Ma’s shopping may have set a bad example

The China Post news staff

President Ma Ying-jeou went shopping the other day, probably under silent protest. He bought two pairs of expensive shoes to encourage w-ealthy people to spend, spend and spend to boost Taiwan’s domestic demand. His premier, Liu Chao-shiuan, followed suit by purchasing not very cheap odds and ends along with Cabinet members. Unwittingly, Ma may have set a bad example, particularly at a time everybody in Taiwan is praising the late business tycoon Wang Yung-ching of Formosa Plastics fame for “hard work and thrift” with which he had built a petrochemical empire. Wang died in his sleep at home in Livingston, New Jersey, on October 15.

The president certainly knows hard work and thrift are the fundamental virtues, not just traditionally Chinese, but universal. They are the core values that, together with the Confucian bureaucracy, enabled the Chinese to sustain the world’s oldest continuous civilization. That’s why he showed some hesitation while tying shoelaces trying on the second shoe he bought. Ma also knows the influence of celebrity worship on the young people of Taiwan. He probably forgot he may be encouraging relentless commercialism that is destroying thrift as the unquestionable virtue and compelling people to crave for things they should work hard to earn. Thrift became a dirty word in post-war America, where macroeconomists started spreading the gospel of consumer spending as the way to prosperity. People have been taught to believe they should spend — even beyond their means — to contribute to their national economic growth. They wanted to buy houses, but did not have enough money. “Don’t worry,” an economic pundit would tell them. “Mortgages are available,” he would say. Desirable things could be purchased on credit.Then credit cards were invented to make it possible for practically every consumer to acquire almost anything he or she wants without paying one single penny at the time of purchase.

Do we have to remind President Ma Taiwan had a very hard time only a couple of years ago to deliver hundreds of thousands of “card slaves?” The meltdown of the U.S. financial system has resulted from banks over-extending credit to those who have spent more than they could afford. What should be encouraged isn’t consumer spending. The rich and the well-to-do of Taiwan can’t spend the economy out of its doldrums. Ma needs intelligent and vigorous leadership to cope with the impending financial and economic crisis.