[FORUM]Next, the ‘lazy Koreans’?Although they were losers in World War II, Japan and Germany succeeded in reviving and developing their economies in a short period of time. For some time, they were praised for the “miracle on the Rhine River” and hailed as the “rising sun.” However, coming into the 1990s, both economies fell into a long recession. The low-growth, high-unemployment situation continued in the two countries, and new terms such as the “German disease” and “Nipponesis” started to appear.
Professor Tezuka Kazuaki of Chiba University in Japan published a book this spring titled “The Lazy Japanese and Germans.” The book states that one of the reasons the two economies sank was because the Japanese and the Germans lost their diligence. Once such hard workers that they were called “workaholics,” the people of Japan and Germany had now become lazy. They say that in Germany the number of people who take sick leave has increased. In Munich’s English Garden, the biggest natural park in Europe, young people without work wander around during weekdays. They say there are also more lazy people in Japan nowadays and that the number of “freeters,” those who choose part-time jobs instead of getting regular work after graduating, has increased greatly.
Why have people gotten lazy? According to Professor Kazuaki and other scholars, the first reason is that people don’t feel the incentive to work because of the welfare system. In the case of Germany, even until quite recently, the wages of people on sick leave were paid by their employers for the first six weeks and by their health insurance companies from the seventh week for an unlimited period of time. Such a system makes people depend on government help rather than forcing them to exercise a spirit of independent self-help in times of need.
The second reason is that people have lost their goals and direction and are wandering spiritually. After the war, the two countries had economic recovery as their primary goal and they had no time to relax. Germans, their country divided into two, worked especially hard to prepare for the reunification that was to come. But once they caught up with all the other advanced countries with the exception of the United States, and in the case of Germany, once they achieved their long-desired reunification, the people became lax and sluggish.
Third, the German and Japanese governments intervened too much in their education systems and tried to pursue standardization at the cost of lowering their students’ creativity and academic level while increasing the people’s level of dependency on the government.
The experiences of these two countries hold a lot of lessons for us. The most important is that we should not let the government’s role get too big lest the people become lazy and overly dependent. Desirable welfare systems, such as support for low-income households, should continue, but other welfare systems in the style of advanced countries should be pursued only according to our own circumstances. If we continue to follow the European model, we could end up creating a “welfare bubble” that would bring slackness to laborers and cause an economic recession and fiscal bankruptcy that would burden our next generation immensely.
In addition, we should keep in mind that Japan and Germany were already economic powers by the 1980s and that Germany has already achieved reunification. They could afford to be lazy to some extent. We can’t. Our income per capita is still only $10,000 and we are still divided into North and South. Moreover, we are surrounded by major powers which means that important issues related to the future of our country could be decided without our say in the matter. If our politicians and people continue to neglect their jobs and fight over ideologies and issues such as transferring the capital city and straightening out history, it is obvious what will happen to our national economy.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Roh Sung-tae