Last February 8, 2018 the UP CIDS Program on Social and Political Change together with the UP CSSP Department of Political Science organized a public lecture by Dr. Herlin Chien of the Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. In this lecture, Dr. Chien shared with the students and faculty of the University of the Philippines the role that the middle class played in Taiwan’s economic and political development.
Dr. Chien discussed a brief history of Taiwan which showed the path they took towards becoming a developmental state. Much debate is present regarding the relationship of economic development and democratization. Some say that they are mutually exclusive, that countries can be economically developed but not democratic, while others say that they come hand in hand. In Taiwan’s case, the rise of the middle class in the 50s to the 80s paved the way to greater democratization.
From 1952-1982 Taiwan saw through its “economic miracle” with a growth of 8.71%. This has been, at large, a result of nationalizing their industrial production through the intensification of export processing zones. During this period, inequality rates in Taiwan also decreased. Dr. Chien noted that the more economic growth the higher quality of democracy is demanded by the public. Such is the case in Taiwan where the middle class started demanding for more rights and broadened the influence of civil society.
Governments should pay close attention to the relationship of the state and civil society, says Dr. Chien. Ideally, the government should make an effort to ensure cross-sector cooperation and citizen participation in decision making processes thus achieving this through consensu. In the end, the government becomes a civic enabler or a co-governing guardian to citizens.
Taiwan envisions a democratic government that is horizontal rather than vertical, participatory rather than representative, and collaborative rather than adversarial. And they have done so by providing citizens with the means for sustainability not just through jobs but also through social welfare, health care, education, land reform and so on.