[VIEWPOINT]In Hard Work Lies Key to Korea's Future

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[VIEWPOINT]In Hard Work Lies Key to Korea's Future

A while ago, I interviewed some new job candidates. One candidate was from a company that had gone bankrupt and received public funds totaling a few trillion won. During the interview, I asked with concern if the company was able to pay a salary to its employees. The candidate answered with a look as though I had asked him a silly question. "Salary? We get bonuses," he answered. The answer turned me speechless. But what shocked me was the way he made it sound so natural for a company to pay the workers' bonuses with funds drawn from the taxes on the public's hard-earned income.

A Korean friend of mine who is in his early-thirties recently moved to a new home and invited us for a housewarming party. It was a nice apartment in Kangnam with three bedrooms. The couple was excited to show us around their new home which has been redecorated and furnished with new furniture and appliances. During dinner, my wife curiously asked who had done the interior decoration and how much it had cost. By the end of dinner, my wife and I were fully informed on the details of how much the couple spent to move to the apartment, to decorate it, to buy new furniture and so forth. They had spent a lot of money, an amount that it would take our family more than 10 years to save. As we had been friends for a long time, I had a good idea how much my friend earned from his job. I also knew that he lived a luxurious life with the help of his parents who regularly gave him spending money. That night my wife and I were surprised to find out that it was the parents on both sides who had paid for most of the expenses of the couple's new home. But what surprised us even more was how proud the couple was to admit that their parents had helped them. Not only that, they were proud to have such parents.

The two episodes share something in common. They show how comfortable and accustomed we are when it comes to receiving. If I say that the two are correlated (i.e., we are so used to receiving from our parents that it also becomes natural to receive once we are out in society), would I sound like an irrational foreigner criticizing Koreans?

If the parents say what's wrong with giving my children money when I have money to give, I have nothing to say. If the company, despite its status, says it needs to give bonuses to the workers to encourage them, again, I have nothing to say. Even if the hole has to continue to get filled with the public's fund.

If we get used to receiving constantly, we will become lazy people. We will not know the joy of working hard or the value of sweat. If things were constantly handed out for free, who would make selfless sacrifices? If funds keep getting injected into these bankrupted companies, why should anyone lay off their friends as part of restructuring efforts? If there is no owner for the taxes and no one knows how long these companies will survive, why should the workers work for less money? If parents keep giving allowances and buy houses for their children, why should the children make any effort to save?

If one gets used to receiving, it becomes harder to save and thus he will ultimately lack competitiveness. In today's world, Korea faces many challenges from the neighboring countries. Already most labor-intensive businesses have moved to China or other countries. Korea does not have many core technologies or value-added industries. It is worse when it comes to natural resources.

In the 1960s and '70s, everyone in Korea worked hard to overcome hardship and poverty. That's how Korea became what it is today. What are Koreans doing now to prepare for the future? Are we hoping that someone will give us wealth at no cost instead of working hard to earn it? Aren't we demanding the government spend public funds on us? Why am I suddenly reminded of John Kennedy's words: "Ask not what your country can do for you ... ask what you can do for your country."


The writer is president of DaimlerChrysler Korea.

by Wayne Chumley

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