[Viewpoint] Populist haste won’t solve job crisis

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[Viewpoint] Populist haste won’t solve job crisis

The critical point in dispute in next year’s policy goals for the Lee Myung-bak administration is definitely “job creation.” Job creation is of the highest priority in next year’s plan for the administration, and will be the centerpiece of a new year’s work-brief review currently underway at every government ministry.

The president has also showed more willingness to implement policies to create new employment opportunities directly by holding a “national employment strategy meeting” under Blue House auspices every month. Ministries and offices are working at a frantic pace to jump-start this massive job creation campaign across the country.

We understand why the Lee Myung-bak government must put the highest policy priority on job creation during the next year. President Lee was elected at least in part due to his pledge to dedicate greater efforts to restore the national economy. In this regard, he intends to obtain excellent results by creating more job opportunities, as quickly as possible.

Yet despite the delightful news that the Korean economy will mark about 5 percent growth next year, we find it difficult to believe jobs can be created immediately. Job creation requires more time because it must be preceded by corporate investment and business development. No matter how high the rate of national growth is, unless more jobs are somehow created, the people will not even realize that the national economy has successfully recovered. This must be the reason behind Lee’s urgency: He wants to announce that a market recovery is imminent as swiftly as possible.

Job creation is an urgent task vital to fulfilling Lee’s populist pledges, which contributed so greatly to increasing his approval ratings. There is nothing better than job opportunities for the poor and marginalized if Lee wants to expand the base of his political support. He does not have sufficient time in his schedule to just sit around on his hands until the latter half of 2010, when the economy will revive and employment will catch up. Therefore, he is desperately urging relevant ministries and offices to work on job growth.

But unfortunately jobs created by the government under such circumstances are inevitably unstable and temporary, because the state cannot provide unlimited financial assistance to laborers, young interns and social workers. The financial resources needed simply do not exist. Really, these should not be considered real jobs for the purposes of employment numbers. They may be nothing but emergency remedies temporarily used during periods of economic recession.

A more fundamental solution to employment problems would be to create conditions to help the private sector voluntarily increase employment, no matter how much time it takes. The government knows this answer. The most appropriate remedies to the job creation issue in next year’s plan for economic policy are the “advancement of the service industry” and the “nurturing of promising service industries.” These programs represent the fastest way to facilitate the development of the service industry, which will have a huge positive effect on job creation.

But President Lee chose the wrong place to start. The same day he announced his willingness to foster the creation of more jobs, another effort to allow for-profit medical corporations failed. Even though for-profit corporations are the best chance for the medical service industry to become what it should be - Korea’s most promising field for new high-quality jobs - the Ministry of Strategy and Finance and the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs still failed to coordinate and make them possible.

President Lee refused to hand down a decision on this matter because of suspicions or misunderstandings that are circulating that say allowing for-profit health care will give more benefits to wealthy people, but we live in a country with no for-profit hospitals and the rich are no worse off, and the common people no better off than they would be otherwise.

Rich people still have no difficulty receiving better medical services overseas. Unless for-profit corporations are allowed, approximately $100 million dollars per year - money that could have been spent on the domestic medical industry - will continue to flow out of the country, and, correspondingly, good jobs that would have been created at home will vanish before they appeared.

It is high time we reconsidered what is so beneficial to common people about a stunted health care industry. It’s a simple choice between job opportunities for those who need them and the refusal of those jobs - a decision distorted by a groundless sense of injustice.

If we go on like this, it will be difficult to create good jobs in other types of promising service industries, such as education, law, broadcasting and distribution. If job creation is of such great importance, we should pay more attention to helping people work in a well-managed service industry, rather than behaving carelessly based on the assumption that common people will not benefit from such services.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jong-soo
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