An unjust society
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
A survey asked 3,000 salary earners what profession they would choose if they could go back in time, and their top answer was civil servant. That choice outnumbered doctors and lawyers by a factor of two or more. A survey should not be needed to figure that out given the security, power, fringe benefits and social status those positions offer. An extra perk has been added. The Seoul Metropolitan Council recently passed a bill enabling a six-year loan of 100 million won ($87,160) at a fixed rate of 1 percent to new recruits.
Loans are available to employees of the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Land, Transport and Infrastructure. Some public enterprises offer employees subsidies in private tuition fees for children and university scholarships as well as housing benefits. Public enterprises are called “God’s dream workplace” or “a workplace even God cannot go to.” But public officials should never forget that their earnings and fringe benefits are all paid from the pockets of taxpayers.
Most people find it hard to get loans from banks. But public servants freely spend tax money to bolster their welfare benefits. A study showed a public servant can earn up to 1 billion won during a career based on the relatively high salary gains and late retirement compared with private-sector jobs. Over 3 trillion won goes to cover the deficits in the pension systems for retired public employees and soldiers every year. Tax funds have been making up for the deficits for 20 years, and the losses are only widening. Taxes are sustaining comfortable old ages for public servants.
The gap between the public sector and the private sector has significantly increased under the Moon Jae-in administration. Nine out of 10 people in their 20s cannot find jobs, and the outlook is even grimmer for teenagers. Still, public-sector jobs are ever increasing. The number of public employees totaled 1 million before President Moon was elected in May 2017. It exceed 1.1 million in December last year. That is the largest number in 30 years. Despite a sharp decline in farmers and populations in rural areas, payrolls in the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry and local governments rose sharply. The government employee quota will increase next year and the following year.
The consequences of this expansion could be projected from New York City. Garbage is piling up in the streets of Manhattan and the number homeless is surging because of the city government’s poor financial state. The city’s pitiful state primarily stems from a jump in hiring despite the government’s excuse about a fall in tourism revenue due to the pandemic. The New York mayor gave into a union’s demand and hired thousands and ruined the city finances. Over 20,000 may have to be laid off as the city may not be able to extend more loans.
It is estimated to cost 3 billion won to sustain a public servant for a lifetime in Korea. Despite the enlargement in the government, there are few changes in administrative and civilian services. After thousands of jobs have disappeared in the private sector, citizens looking for rents must fight for whatever opening comes in the market. Tax funds are being used to dismantle dams around the four rivers that were built on a hefty budget under a conservative administration. Over 75 trillion won would go to developing renewable energy even while well-functioning nuclear reactors are forced to stop operating. While stalling reforms in the deficit-ridden pension system for government employees and soldiers, the Moon administration repeatedly appointed politicians, who lost in parliamentary elections, to head the National Pension Fund.
A government has the duty to protect the lives and properties of the people. But the government interferes where it should not — and cannot be found where it is needed. Belt-tightening actions are rare. Despite the widening fiscal deficit, the government goes on increasing public employees. And regulations are being trotted out under the guise of the public benefit. The government is all self-indulgent and self-righteous. People are not just maddened by the double-standards of former and current justice ministers Cho Kuk, Choo Mi-ae and Rep. Yoon Mee-hyang. Contradictions are rampant in every area. Why has the country come to such a poor state? People may just have to find their own means to survive.
More in Columns
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?