[Viewpoint] The backlash of rage

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[Viewpoint] The backlash of rage

I went on a business trip last weekend to Okinawa, Japan. Driving from Naha Airport in a rented car, I was surprised to discover the expressway so empty, even on the weekend.

Was there something happening to make this 50 kilometer (31 mile) stretch of road nearly completely devoid of cars? My question was answered by a signboard on my expressway exit, which said tolls will be levied on highway users starting June 20.

In contrast to the expressway, the city streets were highly congested. It took more than 30 minutes to drive three kilometers from the Nishihara interchange.

At the hotel, the staff raged against the toll decision. One staff member said he voted for the Democratic Party of Japan because it promised to make highways toll-free, but tolls returned once it took power.

It is not just highway tolls. Common Japanese are furious about the Democratic Party’s decision to scrap child care allowances starting in October. Child care subsidies was one of the signature welfare platforms the Democratic Party campaigned on in the elections that ended the decadeslong rule of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party.

It had promised two years ago to supply 26,000 yen ($321) every month to support children under 15. But once in power, the government slashed the promised subsidy to 13,000 yen and now plans to provide the money to a limited population of low-income citizens at a reduced amount of less than 10,000 yen.

Given the abolition of tax savings for child care support, some families will in fact get fewer benefits than before. The Democratic Party has also backtracked on its pledge for free high school education. The Japanese public is enraged that they have been cheated by the Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, Sohn Hak-kyu, chairman of the Korean main opposition Democratic Party, recently visited Japan and explained his party’s platform on welfare issues, such as lowering university tuition fees and offering free child care and school lunches. He said in a news conference that the public is vexed at the growing gap in wealth and demands a greater share of benefits and rights.

What he is envisioning is a universal welfare policy. He cited the United States and Japan. President Barack Obama defeated his rivals and signed a comprehensive health care bill that will extend coverage to millions of uninsured. And in Japan, the Democratic Party ended 54 years of LDP rule by promising various welfare policies to ease the lives of common people.

Welfare may be a political and historical trend — after all, Sohn and his rivals, the Grand National Party, are trying to one-up each other with more enticing welfare policies.

But Sohn and other Korean leaders must take lessons from Japan on the disastrous consequences of what direction welfare policy can go without thorough study and follow-up action.

Japan’s Democratic Party hasn’t fulfilled its welfare promises. It is now being hit hard by public backlash for its rashness and shortsightedness. The public is turning its back against the Naoto Kan government.

What’s strange about the human psyche is that people feel betrayed and ripped off when they are not given what has been promised or when the giving suddenly stops. The backlash of rage can be more of an epidemic and can spread. Once unleashed, there is no hope for a reversal.

I hope Sohn has returned home with a valuable lesson on the necessity of a thoroughly prepared welfare policy.

*The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kim Hyun-ki
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