Illusions about economic justice

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Illusions about economic justice

Presidential hopefuls from both the ruling and opposition camps are fumbling to defend common ubiquitous campaign promises of delivering “economic justice” or “economic democratization” amid mounting criticism.

Businessmen, industrialists and economists share skepticism on “economic democratization” as a kind of panacea for economic inequalities. What they commonly question is the equivocal definition of economic democratization.

Cho Yoon-jae, an economics professor at Sogang University, in a recent column in the JoongAng Ilbo, pointed out that applying the concept of democratization to economics can imply motley contradictory meanings. He urged parties and presidential candidates to stop wheedling voters with word play and instead present specific platforms in clear language.

Moreover, the unrealistic and unfeasible nature of the promises packaged under the slogan of economic democratization may exacerbate already hard economic conditions. Yonsei University President Jeong Kap-young, a veteran economist, at a recent seminar in Jeju warned the Korean economy would be doomed if all the economic promises politicians are making these days were fulfilled. The cascade of vain promises of the political moment would only encourage the public’s skepticism and distrust of politics and campaign vows altogether, he said.

Economists also advised politicians to take a harder look at the reality on the ground, where a worsening outlook hardly leaves any room for ambitious promises. Lee Seung-hoon, economics professor emeritus at Seoul National University, in a recent newspaper column forecast that the Korean economy is headed for prolonged slowdown due to the depressed global economy. “Instead of choosing between growth and welfare [in policy priority], we need a welfare arrangement accommodative of a low-growth economic structure,” he advised.

The cries of economic justice and increased welfare benefits will be of no use if the economy doesn’t generate enough growth for revenue and jobs.

Instead of vying with lofty language and catchy slogans, presidential candidates should wage their campaigns with feasible platforms that can actually work and benefit ordinary people. Their slogans can only backfire if economic conditions worsen.

Words alone do not get people elected.

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