Saturday, June 30, 2012

Happiness in Taiwan

Swinhoe's Lizard

Commonwealth Magazine offered another one of its comprehensive reviews of Taiwan life and economy, this time on happiness in Taiwan. Apparently this is going to be a periodic survey. The article says:
Closer analysis of the five main metrics comprising the index shows that Taiwanese feel happiest about "Family Life," which accounted for 16.65 points of the overall happiness score. That was followed, in descending order, by "Physical and Mental Health" (16.13 points), "Social Relations" (13.47 points) and "Employment Situation" (12.74 points), with the lowest score being "Political and Economic Climate" (6.95 points).
One of the interesting wrinkles to the survey methodology is that they ranked each of the categories on a satisfaction/importance grid, pictured here. You can see that family life has the highest importance and middling good satisfaction, and the political climate gives little satisfaction but is not important. It's almost like a map of the mentality I have heard some social scientists talk about: each Taiwanese living within a set of concentric circles, with my family relationships in circle 1 the most important, then circle 2, which consists of everyone whom I may interact with, and thus must be placated, and finally, circle 3, everyone else, who do not impinge on my existence and needn't be thought about much. This attitude that politics is of low importance also goes a long way to explain why Taiwanese appear not to care that their legislature is a nigh-on total failure and many other things.

Commonwealth's "analysis" is hilarious in its assumptions:
"Those born in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, are more cautious, having lived through the era when Taiwan was ahead of China and South Korea. They know there has been a change in the weather," Chen Chien-liang echoes. "Young people don't really have that sense of crisis."

From government and business to academia and the media, many observers often compare Taiwan to South Korea and China. As its economy has surged forward, South Korea has become the seventh country in the world with per capita income exceeding US$20,000 and a population of more than 50 million. China meanwhile is more economically vibrant than Taiwan, with annual economic growth of more than eight percent.

CommonWealth Magazine's Happiness Index Survey found that, contrary to general expectations, the Taiwanese public is not particularly envious of either South Korea or China.

A solid 44 percent of respondents felt life was better in Taiwan than in South Korea. Much more overwhelming, fully 72 percent of respondents felt Taiwanese were happier than people in China.
"Contrary to general expectations"?? Some political scientist who was obviously weaned on the Developmentalist Cult of GDP is clearly terrified that South Koreans may be, by some measures, making more per capita than Taiwanese. O the humanity! What it shows is the importance of rank in the way many Taiwanese organize the evaluations of their lives and success as well as the unstated but lurking and deeply primal fear of being weeded out. This unspecific, primal, and lurking fear of being weeded out is important for locals, perhaps because of the way they grow up in an education system that functions as a weeding out system.

Young people don't have any sense of crisis because there is no crisis in Taiwan when South Korea does well economically; we should be celebrating the general increase in well-being in the world as well as the growth in an important market for Taiwanese goods. The world is not a zero-sum game; though for many old-fashioned thinkers that is the only possible world. I have no idea what kind of clueless fool could ever imagine that Taiwanese on the whole could be envious of China, when Taiwan is so much wealthier, safer, more stable, and better run than the empire of Beijing.

It will be interesting to track the survey in the coming years.....
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Tommy said...


While I agree with much of what you say, I will remind you that fear of competition is not unique to Taiwan. Americans fear being eclipsed by China, Chinese have had a preoccupation with being better than the US for years, Europeans have Germany envy, the Swiss are secretly preoccupied that they have a tiny country that doesn't offer much to the world in contrast to their superiority complex, Brazil is sore that it does not yet have the status it desires/deserves in the Americas, Russia still thinks it is due the respect it once had as the leader of the commie world, etc. None of this means that zero-sum thinking is rational, but it does mean that the identification of zero-sum thinking in Taiwan is not a profound observation in itself.

Michael Turton said...

but it does mean that the identification of zero-sum thinking in Taiwan is not a profound observation in itself.

No, but the identification that the current generation is less afflicted by it is interesting and I thought the more important item in there.


Anonymous said...

The irony is that GDP is quite unimportant? Taiwan clocks in much higher on adjusted GDP (PPP) than South Korea and even Japan.

Furthermore, GDP alone is not worth much, look at the US. Does the sufficiently higher GDP translate into better living standards of the masses in comparison with European countries? I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

The beef issue is getting absolutely ridiculous. If the US wants to negotiate an FTA in good faith, then fucking add beef to the negotiations. No one is going to trust that the US is going to negotiate an FTA with Taiwan when it's not an explicit part of the beef negotiation.

Beef is not a negotiation. Negotiations mean you give up something to get something. The US has offered NOTHING. It's just trying to cram something down Taiwanese throats with nothing in return.