The giveaway gravy train
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The presidency in South Korea is extraordinarily powerful. There are so many laws that allow a president to determine the details of the law with presidential decrees. Those decrees are so plentiful that no one knows how many are being exercised by the president. That reflects the mighty power of our president. It’s on par with a monarch. Moreover, presidents are almost forced to use their powers to achieve their ambitions in the single five-year term allowed to them by the Constitution.
Misfortunes happen as a result. Two presidents are behind bars after they fell into the temptations of imperialistic power. There is little a president cannot do. Corporations became the president’s personal piggy banks. During the reign of general-turned-president Chun Doo Hwan, companies were forced to fund his projects. The situation did not differ greatly under another general-turned president, Roh Tae-woo, even though he was elected through a public vote. Presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye are spending their retirements in prison after taking bribes from big companies or other forms of corruption. Such tragedies stem from a mighty presidential authority.
It was shocking to hear President Moon Jae-in propose handing out money to “comfort” the public amid Covid-19 woes. The comment sounded condescending as if the king was vouchsafing grants to his people. No president has handed out checks to “comfort” the people. The money comes from the national coffers, not the royal purse. Nowhere in the world throughout does history record a head of state doling out money to every citizen for the purpose of solace.
Bigwigs in the ruling party have been talking of doling out money from the national coffers since the general election in April last year. Lee Nak-yon, chairman of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), even proposed a universal cut in phone bills. DP lawmakers and policymakers propose any kind of grant they can think of, such as universal relief checks or expansion of childcare subsidies to the age of 18. Gyeonggi Gov. Lee Jae-myung has been most generous with his ideas. He has handed out checks to every person in his province and even issued his own local currency. He suggested basic incomes for all, an idea very rare even in progressive or rich nations. His ideas are considered over the top even by his peers in the DP.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the “timing” is important, even for good ideas, and South Gyeongsang Gov. Kim Kyoung-soo stressed that “reckless populism cannot help the ruling front win the presidential election.” DP head Lee said much requires to be considered so that more aid could go to the neediest. These disagreements all stem from populist competition among presidential aspirants in the ruling camp.
The generosity race continues in the lead-up to the April 7 mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan. But the consequences are evident. The national debt will grow and inequalities worsen. At the end of the day, more taxes will have to be collected to cover the losses. No lunch is free, as a wise man once said.
Politicians should not think they can go on feeding populism. They must come to their senses and concentrate on helping the needy and revitalize corporate investment and hiring to improve incomes for the people.