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Academia Sinica convocation focuses on Taiwan's increasing income inequality

TAIPEI -- The issue of growing income inequality has taken center stage at the ongoing biennial convocation of academicians of Academia Sinica (中央研究院), Taiwan's top research institution, which opened Tuesday in Taipei.

The income of the richest 5 percent in Taiwan has grown to nearly 100 times that of the poorest 5 percent, which academician Lin Ming-chang said indicates a serious gap.

The emeritus professor of chemistry at Emory University in the United States attributed Taiwan's income gap to what he called an unfair tax system which lays the heaviest tax burden on the salaried class while reducing the tax burden on the wealthy, who have many tools at their disposal to avoid taxes.

The country's development will be hampered unless the government promotes tax reform to improve income distribution, he warned.

Academician Lee Yuan-tseh, a former head of Academia Sinica and Taiwan's first Nobel laureate, said that while many think technological development helps reduce poverty and famine, it only creates a larger number of billionaires without fixing poverty.

Academia Sinica Vice President Chen Chien-jen argued that health inequality is one of the most important factors in the widening income gap, arguing that new policies for health care and long-term care are what Taiwan needs the most.

Poorer people tend to face more difficulty getting access to health care, creating a vicious cycle in which the poor get poorer because of health problems, he said.

Academician Wang Ping, the Siegle Family Professor of economics at Washington University in St. Louis, said the most obvious trend in Taiwan in recent years has been the rapid accumulation of wealth by people who own real estate.

Business magnates and capitalists are becoming increasingly wealthier but are not giving back to the salaried class, he said.

The convocation, which elects academicians and sets policies for academic research, has brought together 206 of Academia Sinica's 258 academicians. It will run through Friday.

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