Today I write through the haze of severe jetlag. I’m supposed to be experienced at dealing with time travel by now, but for some reason, this is one of the worst cases I have ever had. So if I am not entirely lucid, bear with me.
I want to comment briefly on the second DPP presidential debate, which was held last night. Everyone else is talking about Su’s claim that he is the victim of dirty tricks or that no one is answering the questions raised by Hsu Hsin-liang. I’m not terribly interested in either one of these things. The former happens in nearly every intensely contested race, and there really is no reason for either Tsai or Su to lose focus and allow Hsu to steer the debate.
Instead, I want to talk about two things. One is perhaps important. The other is not.
The most revealing comment (in my opinion) last night came from Su Tseng-chang. In a question about rising prices, Su said two notable things. First, he suggested that the government should actively try to keep hot money out of Taiwan, as this destabilizes the economy in general and prices in particular. Calling international capital “hot money” is, in and of itself, a revealing statement. “Hot money” has very negative connotations, and suggests that Su believes it is generally more harmful than beneficial. If you believe the opposite, you call it international investment or some better sounding term. I had always thought of Su as fairly pro-business, but this statement sounded quite skeptical of free-market economics to me. I don’t know that Su intended for viewers to extrapolate from this one little answer about his more general attitudes toward capitalism, but it seemed revealing to me.
Su followed that up by suggesting that state-owned enterprises could be used to prevent rises in commodity prices. I didn’t get the exact details, but I think he suggested that state-owned companies should simply resist raising prices on commodities such sugar, salt, grain, and oil when the international prices shoot up. I think he meant that they shouldn’t follow short-term spikes, and not that they shouldn’t raise their prices when commodity prices go up for long-periods. Again, this answer suggests that Su is skeptical of letting market forces have free reign. Instead, the government has a legitimate role in intervening in the market to ensure public goals are not sacrificed.
Again, this is interesting to me because I did not think that Su espoused these sorts of ideas. This puts him much closer to (my understanding of) Tsai Ing-wen’s view of the market) than I had previously imagined.
There was also a nice contrast with Hsu Hsin-liang. While Su voiced caution toward hot money, Hsu positively welcomed it. Of course, he didn’t call it hot money. He called it capital investments from China, and he said enthusiastically that this could double the value of the stock market. How could this be bad, he asked? (I think Ma Ying-jeou’s stance is fairly close to Hsu’s.)
The other thing that struck me about the debate was what a lousy job ETV (東森) did in hosting it. They had technical difficulties with their broadcast. That was forgivable. Their host would not stop talking. She seemed to think that she was the star of the debate. I kept yelling at her to shut up and to let the politicians talk, but she ignored me. ETV also had a very annoying 10 second intro graphic to the questions that they played every time. Once was enough. Twice was annoying. The third through ninth times just made me madder and madder. But the worst thing was that they completely butchered the questions from the public. Somehow, Hsu got three questions about diplomacy or national security, Su got three questions about economics, and Tsai got three questions about disadvantaged groups in society. What the hell? I hope they assigned these questions randomly. If they didn’t, they would have to be willfully incompetent. Even if they just pulled the questions out of a hat, they are still negligent. How hard would it have been to separate the questions into three general categories so that each candidate would get a variety of different questions? Tsai was particularly hurt by this since she was sidetracked on secondary issues such as whether to lower the voting age to 18 the whole debate. Sure enough, today’s United Daily News makes it look as if she was lacking in content. Of course she was. She was never asked to talk about the economy or national security! (She compounded this by wasting about a fourth of her opening and closing remarks on contentless platitudes.) ETV, you should be embarrassed.