The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
It is human nature to be envious of those with more possessions. One could feel bitter at a sibling or relative with a great fortune. Even the religious admit to envy. In his book “I Am a Better Person Than Perceived,” Father Hong Sung-nam says there is no person who does not feel it. But the Catholic priest advises people not to “let envy reign over you.” In Hebrew, kinhah means both jealousy and envy. But jealousy and envy are different. Envy can be motivating and productive whereas jealousy can be destructive. Extreme jealousy can be harmful to both the individual and the community.
Father Hong said that jealousy is universal. Therefore, “you should deal with jealousy very carefully just like when you deal with fire, because jealousy can afflict and sicken your heart if you are enslaved to a desire for having what others have,” he said.
Real estate policymakers under the Moon Jae-in administration need to listen to these words of wisdom from the father because their policy mostly focused on blaming owners of multiple homes and fanning public resentment toward them. In an address to the National Assembly in July, President Moon vowed that his administration would not allow the rich to continue to build their wealth through real estate speculation by raising taxes on property ownership and capital gains. Chairing a recent meeting with his senior secretaries, Moon said that passive incomes earned from owning multiple homes should be seized. As a result, having a single or no home became a plus for people wanted to be on the presidential staff. A series of presidential comments and actions helped stigmatize owners of multiple homes as evil.
However, it was not their greed that contributed to skyrocketing real estate prices and rents. They soared because the government has erred in its 23 sets of measures over the last three years through makeshift and impromptu actions. Market instability and insecurity stemming from the government’s policy failures led to panic buying of apartments in anticipation of a further increases in housing prices. Even after many new regulations, apartment prices in Seoul jumped 52 percent over the last three years and rents have risen for 60 weeks in a row.
Yet the government refuses to accept any fault and puts the blame on multiple homeowners and their “speculative” wealth. The government stigmatizes them, and also attacks owners of single homes. Those without homes no longer can dream of owning one because of skyrocketing home prices and taxes. As the real estate market remains unstable despite tough regulations, the justice minister has stepped in and claimed that housewives and young people are joining the housing frenzy after the entire country caught the speculative virus. That comment entirely disregards human nature and disgraces the dignity of ordinary citizens.
Owners of multiple homes are tormented with punitive taxes. After house values shot up through changes in the appraisal base, their comprehensive real estate tax and capital gains tax from sales increased by 6 percentage points and 72 percentage points, respectively. They can hardly hand over their assets to their children because the acquisition tax rate also jumped to 12 percent. As a result, apartment offerings have dried up, further fueling prices. There may be some speculators, but people owning more than one home should not be grouped as speculators. Being house-rich can motivate quality housing supplies, offer decent rent supplies and help tenants build wealth by taking advantage of the jeonse (long-term rent with lump-sum deposits) system.
Again, jealousy is part of human nature. I heard that islanders of the South Pacific do not know the feeling because fur coats and luxury residences needed in the Northern Hemisphere are useless there. But people in the rest of the world are different. They earn to provide educations and livings for their family. The economy runs on such consumption. Homeowners contribute to economic activities. If owners of multiple homes are treated as criminals, the housing habitat will be shaken. If Korea is not suddenly turning into a socialist society, the government’s antipathy toward them must stop. Excess always can be damaging.