[VIEWPOINT]Egalitarianism in a Capitalist SocietyThe inscription on the front gate of the Supreme Court in southern Seoul reads "Freedom, Equality, Justice." These three words sum up the mission of the court: to realize the spirit of the law － in other words, implement justice － to protect the freedom and equality of the people. Freedom is a very important value to us. We sacrificed many things to wrest it from the hands of the absolute monarchs of the past, Japanese colonizers and, more recently, authoritarian dictators. But these days, when our freedom is to some degree guaranteed, we place more stress on equality.
The principle of equality is that the same things must be dealt with equally and that different things must be dealt with differently － or unequally. So it violates the principle of equality to deal with the same things unequally and different things equally. Both the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court of Korea interpret the principle of equality in law not as treating all people with absolute equality but prohibiting inappropriate discriminatory treatment.
Equality is not absolute, but relative. But in many cases in our society, equality is erroneously interpreted as absolute, and as a result of this interpretation the principle of equality is often violated, obstructing social progress.
A clear example is the educational standardization policy. Korea introduced compulsory education very early compared to other countries and put much effort into educating its people. As a result, though the nation lacks natural resources, it has well-educated human resources. They allowed us to achieve speedy industrialization and economic growth. But these days I wonder whether this educational standardization policy, which can cramp high achievers, will bring up future leaders with the high creativity and forceful personalities needed to cope with the ever fiercer competitiveness of this era. This standardization policy does not admit the difference in ability between students or the qualitative difference of education provided at each school. It has given parents the huge financial burden of giving their children additional private tutoring － which doesn't necessarily raise scholastic standards anyway, and can even result in decline. Seeing the evil influence of the standardization of education at middle and high schools, some people have gone even further by suggesting that the prestigious Seoul National University should be closed to dampen the fervor for costly private tutoring. When I hear these extreme assertions, I wonder when this country will finally see the true value of a good education system to produce students of an internationally competitive standard.
The policy of "medical equality" is another example. The Korean government succeeded in ensuring that medical care is available for all with a long-term drive to expand the medical insurance system. In a capitalist society, providing internationally competitive high quality medical service is possible only when the cost of such services is paid. Under the current system of cheap medical fees and an insurance system which is blind to quality differences between doctors and hospital facilities, it is not possible to provide differentiated, high quality medical treatment to meet the diverse medical demands of patients.
More and more parents are quitting well-paying jobs to emigrate to provide their children with a better education. In spite of difficulties of communication and high costs, more and more people are visiting hospitals overseas. These phenomena, I think, are evidence that domestic education and medical services are losing respect, here and internationally.
Korea will not achieve social development if people criticize others' success with the conviction that this constitutes "inequality." Compensating the "winners" in society in no way violates the principle of equality. In this time of competition, our only short-cut to becoming an advanced nation is to provide the correct social conditions in which people are allowed to compete fairly.
The writer is a lawyer at Kim & Chang Law Firm.
by Han Sang-ho