By Hsu Shih-jung 徐世榮
Thursday, Mar 20, 2008, Page 8
The recently televised vice presidential platform presentation gave us a deeper understanding of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) vice presidential candidate Vincent Siew's (蕭萬長) way of thinking: He believes that politics and the economy can be separated.
Serious consideration should be given to the fact this was a way of thinking that the former KMT authoritarian government rammed down the public's throat, and to the "economic technocrats" trained during the authoritarian era, this way of thinking became a creed through which they ruled Taiwan.
The concept of separating politics from economics disguises particular political intentions of those who hold power. This is because it turns the market into an objective and impartial mechanism in which the promotion of economic efficiency becomes the only end, and economic operations are considered to be free from political interference and independent from the restraints of ideology.
This means that all other value propositions fail to enter the market mechanism. Issues like democratization, national consciousness, environmental sustainability and social justice are forgotten.
The separation of politics from economics thus becomes an important way of depriving the public of their political rights.
The KMT regime always used the separation of politics and economics as an excuse for categorizing criticism against the government as "ideology," "populism," "non-economic factors," or "politicization" and regarding it as irrational, subjective and self-interested prejudice that therefore could be excluded from the political domain.
Since many people don't closely examine this situation, they have been trapped in a mindset that treats the market as an objective mechanism. This in its turn has given Taiwanese politics and public participation a bad name. Many people look down on or show no interest in participating in political activities, ignorant of the close connection between politics and economics. This has created a political system that is easily manipulated by a few power holders.
The separation of politics from economics is also a major departure from historical reality. Taiwan's past economic development is an issue that has been discussed by many political, economic and sociology academics. They often point out the close relationship between economic development and government intervention, disproving the idea that Taiwan's economy is the result of markets operating freely. This has led academics of comparative politics to come up with the important concept of "state autonomy," of which Taiwan has become an important example.
With his decades of political experience, how can Siew promote the government's past political achievements and say that the government will intervene even more actively in the economy -- for example, the 12 construction projects aimed at expanding domestic demand -- while taking the contradictory attitude that he is purely an economist?
Aren't those diametrically opposed positions?
All in all, the separation of politics from the economy and stressing the slogan "striving to improve the economy," while taking a conservative political stand is an excuse to rule through ideology.
It would be very worrying if this once again became the axis around which Taiwan's political and economic discourse turns.
It is very likely that it would lead to a democratic retreat, with the civic right to political participation restricted and a gradual return to an authoritarian era.
Hsu Shih-jung is a professor at National Chengchi University's Department of Land Economics.
Translated by Ted Yang
2008/03/20 Taipei Times, page 8