[FOUNTAIN] 10, 20, 30: marking an ascentBy 1987, six years after reaching a per capita income of $10,000, Japan had doubled that income measure. Five years later, Japan’s per capita income was $30,000.
The United States’ per capita income hit $10,000 in 1978, but it took 10 more years to reach $20,000, and an additional nine years for it to climb to $30,000. Singapore attained $10,000 per capita income in 1989, and five years later broke through $20,000.
Not all nations continue to become more wealthy. Argentina, whose population is similar to Korea’s, was among the ranks of the five wealthiest countries half a century ago. But now its per capita income hovers around $9,000. The Republic of Korea’s per capita income reached $10,000 in 1995 under the Kim Young-sam administration, but for eight straight years, it has not moved above that mark.
Wealth, they say, does not necessarily guarantee happiness. But being stuck on the economic growth curve tends to drive people who enjoyed the prospect of unfettered prosperity into an insecure and gloomy mood. The lives of the middle class become more difficult as unemployment increases and income imbalances widen.
Recently a taxi driver in his 40s lamented while driving me to Yeouido, “The first misfortune was that I was born, and the second misfortune was that I got married and had children.” His story seemed to reveal a society in the doldrums.
A businessman in his 40s who runs an air cargo firm complained, “There’s nothing to carry except for semiconductors and mobile phones and parts.” He said automobiles were the other product on the export list, and that all items except for those three were made in China and Southeast Asia because domestic competitiveness has dropped. Another businessman said, “I sweat with fear when I think of what I might live with for the next 10 years.” His argument made me realize that we may see the sinking of the ship South Korea.
President Roh Moo-hyun caused a stir by saying he would form official and unofficial reform groups that would lead the country to an era of $20,000 per capita income. The $20,000 goal Mr. Roh presents has been overshadowed by the method, which critics denounce as “Mao’s Red Guards” style. I hope Mr. Roh can present a program that opens a new age of economic growth.
by Chun Young-gi
The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.