A country never experienced

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A country never experienced


Ko Dae-hoon
The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

President Moon Jae-in sounded assured when he said he has “rebuilt this country from the ruins.” Since he took office in May 2017, he has tried to eradicate the “evil” and “corrupt” conservatives and replace the mainstream with liberals. He has embarked on education and prosecution reforms on supposed “public demand.” Chief of Staff Noh Young-min proudly bragged that war dangers have been removed on the Korean Peninsula — all thanks to the president.

Moon also confidently declared the economy was moving in the right direction. He and his staff in the Blue House, whose personal wealth averages 1.5 billion won ($1.3 million) per family, appear to have no idea of the everyday hardships of the ordinary people outside the forbidding gates. A fiscal spending spree — as defended by presidential spokeswoman Ko Min-jung, who said, “Money would get rotten if unspent” — only helped raise the employment rate for senior citizens by rolling out temporary jobs for them. The government also seriously believes that income inequality has been reduced.

Public sentiment has been moving in a different direction. Society has been polarized to the extreme. The value of justice and fairness has become all muddled. The self-employed sector has collapsed. Housing prices in some Seoul neighborhoods keep shooting up in spite of multiple regulations. An apartment unit in southern Seoul is valued at 100 million won per 3.3 square meters (36 square feet). North Korea frequently fires new missiles. The country is in ruins all over again.

It is hard to pin down the identity of the Moon administration although half of his five-year presidential term has passed. All the fancy slogans — innovation, engaging, fairness and peace — are too figurative, and they can hardly define their governance ideology. The administration calls itself progressive. Its economic policies are socialist, yet it refuses to admit so.

Moon’s income-led or “engaging” growth policy is similar to the platforms of the Socialist Party under former French President Francois Mitterrand. Under his rule from 1981 to 1995, minimum wages went up sharply, work hours reduced, public sector jobs increased and large companies nationalized. His policies were reversed after the economy was wrecked. France has since suffered chronic unemployment and fiscal deficit. France became the “patient of Europe” for 30 years until young President Emmanuel Macron pushed ahead with the opposite platforms by reducing government employees, easing regulations on dismissals and scrapping taxes on the rich.

The Moon administration raised the minimum wage and enforced a 52-hour workweek, added 170,000 government employees, tried to tame companies through the National Pension Service and promised a richer society through distributions — in other words, by raising taxes on individuals and the corporate sector. But the results were a growth rate lower than 1 percent and depressed investment, consumption and exports.

The government also is going down the same path of doom of Latin American governments. It aims to sell government bonds of 60 trillion won to finance next year’s supersized budget of over 500 trillion won. It is pushing ahead with economic experiments purely out of ideology, drawing sneers from foreign media about the government putting the economy “in the doghouse” through the “Gangnam Left” policy. Even Hitler said his party should change its name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Socialism should not be glorified because of its good intentions, as its end is hellish.

The Moon administration is also engrossed with one-race theory. It bundle the two Koreas with the sentimental slogan of a “single Korean race” and the “peace economy.” He told the audience of 150,000 North Koreans at a stadium in Pyongyang last year that the same race should live together. He simply brushed off North Koreans’ ridiculing of him as an “ox head” and a “South Korean dictator.”

But Moon’s thought has divided South Korea. Those who opposed the government’s anti-Japan policy have been labeled “anti-Korea” and “pro-Japan.” His sense of nationalism that is so generous to a third-generation dictator has left his own people fighting against one another.

Under the pretext of reform, a totalitarian movement has emerged. People are forced to become pro- or anti-reform, depending on their support for the government’s campaigns on prosecutorial, judicial, media, and education overhauls. Judicial reform is aimed to seat prosecutors and judges of the same ideologies and beliefs. Other reform drives are no different. Reform is an excuse for the totalitarian cause. The college admissions system is being redesigned, and special purpose high schools are being eliminated upon one command from the president. Yet there is no resistance.

Moon has promised a country we have “never experienced.” Did he mean economic socialism, divisive nationalism and totalitarianism? Is he out to see South Korean-style socialism? Would he stick to the divisive nationalism? How can the government call itself progressive when it sends North Koreans back to their own country even when they are sure to face torture and execution regardless of the murders they allegedly committed on a fishing boat? We wish to hear answers to all these questions from Moon at a town hall meeting scheduled for Nov. 19.
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