Hopes for 2020
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
A new year has begun. As the figure 2020 looks like a hopeful number, I am hoping this year turns out to be exactly so. As long as people have hope, no matter how bad their circumstances are, they can dream of a brighter tomorrow. But if they lose hope, they will be in despair. That was the case for many Koreans last year when the country’s suicide rate was the highest in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
This year should be different. People must not lose hope, and it is President Moon Jae-in’s job to show his resolve first. Moon must make a policy shift so that people can pursue a realistic dream. Yearning for an unrealistic, groundless dream will only lead to devastation.
First and foremost, the Moon administration should halt giving false hope to people about housing prices. It has introduced 18 sets of real estate measures — such as placing a price cap on new apartment offerings, bridging the gap between the declared value and actual trade price of property, and dramatically lowering the loan-to-value ratio of apartments exceeding 900 million won ($780,000), to name a few.
But every time a new “solution” was announced, housing prices only went up. And for each failure, the government vowed to come up with another solution to control the prices. Please just stop it right now. No matter what solution the government comes up with, if it’s not coupled with expanded supply, nothing can curb market demand. It might briefly work, but as time passes, it will only help raise jeonse (long-term deposit) prices and stoke market anxiety.
I ask the government to also halt giving false hope to the public about jobs. The Moon administration raised the employment rate by injecting 77 trillion won into job creation, yet more than 90 percent of those new jobs were part-time work for the elderly — such as traffic control and picking up trash on the streets.
After Moon mentioned how “saddened” he was to see people in their 40s — the backbone of our economy — without jobs, the government vowed to allocate state budget this year to help that age group. Again, stop giving false hope. New — and quality — jobs can be created only when businesses increase investment and enhance their entrepreneurship, not when the government hands out employment subsidies.
Instead of giving false hope to the public, the government must focus more on deregulation and labor reforms. That way, trillions of won of floating capital with no place to go will steer toward some place more productive than the real estate market, leading to the creation of more jobs and possibly breaking the evil spell of rising housing prices.
The reforms will also pave the way for Korea Inc. to develop a mega-sized “platform businesses” that are thriving in many parts of the world, including Southeast Asia.
I also urge the government to stop giving the false hope that renewable energy can replace nuclear power. It should also refrain from telling the public that nuclear power is dangerous. It is not only safe but also emits the least amount of fine dust among all energy sources. That’s why Middle East oil-producing countries are racing to build more nuclear power plants. That’s why the United Nations acknowledged that there’s no better energy source than nuclear power, which can greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We must end our nuclear phase-out policy and send hope to our nuclear scientists and college freshmen studying nuclear energy and nuclear engineering.
Two years of false hope in the economy is enough. It was only after the lowest income bracket lost their jobs and the gap between the rich and poor widened that the Moon administration put the brakes on a drastic increase in the minimum wage.
It was only after small and mid-sized companies strongly protested the enforcement of the rigid 52-hour workweek that the administration decided to suspend implementing the guideline. It is not difficult to stop giving out false hope. First, the president must end his anti-corporate, anti-market policy experiments and leave it to the market. The public is waiting for Moon’s brave turnaround.
It goes the same for issues pertaining to our national security. The government must stop giving the false hope that we can resolve the North Korean nuclear issue if we endure whatever provocation Pyongyang dishes out. The liberal administration brought North Korea and the United States to the negotiating table and promised North Korea rice donations, yet the regime shows no signs of easing its bellicosity and missile tests. As the South Korea-U.S. alliance weakens, Washington is asking us to pay nearly five-fold of what we are paying for the upkeep of U.S. troops on our soil.
It is time for us to strengthen the alliance to the previous level and also re-stabilize our pragmatic relationship with Japan, all the while pursuing dialogue with North Korea across the border. The first step for us to feel hope for the New Year is for the government to stop giving us false hope.
Moon must take the lead in that shift.