Sunday, February 02, 2014

Paper on Parade: Globalization, Social Justice Issues, Political and Economic Nationalism in Taiwan: An Explanation of the Limited Resurgence of the DPP during 2008–2012

In this installment in our regularly irregular feature of a Taiwan-centered scholarly work, we look at Globalization, Social Justice Issues, Political and Economic Nationalism in Taiwan: An Explanation of the Limited Resurgence of the DPP during 2008–2012 (China Quarterly, Dec 2013) by Dongtao Qi of the National University of Singapore. Let's dial up some appropriately tense and adventurous music, and off we go.

The paper's opening urks up a pile of KMT propaganda claims....
Scholars and pundits have already identified the failures of former president Chen Shui-bian 陳水扁and his administration which led to their defeat in the 2008 elections, including the administration’s dissatisfactory economic performance supposedly owing to its closed-door China policy, the corruption scandals surrounding President Chen and his family members, increased ethnic conflicts and social instability, and the deterioration in Taiwan–US relations caused by Chen’s radical and provocative pro-independence policies. doubt because the scholars cited for them include John Copper, whose political preferences will be well known to anyone who follows Taiwan, and disaffected DPP politician Lin Cho-sui. The accusation of increasing ethnic conflict is particularly odious. Nevertheless, if you can work your way past that ugly paragraph, the paper offers a wealth of information, data, and observations and is very even handed and perceptive.

The paper starts off by identifying five propositions that underlie its perspective (1) Taiwanese expect the government to pursue economic growth policies and policies that distribute growth fairly; (2) globalization impacts both of these goals outlined in (1) positively and negatively; (3) cross-strait economic relations are the most important form of Taiwan's globalization since the late 1990s; (4) the DPP since 2008 has shifted its platform
"...from identity-oriented political nationalism to social justice-oriented economic nationalism. At the local level, it has further decoupled social justice issues from economic nationalism in order to tackle local social justice issues better without the constraints of nationalist ideology."
and (5) the KMT won in 2012 because the public believed only the KMT could get China to give, economically, to Taiwan.

One thing I liked very much about this paper was the author's forthright conclusion about the Deep Greens -- they support the DPP not just because it appeals to their Taiwanese nationalism but also because it is the party of social justice. He goes on to say that the KMT-DPP split is in a way a national-local split:
...Taiwanese people feel comfortable giving local and legislative power to the DPP because the DPP seems more willing and capable to fulfil the government’s responsibility of addressing various social justice issues. However, the voters gave the state power to the KMT because it seemed more likely to fulfil the government’s responsibility of developing Taiwan’s economy based on a more flexible political nationalism that promotes cross-Strait relations.
This is an important observation, and shows how, if social justice issues can be made to impact the 2014 local elections, then the DPP may benefit. It also reflects the reality of local administration on Taiwan -- the worst administrated counties and cities in Taiwan in local polls are mostly run by the KMT.

Qi then moves to a discussion of the way globalization (= primarily economic relations with China) impacts Taiwan, and provides some of the really great data that fill this paper:
Lin’s research shows that, in 1992, while about 40 per cent of Taiwanese identified themselves as middle class, that figure had fallen to about 32 per cent in 2007. In contrast, during the same period, the percentage of Taiwanese identifying themselves as lower middle/lower/working class increased from about 50 per cent to about 64 per cent.
Brutal. I've posted the data on labor productivity that shows how the Ma Administration period has been especially bad for Taiwanese. Qi comes back to his point that support for the DPP rests on the twin pillars of both social justice and Taiwanese nationalism, then tosses in some data to show that Taiwanese regard the DPP as the social justice party and the KMT as the party of the rich....
For example, in 2008 nearly half of all people surveyed believed that the KMT represented the interests of the rich and powerful, whilst 51.1 per cent believed that the DPP represented the ordinary person.
The two figures he supplies are quite interesting. He uses them to show how must people identify the two parties, but the trend lines for the KMT are interesting. For the claim that KMT/DPP represents the average person, the DPP is of course quite high, but the KMT is trending upwards towards 30% going into the 2008 election. For the reverse claim, that KMT/DPP represent the interests of the wealthy, the line showing the DPP represents the interests of the wealthy is actually trending upward towards 20% after 2004.

Imagine what this means for the 2008 election -- Ma got something like 50% of his vote, 30% of the total, from people who thought his party did not represent the interests of the average person (!). I sure would love to see some data on the kind of person who voted like that.

