Out of touch?Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said during questioning by lawmakers on Thursday that the government was addressing the economy with “gravity.’’ But whether or not he meant it, he raised questions and highlighted the administration’s self-serving and naive perception of the economy.
He agreed with the opposition lawmaker that the number of employed in their 30s and 40s has fallen sharply. But he pointed out that the under-50s population was thinning and that the male employment rate for those in their 30s and 40s was 90 percent. But he is not entirely correct. The employment rate is calculated by dividing the number of employed with the total population. It does not reflect the demographic factor. The employment rate of those in their 30s and 40s in February fell 0.5 percentage points and 0.2 percentage points, respectively, against the same period in 2018. The jobless rate in the age group was highest since 2011. The prime minister’s casual observation about the economy could have angered many people fatigued and suffering from the protracted economic slowdown.
Lee claimed Korea’s growth rate could be the highest among the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) next year. That, too, is misleading. The OECD estimates on the growth rate for Ireland and Israel is higher than Korea’s 2.6 percent. To be precise, Korea may be growing the fastest among economies with per capita of above $30,000 and populations of over 50 million. But economies like the United States, Germany, and Britain have long been matured and are structured to grow under 2 percent. Korea, which only joined the exclusive club 20 years ago, cannot be compared with them.
Lee’s comments on the sovereign credit rating and nuclear reactor phase-out policy were also baffling. He noted that Korea has maintained its credit rating under the current administration. But the current rating from Fitch was achieved in 2012 and Moody’s in 2015.
He said the government was not phasing out nuclear power; that was only a campaign promise. But while permanently retiring the Kori 1 unit in June 2017, President Moon Jae-in vowed to wean the country off of nuclear power and open an age of new energy. The prime minister represents the cabinet. He should speak for public policy and the administration.
However, the economy is expected to worsen this year. Sharp eyes and cool heads are needed more than ever. An out-of-touch prime minister will only serve to aggravate public anxieties.
JoongAng Sunday, March 23, Page 30