Twelve inconvenient promises
The author is director of economic and industry news at the JoongAng Ilbo.
Recently, I talked with the CEO of a securities company. When I asked him who among a dozen presidential candidates in the next election is supported by the capital market, he refrained from mentioning a specific name. Instead, he expressed his hope for a candidate who hires talent without dividing the people into friends and foes. The CEO seemed to be disappointed at President Moon Jae-in who persistently appointed unqualified people as top officials based on a narrow pool of talent despite his promise to become a ”president for all” in his inauguration speech in 2017.
The next presidential election is less than a six months away. If it is difficult to decide whom to vote for in an election season dominated by mud slinging — and if you still find them lacking — you can pay heed to what former Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Kim Dong-yeon, an independent candidate, has proposed in his book. His underscoring of unity beyond ideological divide sounds very convincing, as Abraham Lincoln famously said in 1858, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Kim sees a big picture for changing Korea into a “country where citizens can enjoy a strong welfare net thanks to more opportunities provided to them more fairly. The following is a summary of 12 arguments he made in the book (“Breaking the Taboo,” if translated) to tell the inconvenient truth other presidential candidates dare not tell in their campaigns.
First, let’s break the winner-take-all structure that leads to excesses in state role, a gap between stakeholders, and distrust in others. The time has come to establish a system that can ensure fair opportunities in income, housing and education at minimum levels.
Second, let’s review excessive punishments stipulated against entrepreneurs. A government must not offer special favor to corporate leaders, but at the same time it must remove harsh penalties leading to the arrest of CEOs for violation of administrative regulations or a minor mistake by an employee. In particular, a new perspective on a breach of trust is needed because the concept of the charge is too broad and ambiguous.
Third, let’s slim down the organization of civil servants working to set new regulations. If manpower and organization are left intact, regulations just don’t disappear. The government needs to dispatch workers at the central government to local governments to help eliminate stifling regulations for the private sector. The government also needs to give benefits to civil servants helping to remove regulations in times of promotion.
Fourth, let’s create a deputy prime minister-level ministry for regulation reform to command all jobs needed to cut the fat on regulation. To achieve the goal successfully, the new ministry needs to be filled with new recruits — not those dispatched from existing ministries — so that they can work for the mission independently.
Fifth, let’s close down public corporations if they have no reason to exist. Korea has the largest number of public institutions among OECD member nations. As a result, the central government assigns a bunch of work to them just like large companies do to their affiliates.
Sixth, let’s increase the number of students admitted to medical and pharmacy schools and create a system where schools can encourage the increased students to enter the field of medical science. In Korea, only three percent of graduates of medical and pharmacy schools study the field or open start-ups related to the field. We must change the structure so they can pioneer the prospering area for the future.
Seventh, let’s create colleges that are not subject to the control by the Ministry of Education. The time has come for the government to allow private companies or not-for-profit corporations to found universities to refresh and innovate the education market.
Eighth, let’s drastically increase public investments in provinces other than the capital region for the balanced development of the country. The government’s plan to spend budget on implementing the third New Town development project around the capital area, advancing traffic systems in the region, and helping universities there directly goes against the spirit of balanced national development.
Ninth, let’s eliminate hefty privileges for elected officials. For instance, Korea must drastically cut the benefits enjoyed by lawmakers. We must fix the upper limit of their pay — for instance, at an amount two times the medium income of the population and cut the number of their aides.
Tenth, let’s consider the idea of a tax hike over the mid- and-long term. It’s time to review a tax increase as there are limits in repaying the snowballing government debt based on a restructuring of budget spending and reduced tax exemption. The need to increase welfare spending and develop human resources calls for more money than before.
Eleventh, let’s establish a system in which a government can execute common economic promises from presidential candidates beyond their political divide. A comparison of national agendas from the Kim Dae-jung administration through the Moon Jae-in administration shows 25 core agendas are redundant. That means 80 percent to 90 percent of national agendas are more or less the same. The time has come for the government to set up a permanent committee to carry out common platforms.
Twelfth, let’s try far-sighted legislation to help attract citizens’ participation. How about discussing a revision of the law and delaying the date when it takes effect five or ten years from now. It could help the public, conservative or liberal, to engage in a head-to-head debate beyond party lines.
A controversy arose over copying campaign platforms from other presidential contenders. But we need to look at the problem in a bigger way. If excellent promises from an obscure candidate can be incorporated into the platforms of powerful candidates, that is certainly good for the country.