Defining income inequality as the ratio of average household income between the top and bottom 20%, he says....
Actual income inequality dropped almost continuously during the last six years of the DPP administration, from 6.39 in 2001 to 5.98 in 2007. In contrast, during the two KMT administrations (1991–1999; 2008–2010), income inequality had an apparently rising trend, increasing from 4.97 to 5.50 during 1991–1999 and from 6.05 to 6.17 during 2008–2011.
This ratio better captures the income inequality effect of government policies than does the Gini coefficient (which I discuss in conjunction with a memorable bit of silliness from Bloomberg). It shows concretely the effect of the rises in social welfare spending under the Chen Administration, despite criticisms from social justice groups.

Who voted for the DPP in 2008? Qi runs the numbers and finds groups we all know: farmers, workers, southerners, the less educated, the elderly, all who had suffered from the economic changes. In the 1996 election, he observes, such groups voted KMT. In 2000 they switched, a trend observed again in subsequent elections. This shift among less privileged voters explains The Great Vote Shift of millions of votes over the three elections of 1996-2004 from the KMT to the DPP. It may contain an ominous signal for likely KMT candidate Sean Lien in the Taipei mayor election -- less privileged voters rejected his uber-wealthy Dad, Lien Chan, in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

But Qi goes one better. Is the vote from the less privileged because they are voting out of economic nationalism? Nope! he finds that "even after controlling for Taiwanese nationalist sentiment, the less privileged Taiwanese were still significantly more likely to vote for the DPP in 2004, 2008, and 2012." This ought to signal the DPP that an overtly social justice platform can win them more votes.

After noting that Tsai Ing-wen had muted the parties political nationalism and shifted to economic nationalism, he then goes over the poor performance of the Ma Administration in 2008-12 period. On key indicators of monthly real wages, income inequality, raw economic growth, and unemployment, the Ma Administration generally did not perform as well as the Chen Administration.

He also delves into the attitudes of privileged and less privileged groups towards ECFA and relations with China. Even less privileged groups were not really very unhappy; the major impacts from ECFA had not been felt in 2012. Qi identifies other factors that may have affected the DPP's election prospects in 2012, including a five percent decline in Taiwanese nationalist sentiment.

Despite all the interesting data, his conclusion is pedestrian, very academic and very conservative...
Social justice-oriented economic nationalism is a new battlefield created by the DPP since 2008 and has helped to restore its popular support. Therefore, it is likely that the DPP will continue with a balanced combination of political and economic nationalism that emphasizes both national security and the ordinary people’s welfare in its promotion of Taiwanese nationalism and struggle for local and national power.
His formulation of "social justice-oriented economic nationalism" is a useful way to think about the DPP's policy in the 2008-2012 period, and shows, once again, how lucky the DPP was that the KMT decided to shut Chen Shui-bian up, so that Tsai could heal the party and move it forward. It also shows the great weakness of DPP Chairman Su Tseng-cheng, who despite his brains and competence, is likely to be associated with the "old" form of political nationalism in many minds, whereas Tsai Ing-wen comes without that baggage (but without his experience). With so many people going into this critical election period facing stagnant incomes and stunted economic prospects, the appeal of the DPP's platform of social justice has good potential to broaden. However, so much depends on the conduct of the election campaign itself...
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Anonymous said...

Excellent piece of analysis. Part of the reason for the decline in Political Nationalism sentiment is its success. The position that Taiwan is a sovereign and independent country is essentially the national concensus. Granted the deep blue would like to emphasize the official title of ROC, and the deep green would like to dream of eventual name change to ROT, the starting point is the same and without dispute.

This is why the DPP can no longer use Political Nationalism effectively anymore. This is also why no matter how touching LDH's last minute appeal was in the 2012 election, it ultimately didnt make any difference. Su was a great Political Nationalism warrior, but with 96.5% of the population identifying themselves as Taiwanese or part Taiwanese, I think that fight has already been won.

The lack of administrative experience of Tsai was an issue in 2012 and will be again in 2016. That is a major confidence issue that will deter a lot of voters especially if her opponent is the mayor of the largest administrative unit in the country. Expect the same exact playbook from 2012 with the same CEOs coming forward against Tsai in 2016.

The best bet for the DPP in 2016 would have to be Dr. Lai. Yes Tainan is the smallest of the 5 municipalities, but he would have had 6 years of experience there to at least silence that type of attacks.

Anonymous said...

Tsai is significantly more popular than Lai at this juncture, though. Polls on the 2016 presidential election conducted thus far show her trumping every prominent KMT figure besides Eric Chu, who still only pulls even with her.

Michael Turton said...

Yes, I imagine that four more years of Ma have left Tsai looking really good.

The real issue is what the DPP does when it is in office, however. Social justice? Or more pandering to the barons of corporate capitalism?