No more service sector jokes

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No more service sector jokes

The recently announced set of so-called first-stage government measures aimed at vitalizing the service industry is too trifling to mean anything. They comprise tax incentives and cuts in electricity bills that hardly can help upgrade the service sector as a new growth engine for the country’s slow-moving economy.

The government even included the idea of allowing barbecue facilities in public parks in urban areas as part of the service-sector stimuli measures. It avoids the controversial and much-needed agenda of liberalizing for-profit hospitals, international private schools and casinos to widen the medical, education and tourism market.

Liberalization in these sectors has been debated for more than a decade and yet no progress has been made. Governments time after time came up with alternative measures to stimulate the services sector. The last Lee Myung-bak government introduced steps to boost the services sector 20 times during its five-year term but with no effect in helping domestic demand.

The Park Geun-hye administration appears to be doing no better. A government official said the liberalization themes are too controversial and would hardly be approved by the legislature. The government doesn’t want to raise unnecessary noise and trouble over something that will most likely meet strong opposition. It doesn’t want to go through the hassle of coming up with strong arguments against the claims that international private schools could colonize local education and for-profit hospitals could bring about steep rises in medical costs. The government is simply being irresponsible for giving up its much-needed policy because it isn’t confident about persuading lawmakers. The government has at its back a majority party of 154 members. It hasn’t even attempted to persuade standing committee members.

The importance of the service sector no longer needs to be repeated. For the last two decades, new jobs mostly came from the service sector. Manufacturing jobs fell to 4.1 million from 4.99 million since 1990, while employment in the services sector surged to 17.18 million from 8.44 million.

The new government’s slogan of “creative economy” and plan to raise the employment rate to 70 percent would be useless without development of the services sector. A third of the world population lives less than four hours by air from Seoul. If we can bring them to our country to spend money on our medical, education and tourism sectors, our economy would become entirely different from what it is now.

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