[Outlook]In a global era, Seoul trails the pack

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[Outlook]In a global era, Seoul trails the pack

According to a cost of living survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Seoul ranked 11th among 132 major cities around the world. If the cost of living in New York is 100, that of Seoul is 115, which is the third-highest in Asia after Tokyo and Osaka. The criteria included 160 items and services, such as cigarettes, toothpaste, movie tickets and a haircut.
It would be bearable if the quality of living were as high as the cost of living. We could say the cost of living is high because Seoul is a pleasant and comfortable place to live. But what’s the reality? According to the quality of living survey 2006, carried out by Mercer Human Resource Consulting, Seoul ranked 89th among 215 cities around the world.
The survey looked into 39 factors, including political stability, crime rates, regulations on foreign currency, medical services, air pollution, transport, cultural environment, restaurants and climate.
All 10 cities that ranked higher than Seoul in the EIU report on cost of living ranked at the top in the MHRC survey. Quality of living is proportional to cost of living in those cities. However, in Seoul, the cost of living is extremely high while quality of living is very low, meaning that the city is not competitive at all. That’s why Seoul cannot become an international and cosmopolitan city.
For foreign companies spread across the entire world, Seoul is not attractive. The quality of living in Seoul is far behind Hong Kong or Singapore, but the cost of living is much higher. The quality of living in Seoul is similar to that in Shanghai, but things cost a lot more in Seoul. Compared to Tokyo and Osaka, the quality of living is much lower in Seoul.
This is not all. Seoul does not have international schools that offer a global-level education. When considering education, it is hard for foreigners to choose to live in Seoul. Among large cities in the world, there are few places where foreigners have difficulty communicating like they do in Seoul. Real estate prices are much higher than those in advanced countries. In Korea, there is not a vast market, as in China. People with good sense would not see Seoul as a good place to invest.
This is the same with tourists. In Seoul, there are no truly impressive attractions, landmarks or events. There are no wonderful museums, like the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay or the British Museum. People’s manners are far from refined by global standards. Seoul has few factors that impress tourists.
In this era of competition without borders, major cities around the world are competing fiercely to provide services. Cities need to provide good public service and quality of living in order to attract people, money and advanced technology; otherwise it is hard to survive.
No one will pay high prices for low quality service. With this current competitiveness, Seoul cannot attract foreign brains and capital. Even Seoulites can no longer put up with it. Many companies have already moved to China and Vietnam.
As a large number of Koreans who are dissatisfied with Korea’s education service are going abroad, Korean educational refugee camps are popping up around the world. Koreans who want better tourism and leisure services travel abroad and spend enormous amounts of money on their credit cards. An increasing amount of money is spent on education overseas and the trade account deficit is snowballing, but this trend cannot be stopped with an emphasis on patriotism.
The answer is simple. We need to enhance the competitiveness of Seoul. We should ease regulations and privatize government-run companies. The government and the city must minimize the number of bodies that they directly supervise and regulate. They must privatize as many public companies as possible.
It will not be long before the citizens lose patience about the reality of the extreme imbalance between the cost of living and quality of living in Seoul.

*The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok
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