[Viewpoint] It all comes down to jobs

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[Viewpoint] It all comes down to jobs

The liberals promoted the slogans “shut up and vote” and “punish the Lee Myung-bak administration,” but neither of them worked effectively.

As politics are becoming more of a circus sideshow popularity contest, even young voters are getting turned off. The lowbrow tactics have lost their effectiveness and the methods of picking sides and political engineering don’t work as well as they used to.

At least that was true for the April 11 general election. Amid that gloomy reality, voters wanted to cast ballots for the candidates who presented specific and feasible visions and alternatives. Voters in their 20s, 30s and 40s shared the sentiment in particular. Although a presidential election is different from a general election, what voters want is no different.

Only three months have passed since the general election, but the political arena has seen many changes as it has adapted to what voters are calling for.

It is hard to think of a presidential election where efforts to pump up popularity and political engineering do not exist, but everyone has realized that a presidential victory will also be about presenting specific and feasible plans.

Although not all presidential hopefuls formally made their bids, there are at least two common themes in their announcements. They all say they are servants of the people and they all say they will create jobs. They all understand that jobs are the key to winning over voters.

To be fair, let’s take a look at the presidential bids as they were made in order.

“Kim Moon-soo is the job president,” Gyeonggi Governor Kim said, promising to create a special presidential commission on employment to push forward a five-year plan to create jobs.

“Daddy Longlegs” Chung Mong-joon said the priority of his pledges is employment, presenting a vision of a growth sharing system by describing it as “jobs, ladders and fences.”

Lee Jae-oh, who stressed the importance of a constitutional amendment, said in the middle of his announcement that the top priority of the national policies will be in creating jobs.

The first of 10 pledges made by Sohn Hak-kyu is “creating a country of complete employment where everyone who wants to work will have a high-quality job.”

Moon Jae-in said the first thing he will do, if he becomes the president, will be to create a presidential commission for employment and evaluate the situation every month. He also said he wants to be thought of as the president who started the job revolution.

The first, number one, top priority and presidential commission are words frequently used by the candidates, and they will use these terms the most often to stress their pledges. But voters already know enough that they won’t vote based on the candidates’ images or rhetoric. What matters most are the feasibility and the sincerity of their pledges.

It is inappropriate to point out a specific person, but one of the candidates above has maintained behavior in the past that wasn’t really about helping the economy, thus his pledge for jobs is not so convincing. It is also important to see the other policies from the candidates, because growth is a critical factor in making employment the top priority.

It is also troublesome that the candidates’ pledges are so similar. Governor Kim is the only one who presented alternative, specific plans such as loosening the standard for businesses to be categorized as large business groups and supporting the service industry and small enterprises. Other than this, the other candidates all presented similar pledges.

Mutual survival, democratization, full-time contracts, green growth, community and shorter work hours are their favorite promises. They are all nice words to hear, but the problem is they are about sharing existing jobs, not about adding new jobs.

Creating new and good jobs is impossible without investment, and investment should be made from inside and outside of the country. The population and domestic consumption of Korea is too deeply entrenched. Without pushing forward an ambitious vision that will reshape the country’s framework, there is no way to drastically increase the number of high-quality jobs, and the answer can be found by looking into the existing free economic zones.

Korea is a country where outgoing investment is larger than incoming investment. It is no wonder that the increase in employment is unsatisfactory. To fix this problem, six free economic zones were designated, but they are only “free” under their names.

Regulations on education, medical service, environment and entertainment service are still tight, and most of them have been left undeveloped to this point. Songdo of Incheon was seen as a good model, but the controversy over opening a foreign for-profit hospital has continued for the last 10 years.

For-profit hospitals do not receive patients with only state health insurance coverage. They are hospitals for patients who are willing to pay their medical bills out-of-pocket. The United States allows such hospitals, but the university hospitals at Harvard and Johns Hopkins still remain nonprofit.

Even if the for-profit hospitals are allowed, Seoul National University Hospital as well as Samsung and Asan medical centers will have no reason to transform themselves into for-profit institutions.

And yet, the unreasonable obsession over “medical equality” has hindered the opportunity to build a large hospital inside the free economic zone - which would create many high-quality jobs - for the past 10 years.

This is an important lesson to be remembered about investment and jobs. Korea’s credit rating went up because there is a low risk that a debt won’t be repaid. But that doesn’t mean Korea is a great country for investors.

To pass down a great country to the next generation, and to enjoy a great country when we get old, we have to thoroughly examine the presidential candidates to see how they will generate job growth.

A presidential victory is often said to hinge upon winning over voters in their 20s, 30s and 40s, and those voters are hungry for high-quality jobs. They are living everywhere around the country - Chungcheong, Gyeongsang, Jeolla, the capital region, Gangwon - everywhere.

*The author is the editor in chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Su-gil
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