Keeping candidates honestPledges of more welfare benefits and so-called “economic democratization” are losing their appeal. The three major candidates continue to make such pledges, but they are no longer a decisive factor in the presidential election. That is, in fact, a relief because we will soon see fewer crazy welfare and economic democratization pledges.
Voters aren’t stupid. They have known from the very start the very simple and compelling equation: more welfare means higher taxes. Voters are fully aware that deciding who will be asked to pay more tax is the first step before thinking about how much more the government will spend.
Tax talk scares voters. That is why all three major presidential candidates are talking about tax hikes very carefully in contrast to their bold demeanor when describing greater pledges of welfare. Of the three, Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party has the clearest position. But tax increases are, in fact, unavoidable, and not just because of elections, campaign pledges and pesky politicians.
Even if we keep the current level of welfare benefits, expenses will go up because of our aging society. Moreover, many people are in favor of more benefits, so it’s best for everyone to be prepared to pay more tax. The time has come for us to be honest about tax increases. Ending a tax cut is also a form of tax increase after all.
So, here is a proposal to all three candidates. They should get together and present their positions on a single topic: taxation. They should give a concise presentation regarding those people on whom they will impose higher tax rates and how much they aim to raise. They should also describe their priorities for the spending of resources. A debate should follow.
This would be the easiest way for voters to judge the candidates. It is an issue that speaks to the present and the future of all of the people in this country. Taxes are all about numbers, so the candidates cannot speak ambiguously. Rather than talking about various topics, a debate on taxes for a couple hours would help voters identify the best candidate.
The candidates must present specific plans on how much more they will raise from the wealthy; how they will harmonize the corporate tax increase and employment; how they will deal with prices and families who live on the edge if they want to increase the value added tax; what will be their priorities in welfare for senior citizens, reduced tuition, subsidies for children from poor families and free school meals; and whether they think it is not the right time to increase tax rates even though it means postponing bigger welfare programs. The candidates must clearly state their plans and debate the concrete issues.
In this campaign, so-called economic democratization lost its appeal after many people said they could not understand the concept with any precision. They quickly realized that economic democratization sounded good, as all good slogans do, but wasn’t as real as the candidates pretended.
Many people do not understand what they will actually gain if the conglomerates are forced to stop making cross-investments in their affiliates as the politicians keep demanding. The people, however, remember vividly that jobs were lost when big retail stores were ordered by the government to close on weekends, supposedly to help smaller shopkeepers.
So, how about one more proposal to all three candidates? They should have another debate on jobs. Each should make a simple presentation on how they will create more jobs. A debate should follow.
This is also another great way to allow voters to evaluate the candidates. It is a subject that matters to the president and everyone else in this country. The candidates won’t be able to speak ambiguously because the topic is a realistic one. It will be easy for the voters to judge who actually understands the subject. After an hour or two, it will be easy to see who is the best potential president.
The candidates should explain how they see the connection between economic democratization and jobs; how they can resolve wealth polarization with economic democratization; what they will do to create more jobs; how they can resolve the conflicts of interest between people who want to keep their jobs and people seeking new ones; and how they define the grand compromise to achieve growth, employment and welfare in a rapidly changing global environment. The candidates must make clear their positions on these issues.
Taxes and jobs are not everything, but they are important. They are topics with which everyone can be engaged because they deals with all different kinds of conflicts of interest. The JoongAng Ilbo and JTBC want to host the tax and job debates, and all media organizations are welcome to join, too.
* The author is the editor in chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Su-gil