Ending populist platformsBudgeting is the numeric manifestation of a government’s philosophy on state governance. According to the guideline for next year’s budgeting, the government will cut 10 percent of its spending on major projects to spend instead on creating jobs. It expects to reserve as much as 16.8 trillion won ($14.6 billion) to bolster jobs. For the first time, it has put into writing the rationalization of budgetary spending amid a worsening fiscal state. Throughout its term, the government has repeated the importance of financial integrity and tried to rein in populism ahead of the April general election.
The government must be careful when it comes to reckless campaign promises made by politicians who have been swept up in the populist fervor. It would help first to constrain the ruling party, as it would cost 4.3 trillion won to achieve the Saenuri Party’s campaign platform promises over the next four-year tenure of the legislature.
This spending is achievable without raising taxes. The co-head of the party’s campaign team, Kang Bong-kyun, is against a populist platform. He has been saying no government can afford free-for-all welfare programs. In the economic platform he drew up, there are no campaign pledges planted there simply to grab the attention and support of the public.
The main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea has produced a more costly platform. Its 10 agenda items would cost 15 trillion won. It proposes to provide 300,000 won in monthly allowances for senior citizens in the 70-percent-bottom-income group, free day care for children up to the age of 5 and 2.4 million in public rent for working-class citizens. It aims to cut what can be saved and levy higher taxes on the rich.
Parties from both sides have been playing fast and loose with populist promises, at the public’s expense. The April election could become a tipping point, ending this wasteful and destructive tradition.
Both parties are well aware of the troubles the economy is in. They also agree on the reasons and ways to solve the problem. The global economy is struggling, and industrial restructuring is long overdue. They simply differ on how to get the job done and what to prioritize. The parties must compete using feasible economic platforms, and should be tested according to who can best put to use our limited resources.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 30, Page 34