[VIEWPOINT]Be cautious on population policyNo one would be happy to pay more and get less. It goes without saying that people would be upset if the government tells them that due to changes in circumstances they will only be getting a pittance of a pension after having turned over part of their hard-earned money for their retirement.
The government has prepared a bill raising the insurance rates of the national pension, that is, the amount that one must pay from one’s income as the pension insurance, while lowering the substitution rate of income as pension, or the percentage to be received as pension of the average income during the period which one pays the insurance. The government explains that this was an unavoidable change due to the low birth rate and the aging society which leaves fewer people paying and more people eligible to receive pensions. The increase of our own burden, the government explains, will help ease that of the next generation.
The government’s new proposal is based on several forecasts about the future such as the birth rate, the average life span, the average rate of wage increases, inflation, the expected earning rate of investments and the premium collection rate. Those who oppose the new bill point out problems such as that of equity with other pensions, the question of who will manage the investments of the fund and increasing the rate of compliance in premium collections. In addition, critics claim that there is a problem with the birth rate on which the government has based its proposed legislation. The government has prepared its bill on the birth rate of 2002 provided by the National Statistical Office, but the birth rate is expected to rise once it implements a policy to encourage larger families. Therefore, the argument goes, the new calculations should be based on a projected birth rate of 1.8 children per family.
According to the statistics, our recent birth rate was 1.17 children per family, one of the lowest in the world. Should this birth rate persist, the Korean population would become extinct by the year 2150. This abrupt decrease in the birth rate has created several social problems, of which the pension system is one. In short, there are now more to be supported and fewer to support.
This has led to a change in the perception that birth is the choice of an individual or a family, and also that the burden or responsibility of child rearing is the problem of the individual. With this change of perspective on the social significance and functions of childbirth, policies are being formed based on the widely spreading consensus that society should share the costs of birth and child-raising in order to maintain the birth rate necessary for the existence of society.
The government has announced that it will reinforce its policies to protect motherhood by paying for the costs of pre- and postpartum leaves for women. It is also considering a way to increase day care facilities so that women would not feel too burdened in raising children while keeping a job. Two weeks ago, a new bill was introduced in the National Assembly calling for local governments to pay for the schooling of the third child in a family until age 18 to boost the birth rate. It also called for the establishment of a birth information center and for the government to subsidize households who want postpartum care or to hire professional nannies.
It’s a late but a welcome change. These days, people say that it’s a blessing to be childless, but that seems soon to be changed. Yet one cannot help feeling a bit ashamed about the recent discussion of birth rates because it seems to ignore the absolute value of birth itself and emphasizes the position of the parent generation who are in need of future support. More specifically, do the discussions about the social issues such as the national pension system address equity between generations? Equity does not become a problem when the benefactor and the beneficiary are one and the same. Even when the benefactor and the beneficiary are not the same person, equity can be established in the process of arguing their positions and reaching a compromise.
The problem of equity occurs because even when the benefactor and the beneficiary are different, only one participated in the decision-making. In the case of the national pension, when the generation that pays the insurance and the generation that collects the pensions are different, there are issues to be solved such as the utilization of resources, conservation and environmental protection. In the worst case, the parent generation could enjoy the profits but leave nothing but debts to the next generation. In the legal system, when the interests of an underage child and his or her parents are in conflict, a third party represents the interest of the child as a special representative. There are no such third parties to represent the interests of the next generation in our decision-making process. We must decide by ourselves.
That is why we must examine the issue of equity carefully from our position as parents. A more cautious attitude is needed when we are dealing with such uncertain elements as the success or failure of a population policy.
By Cho Soo-jung
The writer is a lawyer. Translation by the JoonAng Daily staff.