Here come the promisesPopulist approaches and grand promises by our presidential hopefuls are starting to worry us. At best, some are not feasible. At worst, some could shake the very foundations of our national security. In sharp contrast with the last presidential election campaign, in which the promises centered around welfare benefits for the older generation, the promises this time mostly target voters in their 20s and 30s. Those are empty slogans aimed at getting more votes.
A case in point is a shortsighted pledge to shorten the term of our military service. After Moon Jae-in, former leader of the opposition Democratic Party, mentioned the possibility of shortening the current 21 months to 12 months, rival Lee Jae-myung, mayor of Seongnam City, went a step further by promising to cut it to 10 months. Moon and Lee say the manpower vacuum can be filled by increasing the number of career soldiers and introducing a selective recruitment system. That’s a sheer fantasy.
Moon claims he based his proposal on an earlier readjustment plan in the Rho Moo-hyun administration. But the plan for a shortened service period was devised on the assumption that North Korea’s nuclear threats would be wound down. The reality is that Pyongyang has conducted five nuclear tests since then, succeeded in making smaller nuclear warheads, and is just a few steps away from the deployment of those weapons on the battlefield.
We wonder how South Korea can fight the 1.28 million-strong North Korean Army under such a volatile situation. Does Moon have any ideas how to cover the additional cost — 4.2 trillion won ($3.57 billion) — needed to recruit 140,000 soldiers if the term was shortened to one year?
The idea of offering a basic income to the underprivileged — proposed by Seongnam Mayor Lee first and then by Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon — is equally irresponsible. Lee vowed to annually dole out 300,000 won to each citizen and 1 million won in an alternative currency to 28 million people in the lower income bracket. He plans to cover the 50 trillion won budget by raising corporate taxes and creating a new tax. But introducing such a system is a dangerous idea. Only Finland is experimenting with such an idea. Taxpayers are not likely to enjoy their hard-earned money being used for it.
Gyeonggi Gov. Nam Kyung-pil’s promise to end our private education system and Bareun Party lawmaker Yoo Seong-min’s vow to ensure a 3-year leave for childcare are equally empty. Presidential hopefuls must stop offering populist promises at a time of economic uncertainty.
JoognAng Ilbo, Jan. 20, Page 30