Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Empire of Bacon

Shot of Taichung showing massive haze over the city, Jan 19, 2008.

By its workings, astronomical sums have been appropriated into circuits from which many benefited. While the momentum of growth was maintained, Japan's reputation as a great power was enhanced, and trade frictions with G7 member countries eased. Massive civil-engineering projects were favored: bridges, tunnels, highways, railways, and airports. The circuits through which the construction state functions ensure that sufficient largess has been spread locally to hold in place the ruling party's support network, with some funds in "rebates" and kickbacks for the party's central apparatus. Politicians are valued for their ability to bring work, money, and jobs to their electorate, and money to their party. The cost of being a politician in Japan far exceeds that in any other country, by a factor of more than four according to one estimate, and a politician commonly needs a couple of million dollars (hundreds of million yen) a year to constituency affairs. -- The Emptiness of Japanese Affluence, Gavan McCormack, pp34-5

In commentary on blogs, in the media, and even at such august bodies as the Heritage Foundation a fundamental error stands out: the imposition of ethnocentric western models on Taiwan politics. Thus, we hear analyses that claim that voters were disappointed with DPP policies, and hence, did not come out to vote for it. Similarly, we hear reassuring claims that being out of power will be good for the DPP, that it will come back revamped and ready for action. It is my belief that such claims misunderstand the structure and nature of politics on the Beautiful Island, and thus underestimate the shape and impact of the KMT victory on the island's political, economic, and environmental future.

The predominant political influence on Taiwan is not the US nor modern western democratic thought. These receive lip service in international seminars and academic publications, but have little influence on the day-to-day hurly-burly of local politics. Taiwan, instead, takes its cue from Japan and its construction-state political system. In Japan, as in Taiwan, politicians are not associated with specific policies or with public policy offerings that tempt voters to swing their way -- they are specifically valued, as McCormack notes above, for their ability to bring home the bacon.

Visiting the morning market in a small town.

Consider first the KMT legislative record, as the Taiwan News pointed out just prior to the election (it's behind a pay wall but cached in Google). Some excerpts:

As the Citizen Congress Watch noted in its evaluation of the Legislative Yuan's performance last July, "there is nothing good to say."

Besides engaging in unsubstantiated "explosive exposures" and approving a record low 393 legal bills, the Legislative Yuan has spent most of the last three years boycotting the normal review of draft bills submitted by the DPP government, grabbing powers not granted to it by the Constitution and unsuccessfully trying to depose President Chen.

From September 2000 to the end of last year, the Legislature has abused its control over the weekly meetings of the procedural committee to engage in over 6,300 instances of boycotts to block normal debate and review of important bills submitted by the government.

The list includes 165 boycotts of a DPP draft bill to set up an independent commission against corruption, 101 boycotts of the draft law to set up an impartial commission to investigate and recover "party assets" improperly obtained (that is, stolen) from the state by the KMT during its authoritarian rule, and nearly 100 boycotts of other "sunshine" laws.

In terms of "struggling for the economy," the Legislature has delayed central government budgets and public construction and enterprise budgets every year and frozen over NT$530 billion in allocations, causing serious cutbacks in government services and development programs and has refused to approve a long-awaited law to promote a renewable energy industry.

In terms of clean government, the Legislature has only approved one of a host of new "sunshine" anti-corruption draft bills submitted by the DPP-led Cabinet, namely the DPP-proposed law regulating lobbying.

In the field of human rights, the record shows a clearly defined "division of labor," namely that the DPP Cabinet has submitted new human rights reform bills while the KMT-controlled Legislature has specialized in blocking their review and passage.

Examples range from the DPP's early proposals for a national human rights commission and a national human rights memorial museum to revisions to the draconian laws governing labor unions.

The Legislature has also failed to approve long discussed plans for thorough revamping of the organization and operations of the Executive Yuan and Judicial Yuan and other judicial reform.

What the KMT has done is use its legislative clout to push through bills that boost its own power at the expense of the integrity of Taiwan's current constitutional division of powers.

For example, the KMT has blocked the normal operations of the Control Yuan, the watchdog branch of government, for over three years by refusing to carry out its constitutional obligation to review and approve or reject the president's nomination of 29 Control Yuan commissioners.

Besides blocking the president's nomination of a truly independent chief public prosecutor, the KMT legislative majority also froze the nomination of four highly qualified presidential nominees for the Judicial Yuan and only approved four nominees who shared its ideological values, after an intense and insulting vetting.

