Polar wealth

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Polar wealth

The three party heads all spoke at the National Assembly about inequality being the biggest challenge to the economy.

Ahn Cheol-soo, the People’s Party co-chair, said there is no future in the community if disparities are not patched up. “We must end the age in which a few dominate the majority,” he said, calling upon the public to give up their vested interests for the private sector, the chaebol for their subcontractors and the adult generation for the future generation.

Even the conservative Saenuri floor leader, Rep. Chung Jin-suk, called for a fairer society with better-off companies and workers yielding to their weaker counterparts. He called for tougher regulations on the top 1 percent, a unionized permanent workforce, and the excesses and irregularities of chaebols to be balanced out.

Kim Chong-in, interim head of the Minjoo Party, called for more equality in the economy and more symbiotic growth. He proposed the legislature take initiative to ensure a fairer playing field so that large economic forces like the chaebol do not rule the economy.

It was unusual for a conservative to speak of fairer distribution and for liberals to talk growth.

Polarization has long been a problem in Korean society. A 19-year-old mechanic was killed by an arriving train while working alone to fix a subway platform door at Guui Station in eastern Seoul. The average income in small and midsize companies fell to half of what employees in large companies earn.

Disparities between large and small companies, households and companies, regular and contract workers, the public and private sectors, and companies and their subcontractors have bred tragic outcomes. And the gap is widening. The social and economic status of parents defines the education standards of their children and shapes their future.

A society has no future if 90 percent of its members believe their life is not getting any better no matter how hard they try. The revival of nationalist and protectionist fervor sweeping the United States and the United Kingdom, with the phenomenon of Donald Trump as a formidable presidential candidate and the possibility of so-called Brexit — Britain’s exit from European Union — all stem from hopelessness and frustration. We never know when the same symptoms will arrive on our shores.

Political parties have addressed inequality through their long-established ideological perspectives. The centrist propensity must not end in political rhetoric. The ruling party should persuade the chaebol. The people long for real political action to ease inequality. And they will judge with their votes in the presidential election.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jun. 23, Page 30
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