Making sense of city policiesAll policies must be backed by principles and consistency to have any effect on the market. Former President Roh Moo-hyun and his administration were criticized in the past for their unpredictable economic policies. But at least their real estate policies were effective because the government did not waver in fighting speculative forces.
Inconsistency in appointments also can confuse the market. The decision by the Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Corp. to rehire 12 former employees who were dismissed due to their involvement in an illegal subway strike was unorthodox and can hardly be condoned. The operator of the subway lines that connect satellite cities in Gyeonggi and Incheon with the capital reversed its position apparently on orders from Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, who promised to consider rehiring them during his election campaign.
However, the move drew protests from economic organizations, who feared it could lead to similar demands in other workplaces. Rehiring those who resort to illegal strikes sets a poor precedent and gives management few alternatives to resolve future illegal walkouts, said Park Jong-nam, head of research at the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Businesses will become unstable if the law and principles are not upheld in labor-management relations, he added.
This is not the first time the liberal-minded mayor has broken with tradition and showed his contempt for the law. He offered to pardon the protesters who are serving prison sentences for sparking a deadly clash over the redevelopment of Yongsan District in central Seoul several years ago that resulted in the deaths of several policemen. He also promised to relieve debt of less than 5 million won ($4,390) for jobless people under the age of 35, even though such bailout can generate moral hazards and disruption of the financial order. Moreover, city of Seoul cannot afford to be so generous due to its budget of 6 billion won.
Citizens are increasingly bewildered by Seoul’s impulsive and senseless polices. Since late last year, the city decided not to regulate unauthorized parking at lunchtime, with the aim to help small restaurants that lack parking spaces. But this policy runs against its broader principle of promoting the use of public transportation by imposing strict parking regulations. Park claims to shape policies from the viewpoint of “the weak and the helpless,” but if he really wants to help them, he needs to be consistent.