[VIEWPOINT]Expensive promises now, big taxes laterThe Roh Moo-hyun administration’s method of computation is quite unique.
President Roh said “the cost to transfer of the administrative capital will be an insignificant amount,” of about 4 trillion won ($4.1 billion), but the estimate by the budget office of the National Assembly later turned out to be 103 trillion won.
The same applies to his explanation that “there is no need to worry about the financial burden from the transfer of wartime control of South Korean troops from Washington.”
The transfer will actually cost us as much as 621 trillion won. If every household has to pay 50 million won over 15 years, as calculated by some, this is an outrageous burden on the people.
In June of last year, the government presented the blueprints of 11 national projects, which included such important undertakings as the balanced development of the national territory, measures to cope with the problem of low birth rates and an aging society, the national pension reform plan and economic aid to North Korea. But the problem was that the government did not specify the source of financing for those initiatives, estimated to cost up to 540 trillion won. It attached a vague explanation to the plan that the government would reduce the scope of tax exemptions and tax reduction and would try to persuade people that we needed more active investment for the future of the nation.
The “ambitious projects” of the Roh administration remind me of the Great Wall of China. The Great Wall, which was rebuilt three times between the Qin Dynasty and the Ming Dynasty, runs along slightly jagged lines, with the beginning and end of each period of construction quite identifiable. One thing in common was that the wall runs along the line of annual average precipitation of 170 mm (6.7 inches), the minimum rainfall required for grain cultivation. Therefore, the wall was the border between the agricultural area and the steppes where nomads lived. Another distinctive aspect was that construction of the wall progressed when China emphasized nationalism among the Han race and a strong bureaucracy.
Who could dare disobey the emperor’s cause when he called on his subjects, “Let’s defend China from invasion by the barbarians.” Once construction of the wall started, it settled on the society as part of the social system. If a new emperor neglected the construction, the courtiers protested, “You shouldn’t forget the will of the late emperor.” Construction of the wall was a project that brought a lot of profit to government officials. Therefore, construction continued until the emperor’s coffers dried up. A symbol of self-reliant national defense, the Great Wall was actually nothing but a fence that marks the national boundary along a desolate land. From Sanhaegwan in the west to Gayokgwan in the east, the Jurchens, the Mongols and the Manchus invaded the mainland one after another and dominated China.
The Roh administration also sticks to the cause as the ancient Chinese emperors did. It behaves as if a few hundred trillion won is not big money if it is to be spent on balanced development and self-reliant national defense. If people oppose the projects on the grounds that they actually pose a big burden on people, they lose their temper and complain, “You mean you don’t want development of local areas,” or “Is the army that is not under our command a true national defense force?” It seems apparent that the taxpayers will face harsh days ahead.
Last year, Korea spent $16.4 billion on military expenditures, the 11th largest military budget in the world, similar to the position that Korea’s economy ranks in the world. For self-reliant national defense, however, we will have to pour in over $30 billion on the defense budget annually. That is the seventh largest military spending in the world, larger than those of Russia and India. It is burdensome. Nothing else is a more unproductive investment than military spending. All munitions that are past the expiry date must be discarded. The U.S. defense industries that sell state-of-the-art weapons will be the only beneficiary.
Instead of such unproductive causes as self-reliant national defense and the transfer of the administrative capital, if we divert only half of the budget to research and development, we won’t have to worry for our future 10 years from now.
But we are obliged to pour our limited financial resources into self-reliant defense. The reason other countries are eager to join a collective security organization is because of money. Nevertheless, we have chosen self-reliant defense. People participate only in paying taxes, while the decision is made in advance with the participation of those who share the same code with the president. Even the deputy prime minister of finance and economy said, “The economy is subordinate to politics.” Under such circumstances, we cannot expect that a rational decision-making process is followed within the government.
It makes us feel dizzy to watch the zigzag driving style of the Roh administration. The social costs from collision with other vehicles should not be increased any further. Mr. driver, cut the chatter and just concentrate on driving, please!
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Chul-ho