Originally published April 26 2009
Taiwan Surpasses U.S. on Key Achievements: Health Care, High Speed Rail and Fiscal Responsibility
by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, NaturalNews Editor
(NaturalNews) After living in Ecuador for some time, I recently traveled to Taiwan, where Truth Publishing is headquartered. Returning to the United States after spending time in Taiwan has allowed me the perspective to make some observations about the differences between the USA and Taiwan.
The bottom line on these observations? The USA is falling behind the world in many important areas, and unless we reprioritize our spending, with each passing year we are looking less and less like a world leader and more and more like an agricultural exporter "developing" nation.
For example, Taiwan now boasts a stunningly-efficient high-speed rail transportation system that zips passengers from one city to another in mere minutes. Last week, as I was zooming along the Taiwan countryside at 300 kilometers per hour, experiencing the remarkable comfort and ease of travel (no silly security checks, no long lines, just automated ticketing machines and on-time departures), I asked myself the obvious question: "Where is America's high-speed rail?"
The answer, of course, is that it's still on the drawing board. America virtually abandoned rail travel in the 1960's, allowing a once-great network of rail lines to become largely defunct. So today, America lacks the kind of efficient transportation infrastructure that Europeans, Japanese and even Taiwanese citizens enjoy every day. And this means Americans burn more oil and waste more time driving from one place to another.
The lack of high-speed rail harms America's efficiencies and international competitiveness because it raises the prices of virtually everything that has a transportation component (food, oil, concrete, raw materials, people, mail, etc.). Trucking all these goods around costs roughly ten times what it costs to move them via rail. It does sell more oil, though, which is probably one of the reasons why rail was abandoned in America in the first place (to appease the powerful oil companies).
Smoking bans and national health careTaiwan has also passed and enforced a nationwide ban on smoking indoors. No smoking is allowed in restaurants, hotels, train stations, airports or anywhere other than private homes. The fine for violating this smoking ban? About 1/3rd of an average citizen's monthly wage.
This progressive, health-oriented initiative could never happen in America due to the highly influential (and destructive) tobacco lobby. In states like North Carolina, where tobacco is still big industry, anti-smoking laws get virtually no traction. The result is that North Carolina feels like a third world country, whereas Taiwan feels like a progressive world leader. Seriously, the last time I visited North Carolina (in 2008), I thought I had been teleported to a third-world nation full of race cars (NASCAR), tobacco and religious evangelists.
Speaking of health-related issues, Taiwan also has an extremely efficient, affordable health care system that covers everyone for just a few dollars a month. Using high-tech hospital equipment and U.S.-trained doctors, the Taiwan health care system still manages to cover virtually all medical needs (pregnancy, dental and vision included) for about $30 / month through your employer -- which includes coverage of your entire family, including children. Your employer pays about $25 / month in addition to what you pay, so it's roughly $50 / month for full coverage of you and your entire family. Not bad, huh? Why can't America do this?
For those citizens who don't have employment, they can purchase full coverage for about $20 / month. Yep, that's twenty bucks a month for full health care, even if you don't have a job.
This isn't for shoddy, low-tech health services, by the way. This is for state-of-the-art specialist coverage, including cardiology, reproductive health, internal medicine, urgent care, pediatrics, cancer treatments, surgery and just about every area of medicine you can think of. That an Asian nation can provide these high-tech services at such an affordable cost is astonishing to most Americans who are used to paying the highest prices in the world for not-so-great health care services.
Providing affordable, state-of-the-art (westernized) health care is something that seemingly can never be accomplished in the U.S. due to all the powerful, profitable corporations making money off disease. The health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and health service providers are all making too much money off sickness and disease to give up those profits for the common good. In America, health care is a for-profit industry, not a benefit to its citizens. And legislators in Washington repeatedly favor the profits of corporations over the health care needs of Americans. (This stance, as I've explained before, will spell the doom of America. You cannot have a strong nation if your people are all diseased and medicated...)
Banning plastic bags and cleaning up the citiesOn the issue of pollution and the environment, Taiwan has made huge strides in the last ten years, demonstrating progressive, mindful solutions that help protect the environment. For example, a few years ago they banned the giving away of plastic bags by all retailers (especially grocery stores). Customers can still buy plastic bags for a few cents each, but they can no longer be given away.
The result? Overnight, the country's plastic bag pollution problem virtually disappeared. Suddenly, customers were bringing their own cloth bags or packing up groceries in recyclable cardboard boxes. Suddenly the streets were cleaner and landfill use was drastically reduced. In the United States, only progressive cities like San Francisco have managed to pull off something like this, but Taiwan did it nation-wide.
Speaking of pollution, Taiwan's parks and cities are super clean. You'll rarely see trash just thrown around, and cleaning crews are regularly sweeping up the city parks and roadways.
Getting back to the infrastructure, Taiwan's system of roads and bridges is hugely impressive. With ongoing government investment, the roadways, railways, bridges keep getting better every year. Today, Taiwan's transportation infrastructure rivals that of any first-world nation, leaving the U.S. and its crumbling roadways in the dust. Remember: The United States is sitting on an aging transportation infrastructure where bridges literally fall apart when people are driving over them. Road maintenance is disastrous in places like L.A., Chicago and New York, and the nation's railways, as previously discussed, have been virtually abandoned.
In terms of transportation, the U.S. truly feels more and more like a third-world country with each passing year. It's not as bad as Peru or Ecuador -- yet! -- but it's getting there. After visiting Taiwan, returning to the United States feels a lot like visiting some developing nation where the travel infrastructure isn't really done being built yet. Plus, the increasing number of "immigration checkpoints" in the highways makes you feel like you're visiting Eastern Europe or the former Soviet Union. Welcome to the U.S.S.A.
All this and zero debt, too?What's most remarkable about all this is that Taiwan has no national debt whatsoever. In fact, Taiwan is sitting on some of the largest financial reserves of any nation in the world. It's been socking away savings even while managing to build impressive transportation infrastructure and health care solutions for its citizens.
How can this be? How can Taiwan accomplish so much and still have no national debt like the U.S.? And why is the U.S. so hopelessly mired in debt, even as its national infrastructure is in many ways falling apart?
The answers, I believe, are cultural. There are some rather noticeable differences between Taiwan (Chinese) culture and American culture. Notably:
• Taiwanese are thrifty - They tend to save money. Lots of it. Sure, they like to buy stuff from time to time, but they always SAVE money before spending it. Americans, on the other hand, tend to spend more than they have, resulting in negative savings rates.
• Taiwanese are industrious - They tend to work diligently, with discipline, and they're not afraid of long hours. As a result, this island nation that lacks virtually all natural resources has become a manufacturing leader in the world, amassing huge revenues and savings by buying raw materials from other countries and transforming them into value-added products through advanced manufacturing processes. Americans, in comparison, tend to whine at the prospect of working more than 8 hours a day, and they tend to spend time at work surfing the 'net (if they can get away with it) rather than actually getting any work done. By any honest assessment, the American workforce isn't hard working. On the entrepreneurial side, of course, there are many exceptions to this (business owners tend to work very hard for themselves), but as far as the general labor force goes, only the immigrants seem willing to actually work hard. As I've discovered from living in Arizona (and virtually everybody in California already knows), if you have a job that requires a lot of work, hire a Mexican!
• They have better national spending priorities: While America's spending priorities have focused on imperialism and military conquest, Taiwan's spending priorities have been more in the realm of national infrastructure, education and national savings. Even so, Taiwan has been able to spend billions on national defense to help protect it from mainland China, which continues to insist that Taiwan is its "territory."