The KMT has also attempted to use a bogus "democratic" system of organization of "independent bodies" based on party shares of legislative seats to take control over the powerful National Communications Commission and turn the "Referendum Review Committee" set up by the Referendum Law of 2003 under the Executive Yuan into a censorate to veto any "bottom-up" initiatives that the KMT opposes, thus completely subverting the concept of direct democracy.

The Constitutional Court found that the laws that organized the tribunal and the NCC organization were "unconstitutional," but the KMT intends to use this unconstitutional system to reorganize the Central Election Commission and thus prevent forever any fair elections.

In this sense, the past session of the Legislature can justifiably be characterized as an "unconstitutional" parliament.

While the DPP merits a barely passing grade for its administrative performance, it has at least tried to approve a wide range of progressive reform bills, most of which the KMT has boycotted to prevent the DPP from "getting credit" and to block Taiwan's 23 million people from getting the benefits of progress and a well-being social economy.

It is the KMT alone who is responsible for the awful performance of the Legislative Yuan during the past three years and therefore it is the KMT that merits to be taught a lesson by the Taiwan electorate in Saturday's legislative election.

To sum up, no one interested and informed could fail to notice that for the last eight years the KMT-dominated legislature has been a disaster for the island. Yet on Jan 12 it gathered all 5 million pan-Blue votes unto itself, ensuring over 80 seats in the legislature. Anyone who wishes to argue that the public voted for reasons of public policy has to ponder that if voters really do care about the policy success of their legislators, and really do swing between parties, then they swung in the direction of the more corrupt, obstructionist, and anti-democracy of the two parties. The answer to this apparent conundrum is quite simple: voters in Taiwan are not attracted by sound public policy, but by flows of money out of the central government into the personal networks of the politicians they support. Most could care less how many bills the KMT boycotts, if they even know. Rather, they are strictly focused on what to them are local bread-and-butter issues: where be my bacon? Candidates respond to this: outside of Taipei many candidates offered billboards with frank estimates of how much money they'd brought into the district, or how much they were planning to.

A ship under construction at the Taiwan Shipbuilding yard in Hsiaokang.

Taipei County's shady entrepreneurs and outright gangsters are only, however, flashes of bright color in the muddy palate of Taiwan politics. Outside the relatively sophisticated big cities, the SNTV system facilitates domination of the political landscape by local political machines based on patron-client relationships, often linked to gangsters who carry out the less pleasant tasks--vote-buying, for example--in return for a cut of the spoils. The convenient rezoning of land and the awarding of construction contracts are favorite payoffs, not to mention the inevitable word to the local constabulary about "not bothering" certain establishments. The world is that of The Godfather, a feudal relationship where Don Corleone looks after "his" people as long as they obey his wishes. And this is facilitated by an electoral system in which only a relatively small proportion of people in any community have to be involved. -- longtime Taiwan observer Lawrence Eyton, writing on the 2001 legislative election

In a piece entitled "Party Provision for Personal Politics: Dividing the Vote in Japan" in Structure and Policy in Japan and the United States (eds. Cowhey and Daniel), Mathew McCubbins and Frances Rosenbluth note the particularistic model of political behavior found among Japanese politicians but much less so among their American counterparts.

How do candidates go about establishing a personal vote? The first means is to court voters with personalized attention. Japanese politicians attempt to draw constituents into personal support organizations (koenkai). Politicians coddle voters with small favors in exchange for votes. Journalistic reporting as well as scholarly analyses of Japanese elections invariably focus on individual candidates' support networks and the enormous sums of money needed to build and maintain them. LDP politicans are famous for showing up at weddings and funerals, helping voters with job placement, and sending bottles of sake for neighborhood festivals (Hirose 1989). Each LDP candidate is said to have spent the equivalent of $3 million to $12 million for the February 1990 Lower House Election.

