Too many parachutes
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
President Moon Jae-in served as a special forces commando. There is a picture of him with a parachute. The special forces are trained to penetrate enemy compounds to destroy facilities or engage in assassination or rescue operations. Soldiers write up a will before they go into special operations. They risk their lives for the national defense. On Armed Forces Day, special forces perform parachute landings and show their fighting skills in demonstrations.
Parachute landings are a symbol of commandoes in Korea. They go through three weeks of basic aerial training for parachuting. They must repeat the same routines thousand of times as landing in the right spot is not easy due to winds and many other factors. Even if they land safely, special forces can be ambushed by enemies hiding nearby. We cannot know how familiar Moon is with parachuting. But he surely would know its risks and dangers. Once you make a jump, you’re staking your life every time.
The people who parachute into executive positions at state enterprises are no different. Parachute appointments refer to former government servants or people otherwise connected to politics being given senior posts at state enterprises without going through the normal screening or competition process. Some candidates have been with a presidential election campaign, or are aligned to the ruling party, believe in its ideology, or are garden variety politicians who were defeated in elections. There are hazards to the process. They are put in the parachute without any training. That is often true about the jobs they fill as well. They may go through ritual protests by a union on their first day or week. The union usually backs off after being promised something or other. In exchange for removing barricades or calling off strikes, unions are promised wage hikes or increased benefits.
The work afterwards is a breeze. These figure receive fat paychecks and generous bonuses, not to mention chauffeured corporate cars and spacious offices. Poor performance isn’t much of a problem at public enterprises. They can stop the ongoing construction of nuclear reactors and increase housing supplies upon government order. Employees indulge themselves in profiteering from land purchases on development sites using inside information. Due to extremely lax management, debt at state enterprises exceeded 544 trillion won ($487 billion) last year. They bring their people onboard through their own parachutes. If anyone lower in the hierarchy opposes their decisions, they kick them out.
When parachuting goes wrong, it does not merely jeopardize one’s own life, but the entire squad. Parachute appointments can endanger the country. The new head of state-run think tank Korea Development Institute had been the architect of the income-led growth theory that places a carriage before the horse. He has been in charge of a long-term direction for economic policy. As a result of the government’s exorbitant welfare policy and income-led growth policy, which spiked the minimum wage, the Korean economy is mired in an interlinked job and debt crisis. Welfare polarization deepened due to a widened income gap.
Still, the Moon Jae-in administration advocates income-led growth. It claims that the higher minimum wage has benefited 90 percent of the concerned class and its aggressive fiscal spending has prevented falls in income. The politician-turned-land minister was a typical case of a parachute appointment disaster. Since she landed in the job, people cannot even dream of owning a home due to a drastic jump in housing prices. Still, the policy direction does not change. Despite disapproval in confirmation hearings, 33 ministers were appointed to their seats.
There have never been so many parachute appointments in any other government. According to the opposition People Power Party last October, one out of three chiefs of state organizations were loyalists to Moon or helped his campaign. His people are everywhere across 350 public corporations. One politician said this was the last chance of getting appointed under the Moon administration with less than a year left in its term. Since three years of tenure are guaranteed, people line up for the last ride. Even with safety precautions, there is a risk in every parachute jump. This time, the country’s economy is at risk.