It's not Paradise, thoughDespite all these remarkable accomplishments, Taiwan isn't quite a paradise yet. It suffers from several problems that need additional work:
• Noise pollution - This seems common among both Asian and South American nations. Noise remains a big issue, as there is really no legal recognition of the right to "peace and quiet."
• Population density - Taiwan has a very high population density, translating into extreme crowding of its cities (well, not as bad as Tokyo, but still crowded). A few days in a typical Taiwan city makes foreigners like me feel downright claustrophobic.
• Abusive academics - Taiwan's emphasis on academics is so strong that many children spend literally 16 hours a day in public school and private "cram schools." They grow up into adults with amazing academic skills, but utterly lacking social skills or the kind of adventurous experiences that are supposed to define childhood. (No sleepovers, no Little League baseball, no parties or field trips... just study, study, study.)
• Air quality - Due to the widespread use of gasoline-powered motor scooters, Taiwan's cities have miserable air quality (not as bad as Mexico City, but still bad). Notably, China recently solved this problem virtually overnight in several areas by simply banning gasoline motor scooters and requiring citizens to ride e-bikes! The future of Taiwan will likely see a similar shift to electric motor scooters or e-bikes, too. The days of gasoline-powered scooters are numbered, and that's a good thing for Taiwan's air quality.
• Dependence on exports - Taiwan's economy depends largely on exports: About 40% to Europe, 40% to the USA and 20% elsewhere (Middle East, Australia, etc.). With the world economy in a depression, Taiwan's exports have suffered tremendously, and the nation is right now in a serious economic slump that's causing high rates of unemployment. Notably, instead of just firing people, most employers are opting for "mandatory non-paid vacation days" where workers keep their jobs but are asked to work fewer days each month.
All this adds up to a remarkable story of a hugely successful island nation that has managed to accomplish many things that still elude the world's largest military superpower (the USA). While the U.S. may be great at building (and dropping) bombs, Taiwan has affordable national healthcare for all its citizens. While the U.S. may have a military presence in 133 countries (or so), Taiwan has high-speed rail that saves its citizens countless hours in travel between cities. While the U.S. may boast the world's largest collection of fast food chains anywhere in the world, Taiwan is good at actually making things like computers, furniture and electronics.
In many ways, in fact, Taiwan is what the U.S. used to be -- nimble, productive and smart. Twenty years ago, when I first lived in Taiwan, I never could have imagined writing this article: The U.S. was superior in almost every way, and Taiwan was a dingy, small-scale developing nation. One generation later, however, Taiwan has surpassed the U.S. in numerous ways, proving that a nation that finds the courage to make smart, progressive decisions can accomplish amazing things, even if it hasn't been gifted with abundant natural resources.
There's a lot to love about America, of course, and America will always be my home. But there's little question that the days of the American Empire are waning. America's position as the leader of the world is history. The one thing that America is really, really good at -- killing enemy combatants -- isn't much to brag about. America doesn't manufacture much of anything, it's way behind the rest of the world on transportation and education, and it can't even offer its citizens basic health care services. It's a high-tax, low-service, police state country with $12 trillion in suffocating debt.
How much debt is that, exactly? Consider this: The world population is approaching seven billion people. $12 trillion in debt is nearly $2,000 for every person living in the world today. That's how much the U.S. owes -- nearly $2,000 for every man, woman and child living in every nation in the world, including China and India, by the way.
With that much debt, America has secured its position in the history of the world: It is a bankrupt empire whose days are numbered. Its People have become complacent and lazy, its manufacturing base has been gutted, its economy has become stagnant and its finances are beyond recovery.
Perhaps out of the ashes of America, a smart, nimble nation can arise and follow in Taiwan's footsteps to make smarter decisions about spending priorities. The formula isn't that difficult to figure out: Spend less than what you earn, invest in your People and your infrastructure rather than fighting wars. Promote entrepreneurism, thriftiness and hard work. In a few generations, you too can create a hugely successful nation that takes its place among the leaders of the world.
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