[FORUM]It begins and ends with jobsWe live in Korea without thinking about illiteracy. Thanks to the enthusiasm for education, Korea’s rate of illiteracy is the lowest in the world, and it has long disappeared from government statistics.
But the word “computer blindness,” or people who do not know how to use computers, still irritates quite a few people. According to the Korea National Statistics Office, the number of people who do not use computers was 37 percent of the population over six years of age in 2002. This rate is not so bad when compared with other countries.
If we measure computer users by the number of people who can use the Internet, Korea’s rate of users last year was 59 percent: lower than in the United States but higher than in Japan and similar to the rate in Canada.
We have “conquered” illiteracy early (at that time, people said they “conquered” illiteracy) and are rapidly “escaping” from computer-blindness (today, people say they “escape” from non-computer use). But can we see if we only overcome illiteracy and computer blindness? No. Our society is still blind to something ― to the importance of jobs. If there is “job-blindness” like computer-blindness, our society is still blind.
In whatever case, including daily conversation, economic news, politicians’ speechs, policy discussion and presidential candidates’ campaigns, the frequency of using the word “jobs” in advanced countries is overwhelmingly higher than in Korea. Jobs are in everyone’s mouth to the extent that they begin with jobs and end with jobs.
Campaigns for the election of a president, governors, senators and congressmen cannot be conducted without talking about how many jobs they can create. Illiterate people also open their ears at the mention of “jobs” and their votes are decided according to the possibility of creating jobs. The state of Alabama, which attracted a Hyundai Motor factory last year, had already induced the assembly line of Mercedes-Benz cars in 1997.
At that time, the state government of Alabama built a new highway leading to the Mercedes-Benz plant and named it Benz. And the state government and Mercedes-Benz shared the cost of vocational training for residents who were to work at the plant.
All these things were possible due to new jobs.
When I went on a business trip to Wales in Great Britain in the early 1990s, what I heard from beginning to end was jobs. They said, “We created hundreds of jobs by renovating the mining region; we secured new jobs by attracting Sony’s European regional headquarters; and if Korean companies invest here, they will have good business because there are no labor-management disputes.” All explanations for attracting investment began with jobs and ended with jobs.
Compared to them, we don’t know well how urgent it is to create jobs, perhaps because we are accustomed to the rapid growth of the past. Our government has no insight to see that creating new jobs is the most effective measure for distributing welfare. The labor movement is changed, as if desperately holding on to existing jobs is everything. That is selfishness, not a labor movement. When it comes to attracting foreign capital, many people still use the phrase, “Foreign capital is rushing in.”
Instead of foreign capital rushing in, our capital is rushing out. Our jobs and our future are flowing out as well, along with it.
Moreover, an aged society is approaching moment by moment. The problem of unemployment today is not simply a matter of prosperity or recession. How and on what can we live in the future? It is a matter of the importance of jobs.
In the formal Korean language, we can hardly understand the subtlety of the slogan that helped bring down a U.S. president: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
* The writer is a deputy managing editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Su-gil