[Outlook]Care in the community

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[Outlook]Care in the community

Reviving the national economy is the foremost goal of the new government, one the people are most anxious about.
What people really want is not simply a hike in the numerical values of economic growth and an increase in national income per capita. They also want stable employment and a fair distribution of resources.
It is my view that creating more “community companies” will benefit our national economy and society.
A sense of community is vital for the well-being of a nation. Community provides people with support when they are most in need, and through social networks people can find friends who share similar feelings about life and have experienced similar thoughts.
An individual is often too vulnerable to face life without belonging to a community, and a society devoid of relationships is a grim prospect.
But extended family systems and villages that once acted as the mainstay for communities across the nation have largely disappeared in modern capitalist societies.
Now, people belong only to their families and country, it seems.
People who do not belong to any community become isolated and they are unable to communicate with others. They are buried like grains of sand on the bottom of a beach.
This situation if it remains prolonged is a threat to humanity.
A company is an organization that can meet people’s demands for communities in a capitalist society.
Before the 1997 financial crisis, Korea’s companies provided people with a sense of community, offering lifelong employment and took people’s retirement needs into consideration.
Both Japan and the U.S. were in a similar situation. The wholesale discharge of workers and large-income earners was a shameful entrepreneurial behavior in the 1970s.
Neoliberalism changed the social atmosphere. The latest fads of neo-liberalism have encouraged people to think that mass dismissal and high salaries are something to be proud of and not shameful, while community companies deserve scorn and criticism.
Companies treat people simply as a means of earning money, and as a result people seem to know nothing but money.
Capitalism exercises great influence over society, which is perhaps why the loss of Sungnyemun, a historic gate located in the heart of Seoul that burned down, was predictable: We were all so self-centered and obsessed with money that no one could foresee the tragedy.
If a society doesn’t change, dissatisfaction from isolated people could burn down another Sungnyemun.
Secure retirement is a basic task for community companies to tackle. In today’s cutthroat world, planning for employees’ retirement may increase costs and decrease productivity in the short term.
However, the prospects of a comfortable retirement can help harmonize relations between the workers and management, an inevitable pre-condition for boosting productivity in the long term. The end result: heightened productivity.
Companies must not forget that their workers are human with feelings, self-respect and brains. If someone wants other people to make more of an effort, he should try first to impress them, rather than resort to the carrot and stick.
He should strive to persuade them to be sincere in their thinking and hold a deep affection for their workplace. He should respect a person’s personality and secure his retirement.
Even animals love and follow their owners when they feel cherished. But Korea’s salaried men are treated worse than animals. If retirement were better planned for, most employees will not slack off. They will probably work harder with a deep affection for and belief in their company.
It is much harder to be the only person working hard when others are idle; it is easy to be idle when others are not working at all. Most humans slack off when their co-workers are not doing their job properly.
Private companies are exposed to fierce levels of competition ― unlike the government sector ― and they are rarely run in a reckless manner. So if they adopt a community role, they will not necessarily harm their customers.
However, we need to recognize that it is the noblesse oblige of the rich to build community-oriented companies.
The gap between the rich and the poor is getting wider and people have no sense of honor and know nothing but money.
No matter how large the national economy grows, if the current form of capitalism persists, it can no longer be called national development.

*The writer is a co-representative of the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice and a professor in economics at the University of Seoul. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Keun-sik
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