are remote. But then she believes him competent, too. It's striking to read the Liberty Times editorial and see how remarkably fact-free it is; not a single policy, poll, or survey is cited, and it comprehensively misunderstands Rigger's position on Ma. There's a better piece in today's LT that more correctly describes and addresses Rigger.

I was reading an interesting piece the other day (sorry, can't recall where) that asserted that studies show that when an erroneous position is not refuted, belief in it is low, but when it is publicly refuted, belief in it rises dramatically, a sort of academic confirmation of Darwin's observation that false theories quickly die, but false facts are impossible to kill. Counterintuitive results like that one may help explain the ongoing problem in my own family that is replicated across many Taiwan families: gangsters preying on seniors. No matter how many times we explain to my father in law, no matter how powerful our evidence, no matter who presents it to him, he continues to believe that the storage sites for ashes in local columbariums actually exist and that he will make a killing on their sale once they are sold. It's basically swampland in Florida....

My sister in law walked into their house the other day to find him once again handing over NT$90,000 to scammers right in his living room. She was shocked; most everyone in our family could use the money, but he gives it to complete strangers for nonexistent investments. She found out that the scammers had loaded the families onto buses and then driven them around northern Taipei county, pointing to columbariums and saying "yours are here, and your sites are there," etc. Could it be more completely transparent?

It's not like everyone hasn't talked to him about it. Not only my savvy investor brother in law, who is a sought after manager in local tech firms, my wife, myself, my sister in laws, both highly educated, but also a relative who runs a funeral home and knows all the sites personally have all carefully explained to him that it is all a scam. Moreover, he lost all his life savings in a previous scam but still hasn't learned to be cautious. All over Taiwan, families face this problem. It's one that is in serious need of government action, one that could benefit whatever party tackled it.

Twain once said that you can't reason a man out of what he wasn't reasoned into. But surely, there must be a way. Because after their savings comes the house they own...
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AWESOME: Virtual Drive down Highway 11 (h/t to Kerim)

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Stephen A. Nelson said...

This reminds me of an episode of King of the Hill, where Hank's old dad was conned into buying time shares in Mexico - even though it was clear Americans couldn't own property there.

An American businessman in Taipei once told me, "Taiwanese will sell their own grandmothers to make a buck."

It sounded sour coming from someone deeply involved in multi-level marketing, where the rule is "Everything is for sale, even friendship."

But I'm afraid Taiwan's finances are like Taiwan's politics: "You can't save people from themselves; especially if they don't want to be saved."

Michael Turton said...

Yeah, I'm afraid of that too. The problem is that if he gets taken for everything, we''l have to support him.

Marc said...

What broader implications does this have about Taiwan society?

Dr. Terence Odean's studies on financial behavior brought him to Taiwan to study amateur day-traders, and concluded that these people thought they were making money, when in fact they were losing it 'hand over fist' with all the fees and percentages. And even with the knowledge of losing money, they persisted in the belief that they could make money eventually, similar to the way a gambling addiction works.

I know someone here who dreams of having his own restaurant. He has, several times, drained his bank account, borrowed from others and set up his 'idea' of a business without a shred of knowledge of how to run it--no scoping out of competition and profitable location, no capital reserves to survive the first year, no idea how to manage people. Every venture was a rashly conceived failure--which he blamed on others because of lack of their support.

So, do fake trade treaties like ECFA and all these fast-money ventures into China also fit into these delusions? Is this reckless and illusory pursuit of a fast buck a consistent aspect of Taiwanese culture? As Taipei evolves into a major financial center, what does this mean for the country as a whole?

Marc said...

One more thought --

I wonder how this thinking relates to the changes in society that may not have yet sunk in to people's minds and altered their way of living.

I read a revealing actuary report that identified the average lifespan in the Far East as being only 60 years old in 1970, and has been climbing since then.

In Taiwan, the average life span is now about 78 years.

The report concludes that in recent times, it has not fully occurred to anyone to save money for retirement and a long old age, because until recently, few ever lived long enough to retire in the first place.

Perhaps this mindset is still ingrained in the aging population, such as in your in-law's case, Michael, which may account for some of the recklessness with money. Does it occur to him to save it for himself? What if lives til 90?

Michael Turton said...

I don't know. I fear he thinks he will never die. One problem here is the ingrained fear of talking about death, so nobody plans sensibly. It's a problem across the family, several of whose members are wealthy. I blogged on that in the problem of sucession at Taiwan's family corporations. Argh.

Anonymous said...

Ah... it is fate and luck. If you play and win, that means the gods are pleased and all the offerings and geomancy is working. A validation of faith. If you lose... it is because you messed up and the gods are not satisfied. If you're a god it is a win-win situation.

jerome the lesser said...

Read the CCTV snippet of the Wang-Hatoyama meeting you linked to. A sobering and Taiwan-centered Japanese view of former China ambassador to Japan-turned top Taiwan Affairs official is available at

And watching the handshake prompted me to muse on what's in a name?

It's not for nothing that the angst-ridden Japanese electorate voted a militant dove in at this juncture.

The Chinese loved to hate Junishiro Koizumzi「小泉」. Remember that photo of Koizumi treading gingerly by a towering Hu at an ASEAN meeting. For the Ko- dovetailed so neatly with there racist view of Xiao-Riben 「小日本」or「小倭国」.

If time ever comes to skewer Hatoyama「鳩山」, what will the 「網路特務」 be up to with Mount Dove 「鳩山」?

It's enough to make a Japanese PM's sphincters twitch in anticipation each time a Chinese heavyweight gently squeezes.

Short of a cabinet change, how about a name change for PM Mount Dove? A proposal, anyone?

Dz said...

Thanks especially for all the links, here and in other postings.
I was wondering what you thought of Richard Bush's testimony. To me it was reassuring to hear a fairly level-headed view. For example, the (good) idea that the Taiwan-China relationship might actually be left as an "open question" for a long, long period of time.