Three worst political ideas in 2012 and hopefully of all time
Published : 2013-01-03 19:58
Updated : 2013-01-03 19:58
It is not an enviable task, picking the top three bad ideas from our government in a year when they have given us so many to choose from. But The China Post would like to bid the year farewell by remembering the worst while hoping for the best for 2013.
While risking being unoriginal and repetitive, we give the top spot to the undisputed king of shoot-yourself-in-the-foot ideas. The decisions to hike power prices by as much as a third and oil prices by some NT$3 in one go around early 2012 are bad in almost every conceivable aspect.
Politically they transformed the triumphantly reelected President Ma Ying-jeou into a lame duck in a truly spectacular speed and manner. The remarkable fact about the price hike fiasco is that it was completely unforced but came into being solely due to the government’s dishonesty and miscalculation. Ma had not floated his idea of power price hikes in the debate of Taiwan’s energy security during his 2012 reelection campaign and the government actually froze oil prices in the month before the election (under the pretext of stabilizing prices during the pre-Chinese New Year period). The sudden price hikes that came soon after the election felt like a punch to the face of voters, making them feel betrayed and fooled.
The voters’ feelings and Ma’s approval ratings (now in the midteens), however, are minor causalities in comparison to the damage the hike announcements brought to price stability. The hikes, rightly or wrongly, became the pretext for price increases for a wide range of goods from night market snacks to convenience store beverages. Since these price increases are often irreversible (when was the last time you saw a restaurant cut prices permanently?), even though oil prices dropped for over 10 consecutive weeks soon after the NT$3 jump, it did no help to bring down prices.
The energy price hikes were also amazingly horrible ideas because they are in principle the right thing to do. Power price increases are in the long run necessary if Taiwan is serious about energy sustainability and a nuclear-free future. But instead of making that case, the government spent most of the time using the rationale of saving unpopular state-owned companies that dole out hefty year-end bonuses.
The hikes should be made during boom times, not before a widely foreseen eurozone debt crisis. They should be preceded by lengthy public consultation and then carried out through multiple stages, not in one across-the-board surge. The president was forced to reset the power price increases in three stages only in the face of public anger. It is one thing to risk angering the people for doing the right thing but quite another to ruin a right policy by handling it badly and carelessly.
The second worst idea of 2012 is the philosophy of “getting the policy going first and then modify it on the fly” immortalized by the government’s push for capital gains tax reform. What sounds like a proactive reformist mindset is an excuse for avoiding tough choices and a recipe for disaster. By going only half the way the policy lands right in the worst spot where it annoys both its opponents for being there and its supporters for being so ineffectual that it seems like a reform only in name. Worst of all, the flip-flopping that inevitably comes from such a political philosophy actually harms business confidences more than the capital gains taxes themselves. Do. Or do not. There is no try.
The third one is the decision by the National Museum of Natural Science to erect a “doomsday clock” to mark the so-called Mayan Apocalypse on Dec. 21. This might sound trivial compared with the first two but it underlines an equally worrisome trait of the government. Instead of dispersing public fears through scientific information (like what NASA had been providing in the past few years on Mayan doomsday rumors), a publicly funded science museum actually jumps on the bandwagon and BUILDS a doomsday clock. The museum rationalized the idea as a way to “educate” the public about Mayan culture but it is difficult to see what a mock Mayan pyramid fitted with a clock counting down to Dec. 21 can teach the public about culture. The idea is symbolic of the government’s tendency to garner publicity by whatever means possible, even by bringing itself to the level of gossipers and conspiracy theories. When the government does not respect itself, how can it expect people to respect it?
So here they are. The three worst political ideas in 2012. All we hope for 2013 and the years after is that they will come down in history as the three worst ideas of all time. They all have the potential to top the chart. More importantly, we sincerely hope that our government will not outdo itself in the future.