More Than Just Books


A few weeks ago, the island of Taiwan was brimming with student protests over the country’s recent trade pact with the People’s Republic of China. After the ruling party, Kuomintang (KMT), had passed a Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement with China without any review from the Democratic Progressive Party, the opposing party. Promised to bring more life to the stagnant Taiwanese economy, the trade pact was feared to give even more control of Taiwan to China. Students were enraged over the KMT’s blatant dismissal of the public’s request for clause-by-clause review of the already controversial bill. Earlier this year, from March 18 to April 10, Taiwanese students took their protests to not only the streets of Taipei but into the chamber of the Legislative Yuan and Executive Yuan. I was talking to my American friend about the difference between Occupy Wall Street and the recent student protests in Taiwan, nicknamed the Sunflower Movement after a florist had donated 1000 sunflowers to the cause. He predicted that the Sunflower Movement would gain more success because the students had a specific goal—a call for new legislation that would monitor the China-Taiwan agreement process and to postpone the enforcement of the trade agreement until the legislation is enacted.

And for a while, that future seemed very likely. My friends would return from protests, and praise and inspiration would just spill out of their mouths. In the beginning, the protests were peaceful and strong. The professors at my university would encourage their students to join in. As a foreign exchange student, I couldn’t take part. My exchange program sent clear and direct emails warning me of possible deportation if I got involved, but that didn’t stop a lot of people from joining in on the singing, the chanting, the occupation of the governmental buildings, etc.

Being so close to the action, which was only a few bus stops away, was intoxicating. Protests in the US seem too far off and distant for me to feel connected because the country is huge and even events in the next state seem light years away. Here in Taiwan, however, I was so close to the action—my friends littered my newsfeed on Facebook with updates about the protests, every conversation mentioned some news, the university’s campus was covered in flyers and sunflower decorations in support for the students.

Despite the abrupt surge of violence during the latter part of the Sunflower Movement, the protest suddenly came to an anticlimactic halt. The adrenaline from the protests was languishing just as midterm season came around. Students came back to homes and directed their energy back to their studies. Just like that, the protests were over. A lot of my friends went out of their way to detach themselves from the protests. They viewed them as dumb and useless, and they were particularly smug after the protests had quelled down.

But the protests were anything but dumb or useless. Even though the outcome was not at all ideal, it was still incredibly inspiring to feel the power of the students. I felt so close to change, even though I as an American would not directly be affected by this protest. People from all walks of life took the students seriously because they were organized and driven in their desires to right the wrongs the Taiwanese government had done in order to pass the Cross-Strait Agreement. The weeks of protests and the students’ clamor for change were enough to force negotiations between the student leaders and the President. Although seemingly fruitless, the negotiations signaled that students are a force to be reckoned with and are more than just their school textbooks. These students have ambition and drive outside of academics, and they are the future of Taiwan.

Photo Credit: Aljazeera America

Raising the Minimum Wage


Seattle recently increased its minimum wage to $15 an hour, joining other states like California and New Jersey in the quest to fight poverty in the United States. Concern about an increase in minimum wage stems from worries about the rise in unemployment and prices in order to supplement higher salaries. Advocates of raising the minimum wage say that an increase to $10.10 would reduce poverty and allow low-wage workers to buy basic necessities such as health care for example. These basic necessities will drive the need for welfare programs, thereby raising the standard of living. With more money in their pockets, not only would productivity increase, but people will be able to spend more on goods and services, thus stimulating the economy, creating more jobs and job stability, and decreasing income inequality.

However, the other side is that increasing the minimum wage would do the exact opposite and kill the job market. In order to supplement the costs, companies will start cutting back on their employees and trying to find alternative technological ways to replace those workers, in effect, increasing unemployment. Therefore, in an attempt to help low-wage workers gain more money, minimum wage actually actually damage their chances for finding jobs. In addition, a higher salary would result in higher prices, so goods and services would cost more.

There’s a Catch-22 when it comes to discussing minimum wage. Studies negate certain aspects of each side which complicates fair judgment. A study by the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE) showed that an increase in minimum wage to $10.10 would only raise the prices of goods and services by 2.5% or less. San Francisco and Santa Fe are perfect examples in which there was little effect on employment after their wages increased to $10.74 and $10.66 respectively. In fact, in a viral video concerning Walmart, raising the minimum wage of its employees to $10.10 would increase the price of products by only a cent.

However, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its own report saying that a higher minimum wage would have little effect on poverty because only 19% of the increase in income would go to families below the poverty line, while 29% would go to families earning three times more. Most minimum wage earners are from middle class families, debunking the myth that those in poverty occupy most low-income jobs. There are countless more studies that negate each other that it makes it difficult to come to a conclusion on which one is correct.

Each state and each city are different, so the effect of an increase in minimum wage may work in one city but not in another. But as more and more cities are deciding to increase their minimum wage, others are following. Slowly but surely, we will be able to see for ourselves which argument is true within our own community, whether it's the side we anticipate or not.

Photo Credit: Annette Bernhardt