[OUTLOOK]Roh ready to wage a class war

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[OUTLOOK]Roh ready to wage a class war

The direction of the next presidential election seems to have been determined. It will be an election that involves a severe confrontation between classes.
We can see clear signs from President Roh Moo-hyun’s real estate policy and attacks on Seoul National University. The roots of all the problems in Korean society are the Gangnam residents and Seoul National University. They are responsible for soaring apartment prices and a wrecked educational system. All the faults are committed by the rich and the intellectuals, which the Gangnam area and Seoul National University represent. If it weren’t for them, Korea would have already become a better country.
The presumption contains a grain of truth. Let’s look at apartment prices. We have to believe that the Gangnam residents are responsible for the rise because the government said it was so. According to the government’s report, six out of 10 people involved in apartment transactions in Gangnam in the last few years already have more than three houses.
Apartments are getting more expensive because of them. If someone who has more than three apartments buys another apartment in Gangnam to make more money, more than 90 percent of average citizens will call him greedy.
Some might ask, “What’s wrong with spending my own money in the capitalist market economy?” or “What’s wrong with buying an apartment in Gangnam because it has more investment value?” They might even censure common people who are financially struggling because they lack a sense of investment.
Also, they might say that people are jealous of their fortune. As the free market economists say, the chronic ailment of Korea might be the illness of jealousy. Is it jealousy to criticize someone with more than three apartments for buying another one? Let’s think beyond the complicated economic theories.
A house is a special kind of goods. It is more of a necessity of life than an object of moneymaking. Therefore, Koreans have considered it a virtue for each household to own one house for decades. This is why a government official is criticized if he has more than one apartment. In this case, the illness of greed of the person with more than three apartments might be more serious than the illness of jealousy.
However, the rising apartment prices in Gangnam are not entirely due to the greed of speculators. Four out of 10 buyers are end users. They made a purchase because they believe that the property is worth the price. They paid the fortune because they like Gangnam.
Then, even if the government curbs speculators, actual demand is bound to rise. If more apartments are not supplied to meet the rising demand, the price will rise again.
If the government is reasonable, the prescription is obvious. A higher tax rate must be imposed on each additional house that multiple-home owners possess, and at the same time, the government needs to work on providing more houses. However, no one in the government is mentioning the supply at the moment. Why is the government only stressing the speculation side?
When Seoul National University announced a new admission process, the Ministry of Education initially responded positively. However, after the president called it “bad news,” the administration begun to pressure Seoul National University.
The university is supposed to select more than 60 percent of its students through a regional quota system and rolling admissions. Only 30 percent are selected based on the College Scholastic Ability Test results and high school records.
When the CSAT results are indicated in only nine grades in the future, 24,000 students will have the same grade. High school report cards are highly unreliable. Under these circumstances, how can a school screen applicants? That’s why the most prestigious university in the country wants to use essays. The university’s admission process quite fairly guarantees equal opportunity.
However, the president seems to believe that the new process gives students from rich families, especially those growing up in Gangnam region, an unfair advantage. He argues that private tutoring and after-school classes ruin public education. He implies that Seoul National University will be monopolized by people suffering from the illness of greed.
People are different in terms of talents and efforts. The difference makes one an elite. It might sound ideal for everyone to get into the best school, but it will actually cause the education system to collapse. No logical mind can understand the president’s attack on Seoul National University.
If the president focuses on the illness of greed, it will appeal to the public. He can blame the greed of the rich for all the failures of the administration. He might say that society would function better if it weren’t for them. However, a society can be vibrant and develop because each individual wishes to be better off.
Then, what sets hope and greed apart? Greed creates victims. One man’s greed can produce 100 victims. We cannot accuse the victims of having the illness of jealousy.
Before we criticize the Roh Administration for spreading the illness of jealousy, we need to take preventive measures so that the illness doesn’t turn into an epidemic. Those with vested interests are responsible for preventing the epidemic. It is possible with only the moderation of the rich people. If we fail, we have no choice but to follow the footsteps of socialist or South American nations.

* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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