‘Liberation Notes’ for the young

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‘Liberation Notes’ for the young

Yoon Hee-suk
The author is a former lawmaker of the People Power Party.

How can you liberate yourself? Protagonists of “My Liberation Notes,” a hot miniseries on JTBC that was aired in April and May, choose to find some answers by resorting to self-refection. After being pressured to join a club outside of work by their company, they decide to establish a club on their own. Impressed by their dramatic journey to a better future, audiences are still leaving comments on social media.

The Korean economy — the source of the pain the young protagonists of the drama had to feel — also needs a liberation diary desperately, since it could not make the lives of individuals any better by repeatedly spinning a super sticky web on them over the past 20 years.

The liberation notes must help find out what the shackles really are. Although younger people cannot find a decent job anymore, why don’t labor rules designed to protect powerful unions change?

After the fertility rates shrank by one third compared to two decades ago — and the share of the elderly nearly tripled during the period — why is there no discussion on education reforms for future generations? What about layers of stifling regulations that only hampered creating jobs in the private sector? And have you ever heard any of such fetters removed?

The culprits are politicians who would convince people that they can live without reform. Political circles don’t deny the market entirely, but they certainly despise and oppress the market.

The ideologically-driven past administration mandated people to report the source of their money to the authorities when they buy a home. The lopsided government even forced factories to stop their operations after enforcing a draconian 52-hour workweek across the board to “help employees to have dinner at home.”

Another problem is a critical dearth of politicians who deserve public trust. If they sincerely championed reform — whether it involves the prosecution or economic restructure — they themselves were often targets for reform. Some of them habitually rushed to break the law while shouting for judiciary reforms. Others enjoyed their privileges in the cocoon of their own league while promoting market reforms.

As a result, Korean society has lost a sense of direction. It is not a coincidence that a flood of populist promises dominated campaigns of both the conservative and liberal candidates in the last presidential and local elections. Could the voters find hope in their feast of populist pledges? The country is full of people who are astray.

To write the liberation notes for the Korean economy, you must confront harsh reality first. In 1970, just over 40 percent of students could go to middle and high schools. In other words, about 60 percent of people in their early 60s now were so poor that they could not afford a secondary education after finishing primary education. Those in their 20s and 30s today grew in affluent and better educational environments, but fell into despair over lack of quality jobs from chronic low growth. The stark differences in their paths make it hard for them to communicate, not to mention figure out who they are and what they want in a fast-changing society.

In an episode of the drama, a female protagonist orders her colleague to “worship me!” At first glance, the term “worship” sounds weird. But what the protagonist really wanted from others was “support” — not “admiration” — as the story progressed. That demand was a confession that they can only survive a careless society if they join forces to build internal power among themselves.

It would be nice if we start writing our liberation notes by first finding how to support ourselves and others. It would be better if some politicians could lead the way and systematize unceasing support for younger people so they can move forward, rather than only handing out cash to them to help them stay where they were.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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