[Outlook]Meeting the public halfway

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[Outlook]Meeting the public halfway

Seen from abroad, our nationals are truly good people. I do not refer to their morality, but from a socio-economic perspective. They do their bit without blaming others, and diligently prepare themselves for their careers. Educational spending accounts for 7.5 percent of Korea’s total GDP, and 39 percent of this comes from the private sector.
Compared with the OECD average of 12 percent, more than triple the education cost is borne by private citizens. Add private education, including the cost of studying abroad, and the burden becomes far heavier. People who bear so many financial burdens tend to explode in anger toward society. However, Koreans don’t blame others. They just give up and go into hiding. All economic and psychological burdens are borne wholly by individuals and their families. People rarely take to the streets demanding jobs or demanding that the government pay for their survival. They just endure their predicament, holding themselves accountable. As this is the case, more people in their 20s and 30s are economically inactive than people in their 60s.
Some scold the jobless for having overly high standards when seeking jobs, but this is flawed in two ways. One, these same high standards have led to Korea’s stellar growth. Even when Korea was among the least developed countries in the world in the 1950s, with a GDP per capita of only $100, the rate of people entering elementary school was about 90 percent of the total population. Without this kind of educational investment, our country could not have achieved the spectacular growth that it has.
The second flaw is that people’s higher standards are not for themselves alone. For instance, people did everything they could to provide for their children’s higher education because they did not want them to be reduced to taking low-paying, mostly blue collar jobs.
Corporations are believed to take a general attitude of looking down on the people at the production site. And previous governments must also take their fair share of responsibility, because it is them who encouraged people to seek higher education. They say that you can easily rise in the world if you study hard, creating an overheated education craze. This was done rather than focusing on socio-economics and factory working conditions.
But to be serious, no one wants to take responsibility for the ever-growing number of jobless, even though the issue is not just an individual problem. There is a simple reason young people are idle. “Decent” jobs are not to be found.
In Korea, where there are huge gaps between the sizes of companies, large companies are primarily the ones that offer jobs.
Recently, however, they do nothing to contribute to employment. Far from creating jobs, they are even slashing them. What about small and mid-sized companies? When it comes to the number of jobs, they are surely contributing. Yet, they are far from decent jobs. There are too many jobs that are temporary or even daily.
And employment is excessively fluid. As a result, our society is suffering from insecure employment, where less than half of the population over 15 years old remain in their jobs for more than one year.
Now, a paradigm shift is needed. Companies should be responsible for providing decent jobs, and the public should have high standards to evaluate their employment policy. When opening home pages of large companies, the staple item is their contributions to society. Mostly they are supporting the alienated class, giving scholarships and promoting environmental conservation. However, creating decent jobs would be the best way to help society.
They should think twice about pursuing profits by handling labor costs as variable rather than fixed costs. If they change regular jobs to temporary ones, they can reduce costs.
For example, when companies have the capacity to support people whose jobs have been eliminated, then they should do it. If they cannot afford to do it, the government can do it. However, when creating jobs, companies should consider if they can provide more jobs and realize profit at the same time, and that is beyond the scope of government. That is why it is far more difficult, and the responsibility is heavy.
Labor cost should not be regarded as a flexible expense. It should be treated as a fixed expense. If the owner tries to make a profit by manipulating labor costs, who would endeavor to claim that the company had added value?
The government should provide support to any efforts to enhance the work environment and provide needed resources.
The general public has made efforts to develop themselves. Now is the time for companies and the government to respond to the public’s higher standards.

*The writer is a professor of economics at Saitama University, Japan. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Woo Jong-won
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