Stagnation of social mobility stifles youth

When looking at Yushan (玉山), the scenery differs depending on whether one is seeing it from an airplane or gazing up at it at from a valley. In the same way, different perspectives to the recent string of student protests and social movements arise depending on the standpoint of the observer.
Therefore, before a situation is assessed, people should reflect on their own world-views, for this is the only way to see where blind spots lie.
I am a lawyer of a certain social status and have some economic power. It is not hard to predict that a person like me does not want to see total anarchy because I hope that society will continue to be stable. However, while I do not advocate destroying the current system, this does not mean that I do not want to make some adjustments to it.
In the same vein, the political views of the leaders of the Sunflower movement should not be the main focus. Of more importance is the socio-economic status of the tens of thousands of young people and students who took part in the movement’s related protests. Those who have not yet entered the workforce or have only just entered it still need to increase their economic power and it is not hard to see that they are more tranquil about the destruction of the current system.
So, has the system really reached the point at which it is necessary to occupy government organs and paralyze them?
Consider it from the point of view of the protesters. If social resources are quantified, it can be seen that a person with a resource value of 100 units and a person who has only one unit will naturally have different hopes and expectations when it comes to changing society’s rules.
The former will be more inclined to cherish the resources they have and will be more likely to resist change.
As for the latter, what possible losses could they incur if the rules were broken? Even if the real outcome was that they stood to lose even that one unit, this person might believe that they could turn their one unit into two, three or even 100.
Also, for the latter, a motivating factor when considering breaking established rules, despite the possibility that they will lose their only resource, is if the current rules give them the opportunity to increase their resources. This is what is referred to as social mobility.
Consider the current state of democratic countries around the globe. They all face a common problem: an ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor. This has not only greatly decreased social mobility, it has also started to decrease the “aspiration” that society at large and especially young people, have for social mobility.
This is an important psychological factor behind all of the social movements the nation has seen recently.
Given the situation of the nation’s political system, it would be an overstatement to say that Taiwan is a dictatorship. The nation is still a democracy. However, even if the system is stable, it must be pointed out that all democracies must face up to the fact that social mobility is decreasing, both in a practical sense and in people’s hope for mobility. This is eroding the legitimacy of democratic systems.
If those in power do not face up to this fact, increasingly serious protests will come next. It would be incorrect to think that such protests would only be aimed at the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
They will be aimed at any government in power, because — while on the surface it may seem that these protests are aimed at a particular leader — in reality, these protests are a warning to representative democracy.
C.V. Chen is a managing partner at Lee and Li Attorneys-at-law.
Translated by Drew Cameron

【20140508 Taipei Times 1030508】