The authors note in a footnote below that this sum works out to $50-120 per constituent -- in the US, similar elections average about $1 per constituent. The only way an aspiring legislator can stay in office in Japan is to have access to massive sums of cash, which must find their way down to the local level. In Taiwan the analogue to the neighborhood festival are the local temple festivals, which bring together local politicians, business, and organized crime. The pre-eminent example of this is the nation's major pilgrimage event to the goddess Matzu, which ends up at the old Matzu temple in Dajia north of Taichung city, and is overseen by the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union legislator Yen Ching-piao. Yen, who was once elected to office from jail, made his money in the gravel business, a key business in the island's concrete-driven domestic political economy. Particularistic networks in Taiwan are also facilitated in other ways, for example, people often call on their legislators and other local politicians to handle minor personal matters, such as traffic accidents. At a recent forum on reform of the legislature hosted by the KMT, a local academic observed:

"Some Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] lawmakers attend more of their supporters' wedding banquets and funerals than they do legislative meetings. They also spend more time thinking about how to get re-elected or how to earn back the money they spent on their election campaigns," said Yang Jih-ching (楊日清), a political science professor at National Chengchi University.

A ship under construction at the Taiwan Shipbuilding yard in Hsiaokang outside of Kaohsiung.

This dependence on particularistic personal connections to create local networks of supporters raises an interesting issue for the next few years: how will legislators handle the increased constituent load? Since districts are now represented by single legislators who, on average, represent twice the number of people they did, legislators will face the need for increased sums of cash, and increased amounts of time spent with constituents. It is almost axiomatic that politics in Taiwan, already thoroughly corrupt, will become even more money driven. Another effect of one-party dominance has already been identified in Japan -- Mathew McCubbins and Frances Rosenbluth found, in their study of money politics in Japan, that spending on particularistic relations actually rose as the number of LDP politicians in the Lower House grew. Maintenance of a permanent majority is expensive.

Similarly, Cox, Rosenbluth, and Thies found in Mobilization, Social Networks, and Turnout: Evidence from Japan that the 'social capital' -- the value of an individuals social networks to the performance of whatever task s/he wants to carry out -- of an individual politician is absolutely crucial in races that are competitive. The calculus is quite clear -- a politician mobilizes his social networks to the extent that a race is competitive. Since almost all the races in Taiwan were at least somewhat competitive, it follows that mobilization of local networks is critical to victory at the local level. The KMT has enormous advantages in putting its social capital to good effect, not only in its 5-1 dominance in spending, but also in the fact that the structure of local officialdom -- the neighborhood and precinct captains, the village chiefs, the township chiefs -- are 90% KMT. In other words, the KMT gets to have its cake and eat it too -- its local networks are not only vastly better than the DPP's, they are all on government salaries!

Cox et al also found that in Japan politicians who want to mobilize more voters should turn to more tightly constructed social networks. In Taiwan this means accessing local clan and faction politics, right down to the level of individual families. In certain areas on the island, orders on how to vote travel downward through networks of precinct captains to local neighborhood and extended family groups. If the candidate has connections to a university, teachers and staff may be mobilized to have their students and families vote for the candidate.

Is there some preference for clean politics that might counter the possibility of an LDP-style permanent majority? The election of politicians under indictment, while in jail, while on the run, while gaming the system legally and illegally, with convictions for various sorts of official misbehavior, with known backgrounds in organized crime, with illegal businesses -- should forever put a spike in the claim that Taiwanese voters want clean politics. Again and again, Taiwanese voters have shown that they don't care about such issues, with obviously corrupt politicians winning by large margins. Indeed, viewed from this perspective, a corruption investigation is proof positive that a local politician is manipulating the system in favor of his local constituencies.

Me at the shipyard.

This Empire of Bacon approach has another effect on politics highlighted by McCubbins and Rosenbluth -- it makes it far more difficult for the opposition parties to get elected: providing a wide range of services to a large part of the population and weakening the salience of ideological issues, LDP representatives collectively make it harder for politicians of opposition parties to compete. This electoral strategy leaves few niches of support groups unattended and vulnerable to appeals from other parties...

As long as rank-and-file members can discipline their leaders, and as long as party leaders seek to win a majority of seats for their party, the rank-and-file members can get the party to establish policies and institutions to facilitate the development of particularistic policies... the result of rank-and-file pressure is that the vote division in the districts results largely from candidates' ability to provide particularistic policies.

The particularistic social relations that characterized Japanese-style politics mean that ideology plays a lesser role in politics; personal relations a greater. In other words, the KMT's social networks can easily nullify any advantage the DPP gains from having the more democratic, foward-looking, and Taiwan-centered ideology. Moreover, since each district has but a single legislator, local political and business networks will have no choice but to orient themselves around that legislator, further cementing the dominant party's control.

Gawking at the gigantic cranes and other equipment.

