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September 26, 2017

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Democratic system no excuse for inaction by government

When former Vice President Vincent Siew said last week that he has seldom found Taiwanese society so powerless and lost, he cut his old boss some slack by highlighting the challenge of democratic governance. Gone is the autocratic era when decisions were made by a few people and could be quickly implemented; the president now has to build consensus, Siew later pointed out.

Democratic inefficiency has been much talked about after the Great Recession. People were shocked by the ineptitude of the politicians and regulators in the U.S. to prevent the financial meltdown in 2008. They were disheartened by partisan brinkmanship when politicians used the nuclear option of not raising the U.S. debt ceiling as a bargaining chip. At the same time, many economic pundits and business leaders admired mainland China's no-nonsense, rapidly implemented stimulus policies. While the U.S. is still arguing over the validity of climate change science, China is taking the global lead in green technologies. Many believe the mainland has taken the can-do spirit from the Americans in part because of its centralized autocratic system.

Western businesspeople mindful of their democratic roots might use the corporation analogy and describe how the Chinese government is run like a business. The idea that governance should be more like result-oriented business is having an impact in the U.S. While China-bashing has been a favorite political pastime in the U.S. election season, one of the major arguments of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is essentially that he is better suited to run the U.S. because he has experience running a business.

Siew's argument follows similar logic that the government's economic policies take time to work because of Taiwan's democratic system. Such an argument, however, is only half right.

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