[Viewpoint] Korea needs more creative solutions

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[Viewpoint] Korea needs more creative solutions

“America is fortunate to have former President Bill Clinton,” I thought as I looked at his face on the cover of Newsweek magazine’s June 29th issue, bearing the headline “It’s still the economy, stupid.” The former president offers ideas to tackle the job crisis, and the story is mostly on a Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) meeting on June 29-30. CGI brought together over 600 political and business leaders in Chicago to discuss innovative ideas to create jobs and boost economic growth.

CGI proposed 14 realistic ideas to “put America back to work.” Some of the ideas are cleaver and inventive, as they link energy saving with more jobs. “Copy the Empire State Building”; The New York City landmark made renovations to save energy. Air conditioning and heating, lighting and insulation were changed and windows were replaced with energy-efficient glass. Through the renovations, the building saves $4.4 million on its utility bills, and the cost of the retrofitting is expected to be recovered in fewer than five years. The project has created 252 new jobs. CGI proposes to expand the retrofitting project to other buildings around the country, which will cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and create more than 1 million jobs.

Do you remember the article “Blackout at Golf Courses” in the JoongAng Ilbo on June 22? The government regulated light levels at golf courses as a way to save energy, and the writer investigated how a country club was affected by the regulation. By turning the lights off at night, the club saves 250 million won ($234,000) on its electricity bill. At the same time, it saved 3.2 billion won in taxes, while 261 jobs were lost. The impact on the job market from the energy saving is in contrast to the net gain in jobs in the case of the Empire State Building renovation.

Last month, President Lee Myung-bak attended a debate to boost domestic consumption, along with the prime minister, cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and Blue House secretaries. The attendees agreed that domestic demand should be expanded to save the economy. The proposed ideas included changing public working hours to 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and introducing a floating holiday system. In other words, more spare time encourages more spending. As finances of ordinary people would see an improvement when domestic spending increases, increased exports would mainly benefit the conglomerates.

However, they missed one key point. Where would people get the money to spend during their increased spare time? Public servants are keeping a low profile, refraining from playing golf and preferring to eat at the office cafeteria. The wealthy no longer frequent leisure facilities that turn the lights off at night, and keep their wallets closed. Yet when the rich spend their money at golf clubs, working class citizens such as caddies and janitors employed by country club, would keep their jobs. When the civil servants visit restaurants in the neighborhood and spend their money, the local businesses would thrive. The rich should be spending money to make everyone envious, and then, ordinary people will make money, too.

Who will fill the pockets of the working class people if the rich are discouraged from spending money?

The country clubs are closed at night to save energy, but Clinton would have proposed a way to generate electricity in an environmentally friendly way, such as employing solar power, rather than mandating that golf courses turn off the lights at night. Then the solar energy industry would grow, and the golf clubs would be able to hire more staff for the night shift. When ordinary people work and make money, only then will they be able to spend more money in their free time, which will boost domestic consumption.

According to a manual on energy saving, it makes sense to control energy consumption when oil prices are high. However, jobs are created not according to energy mandates, but are born from creative ideas. Government officials who cannot think creatively are a liability to society.

I truly envy the creative atmosphere of the United States, where a former president can come forward and propose ideas to create more jobs.

*The writer is the chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo online edition.

By Yang Seon-hee
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