Leave it to the market

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Leave it to the market

The government will monitor the prices of 30 consumer products to help reign in consumer prices in the second half of the year. It plans to enhance oversight of the market structure and competition, and mobilize anti-trust agencies to penalize unfair practices.

The government says it selected products used in everyday life whose prices are higher in Korea than overseas. The list includes imported portable game players, smartphones, fried chicken and baby lotion.

But we have to ask whether the government really needs to monitor consumer prices every time they show signs of swaying. They have put jjajangmyeon (noodles with black bean sauce) from Chinese restaurants on the watch list while excluding jjambong (spicy noodle soup), another popular item on the same menu.

Some of the items on the list have predetermined prices set by the company’s headquarters overseas, and if the government pressures these companies to change their prices it may invite friction with foreign manufacturers.

Local consumers are much wiser these days, and the government should give them credit for knowing when prices are unreasonable. Manufacturers of imported apparel brands recently had to cut their retail prices due to strong pressure from female consumers who complained that Korean shops sell clothes at prices much higher than those in New York, Paris and Tokyo.

Moreover, consumers are now able to buy their products from the companies themselves or through other means - either by placing orders for products on the brand’s Web site or purchasing them through an online wholesaler. The result is that importers inevitably have to succumb to consumer demand and lower their prices to make them consistent with prices in the global market or lose customers.

If companies attempt a monopoly or implement other unfair practices to gain an advantage, the government must step in to restore order in the market.

In the end, however, the market must be what determines consumer prices. The government needs only to provide accurate details about a product in order to help consumers make informed choices.

Ultimately, the decision to buy or not to buy is up to the consumer. If prices are unreasonably high, the products will be sure to sit on the shelves.

It’s time the authorities realize that our market has matured, and so have our consumers.
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