[VIEWPOINT]Social or personal responsibility?The president has suggested that more tax be collected. He said the government needs financial resources to correct our country’s problem of polarization. Who would oppose his suggestion of creating a society where everyone lives well together? On hearing, “The haves will pay more tax,” ordinary people may think, “I am not among them.” Those who will have to pay more tax, however, are enterprises and salary earners.
Those who make their living from salaries know well how valuable 100,000 won ($980) is. They are happy to see their pay raised, even by 100,000 won. They make every effort to make good use of the money, albeit small, to build their personal fortune. The president intends to take more tax from the paychecks of those very workers.
Those who have not worked hard to make money do not know the value of it. They could include politicians and influential bureaucrats. Saying it is for political reasons, they collect money from others and spend it freely. Saying it is necessary to operate state affairs, they spend tremendous budgets. In doing so, they cannot know the difficulty of earning money.
If the president had even a day’s experience similar to that of small- and medium-sized business owners who are desperate every day to avoid bankruptcy, or if he had felt the happiness of receiving a paycheck with a 100,000 won increase, he would not have said so easily that more tax should be collected. Those who view others’ money as their own and claim to manage others’ households are socialists and egalitarian idealists.
The president emphasized social responsibility. When emphasis is put on social responsibility, personal responsibility becomes proportinally weaker. This could develop into a belief that it is natural for society and the state to be held responsible for individuals’ poverty as they are poor not because of themselves but because of polarization. More tax must be gathered because more money is needed for society to be responsible, and the government grows larger in order to spend that money. The government then becomes more preoccupied with spending than earning money. This is none other than a leftist government. It is confusing, therefore, to hear the president say that the present administration is not leftist.
After all, there are only two paths to choose from ― social responsibility or personal responsibility. As a Korean proverb goes, “even a king cannot save the poor.” This is to say that the choice to live well or badly depends on each person. Poor people can never become rich just because the state steps forward to help them. This is not to suggest we should ignore social responsibility. It is to say that social responsibility cannot help but be supplementary at most. If the president emphasizes social responsibility, which inevitably has limitations, his intention to make people prosper together may end up making them poor together.
Raising taxes means smaller paychecks for salary earners and less profit for businesses. Individuals will have less money to spend and companies will either shut down or move to countries where they pay less tax. Some trillions of won less tax than estimated was collected last year because businesses that should have paid tax had moved abroad, or the number of salary earners decreased. How can we afford social responsibility with fewer taxpayers?
Human instinct is to wish to make an easy living. The suggestion of living well together should not mean we should be well off at the expense of others, even if we do not work hard. Who would work hard if the government says it will provide medical, educational and living expenses and unemployment benefits, all in the name of social responsibility? Which country would be better off, one with more lazy people or one with more hard-working people? The answer is obvious.
A proposal to live well together is always attractive. The lower the income level and the less civilized a country is, the more people there are who are deluded by such a suggestion. This proposal exercises more influence when the number of poor people increases.
Capitalism and democracy are like two sides of a coin. It is believed that they develop together, but democracy can also undermine capitalism. Democracy depends on votes and the candidate who gets the most votes gains power. When there are more people who want to live well at the expense of others than those who want to be well off thanks to their own efforts, democracy can also ruin capitalism.
The present administration often talks about polarization. It says it is worried about the increasing number of poor people. It suggests more tax should be collected to help them. Who would not vote for an administration that says it will guarantee their livelihood? The public may be tempted to give power to the government in return for securing welfare, although welfare will only be temporary. A populist is an expert at catching such a vote. The next presidential election will feature a fierce battle surrounding this issue.
* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk