[VIEWPOINT]Repeating our historical mistakesOnce upon a time, there lived a rich landlord. Most villagers worked for him. He was a man of common sense, though not a man of virtue. One day, he came to find out that some villagers had been speaking ill of him. They had been complaining that he treated a few of the people who worked for him favorably. They complained that he gave bigger salaries to a hard-working man and a man with dexterity.
However, the landlord didn’t change. He thought it was appropriate to pay more to the people who brought him more benefits through their sincerity and skilled workmanship.
The landlord did not respond to the criticism because he expected the complaints would die down soon. Yet, the situation just got worse. Rumors started to spread that the landlord, a miser, chased away a Buddhist monk who asked for alms, and that he had tried to rape a village girl when he was young.
The landlord was shocked. After the groundless rumors began to spread, he started to suffer insomnia. He even began to wonder whether it was worth it for him to lead such a hard life. So, he reduced his farming by half. He also cut the number of people who worked for him in half.
Because he didn’t want the villagers to gossip about him, he stopped mingling with them. Instead, he took a look around at neighboring villages. He bought some essential daily utensils to bring back with him. The village shopkeepers started to complain that they were losing money in sales. Rickshaw drivers also complained because their income dropped. When the villagers drove the landlord into a corner, they created a strange situation. The people who had to deal with more hardship were the villagers, not the landlord.
Time went by and we entered the 21st century. Now, there is a recurrence of a similar situation.
The trend of looking at the haves in a negative way has spread widely throughout our society.
The critics of the wealthy say they live in luxury houses and drive expensive cars because they were lucky enough to have wealthy parents. They also suggest that the wealth of their parents did not accumulate in a clean manner, either. A bunch of them even claim that “the situation of the have-nots will only improve if the haves are shaken up.”
These people pointing to the apartments in some parts of the Gangnam area, or in other rich residential areas south of the Han River in Seoul, and pledged to stabilize real estate prices. They have mobilized all sorts of means, including the “tax bomb.” And they believed that the measure would help relieve the sense of relative deprivation that ordinary people experience.
But the result has been nothing but an expansion of housing price instability. Instead of controlling the prices of apartments in the Gangnam area, the measure has raised the prices of apartments in other areas. In order to cover up their policy failures, these people have repeatedly announced unreasonable real estate market control measures. They had proclaimed that the policy that will make it mandatory for construction companies to reveal the details of the costs of apartment buildings was absurd until two weeks ago, but they are pushing it now with full force.
Wealthy people have gradually turned a cold shoulder to them. They have gone abroad often, using excuses such as that they need to take care of their children studying there and to play golf. They spend moneythat they would have spent at department stores in Korea to shop at the airport duty-free shops of other countries. Since it is cheaper for them to play golf and shop overseas, it is like killing two birds with one stone for them. As a result, the amount of money Koreans have spent overseas has been breaking records every month.
Because of that, it is only natural that domestic consumption has begun to dwindle.
Restaurant owners, taxi drivers and businessmen who run small- and medium-sized businesses are experiencing hard times. As the economy has deteriorated, businesses have stopped employing new recruits and have even started to reduce the number of existing workers. Critics had always looked negatively at businesses. However, the first patriotic contribution one can make is to pay taxes by making money through a good business. The next is making enough money to create jobs by expanding manufacturing facilities. Consequently, the country has become full of unemployed people.
Once again, the attack on the wealthy has resulted in creating unintended victims. Nevertheless, the critics still insist, “We are trying hard for the benefit of people like you, the have-nots.”
*The writer is the international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Shim Shang-bok