[Viewpoint] Time to talk about jobs

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[Viewpoint] Time to talk about jobs

Instead of reinventing themselves after muddling through the election with half-baked platforms and contentious candidates, political parties are engrossed with factional power struggle. Voters have long given up hope on politicians to be free of ideological and factional affiliations instead to present direction and vision for the future.

Where would votes go in the presidential election in December? The top score would go to someone who can provide jobs. The solution to a myriad of urgent problems like wealth polarization, welfare, aging society, low birth rates, and household debt lies with solid jobs. Jobs are top priority to across-the-board generation.

Of course, political parties know this well. The main opposition Democratic United Party placed jobs as its highest priority in campaign platform for the April 11 legislative election. They were second on the list for the ruling Saenuri Party.

Nearly a month has passed since the election, but politicians are too busy in hegemony fight and courting potential leaders to have any time and mind to sit down and seriously study solutions to imperative problems like creating jobs. But if they want to be ready for the presidential campaign, they should get to work right away for their own good as well as the country’s future.

Here are some of ideas they could consider in the job front.

The DUP is numerical in its platform on jobs. For the next five years, it pledges to create a total of 3.3 million jobs, or 660,000 annually, to hoist up employment rate to 70 percent. It will lower the country’s maximum annual working hour of 2,193 hours, the longest among the OECD members, to below 2,000 hours, to redistribute jobs and halve the ratio of non-permanent jobs to 25 percent from current 50 percent. It also aims to realize minimum wage up to 50 percent of average wage and create 320,000 jobs that honor the constitutional labor rights statutes every year.

The party does not elaborate on how it plans to accomplish so much that does not add up well in math. Its plan could flop with just one variance in economic growth estimate. The formula is mixed with things the government can enforce and things the private sector must take initiative in. The plan receives kudos in eagerness, but is hardly feasible.

The Saenuri Party is less descriptive on its plan on jobs. Instead of setting out goals in numbers, it touts on what it plans to do to increase jobs. In the public field, the government will increase hiring of young people for full-time jobs. It plans to set up merger and acquisition brokerage to help promote young people to start up venture businesses.

Also, college students will be offered scholarships if they vow to work in small and mid-sized companies. Together with wage peak system, it plans to enforce retirement age of 60. It is more of a supermarket list of all plausible ideas, but cannot win any points for creativity.

There is still enough time left for the presidential race. The two major parties can polish up and come up with better package on jobs. They can steal ideas off one another, reinvent, or expand. Whichever way, they must raise the quality of their portfolio.

They can take a cue from a recent lecture by Ahn Cheol-soo, dean of Graduatate School of Convergence Science and Technology at Seoul National University. While addressing a student audience at Chonnam National University in early April, Ahn quoted “The Logic of Collective Action,” a 1965 book by American economist Mancur Olson and separately spoke on ways to create jobs in a lecture at Kyungpook National University. Olson’s conclusion that a community will have no future if it is led by organized self-interested groups has deep correlation with jobs.

Organizations of special interest groups resist giving up their vested rights. The groups can refer to manufacturing associations, labor unions, and large companies. Unless they yield their self-interested behavior and mindset for the common benefit of consumers, jobs, work-sharing, and benevolent industrial habitat for venture and small companies cannot be possible.

Even when companies are coerced to cut working hours to allocate more opportunities for part-time workers, they cannot put the practice in action if labor unions demand wage hike. In Norway and other successful north European economies, labor unions volunteer to share their jobs with the unemployed.

When a venture company attains competitiveness, a larger company should best offer to buy it for win-win situation. If a large company instead creates new division with the same idea and technology, it can kill the start-up company. No company should be rewarded for stepping on a smaller and weaker party.

Many jobs have been lost after automated toll pay system was introduced at highway routes. But instead the modernized pay system helped to generate more lucrative jobs such as in supporting software field. The changes are called evolution and where the future lies.

Drawing up such inventive ideas is vision and political leadership. Ahn has not been specific, but at least he was right in direction by citing special interest groups. Small special interest groups have loud voices, but votes come from the silent majority. It is where the campaign brains should focus on.

*The author is the editor in chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Su-gil
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