The Wiki page on the LDP describes how the LDP maintained itself:

By the early 1990s, the LDP's nearly four decades in power allowed it to establish a highly stable process of policy formation. This process would not have been possible if other parties had secured parliamentary majorities. LDP strength was based on an enduring, although not unchallenged, coalition of big business, small business, agriculture, professional groups, and other interests. Elite bureaucrats collaborated closely with the party and interest groups in drafting and implementing policy. In a sense, the party's success was a result not of its internal strength but of its weakness. It lacked a strong, nationwide organization or consistent ideology with which to attract voters. Its leaders were rarely decisive, charismatic, or popular. But it functioned efficiently as a locus for matching interest group money and votes with bureaucratic power and expertise.

In Taiwan things are somewhat different (there's no apparent analogue in Japan to the identity politics here in Taiwan), but there are recognizable structural similarities between the LDP and the KMT that will occur to any alert reader, from multi-million dollar CIA support in the Cold War era, to its construction of a coalition out of local interest groups. These coalitions can be expected to expand as local KMT politicians attempt to annex all local interest groups to their personal networks, to prevent gaps that the DPP can exploit. Identity politics will continue to drive DPP voting, but eventually, as KMT control tightens, many Greens will be forced to enter local networks in order to gain access to resources. Indeed, many who vote Green at the national level already vote Blue at the local.....and thus, the DPP vote at the legislative level will probably shrink over time.

The LDP, it should be recalled, ruled from 1955 to 1993.

Thirty-eight years.


Kerim Friedman said...

I don't think things are that different in New Jersey ...

Anonymous said...

It should be noted that unlike the KMT, the LDP never declared martial law, never carried out a pogrom against certain segments of Japanese society, and never initiated a program of imprisoning, torturing and sometimes executing perceived "enemies" of the state. The LDP is also not on record as being in favor of "uniting" Japan with a neighboring power.

Another reason why the LDP has been in power all these years has been the inability of the opposition to provide a coherent alternative to Japanese voters. For decades, the Japan Socialist Party seemed more content with playing the role of spoiler in the Diet than with trying to take back the reigns of power. Now that the Democratic Party of Japan has a majority in the upper house of the Diet, it will be interesting to see if the DPJ can take advantage of the LDP's present difficulties and win a majority in the House of Representative in the next general election there.

Anonymous said...

Do the photos mean that you're seriously checking out Kaohsiung as a new home?

Interviewing perhaps?

skiingkow said...

You're absolutely right, Michael. You would have to be brain-dead not not notice the obstructionist (and blatantly undemocratic) policies of the KMT -- especially over the last 4 years. The historical watershed moment for me was the 2004 legislative elections which gave the KMT the green light and would effectively halt the much needed changes Taiwan needed to progress to the next level of democratic rule.

This light for freedom, justice and democracy in Taiwan has effectively been snuffed out this month. The majority of Taiwanese are, indeed, more interested in short-term personal gains than to a long-term commitment to real democratic solutions.

What boggles my mind is that when I mention that this is the choice the Taiwanese have made, my pan-blue friends still believe that the ideals of democracy and the Taiwanese identity will thrive. They think they can "have their bacon and eat it too".

Well, we all know what happens when one eats too much bacon...


Michael Turton said...

I don't think things are that different in New Jersey ...

You're probably right, especially at the state level.


Michael Turton said...

Anon --

I was just there for a field trip for school.

阿牛 said...

In the two weddings I've been to in Pingtung, a legislator showed up at one and sent a gift to the other.

This post was fantastic for its detail and sources. Thanks a bundle for thi sone, Michael.

Red A said...

I think that people all over the world somehow do not associate legislatures with the state of the economy, but somehow associate presidents with it. (In fact, neither can do very much to affect the economy.)

Let's just consider the great economy under President Clinton in the US which everyone remembers so fondly. Who ruled Congress then?

Notice how most people don't link that economic success to the GOP but attach it to Clinton?

My argument here is specifically not to say either party should have gotten kudos for the internet boom, but that people somehow want to personalize "the economy" and attach it to presidents.

Anonymous said...

kaminoge said "The LDP is also not on record as being in favor of "uniting" Japan with a neighboring power.".

As a Taiwanese, I don't quite understand what he was talking about.
China is a "neighbor" to Japan, but China and Taiwan "was" one country, currently separated by the civil war. I am not a member of KMT, nor is one of DDP, but, I am in favor of reuniting back into one country.
(Thank you for allowing me to express my view, Michael.)