The Wall Street Journal praised Finance Minister Bahk Jae-wan in an editorial Wednesday entitled "The Honest Korean." The neoliberal daily lauds Bahk for his "guts" in refusing to succumb to populist policies in an election year and wondered whether the U.S. or Europe could "borrow" him once his tenure ends.
The Rupert Murdoch-owned paper said advanced countries need someone like Bahk to cure their overdependence on state welfare.
It declared itself impressed "that a leading government figure would have the guts to stand up to such economic populism. So a hearty three cheers to [Bahk] for injecting some much-needed good sense into the debate."
The editorial gave examples of pork-barrel promises being doled out by politicians and Bahk's attempts to deal with them. It said that big welfare programs initiated by populist policies end up undermining fiscal soundness and claimed that a better option than boosting taxes is to increase the transparency of taxation, while expanding the taxpaying base through economic growth.
Since taking office in May last year, Bahk has insisted that comprehensive welfare is impossible considering Korea's fiscal circumstances and that taxes need to be raised if such policies were to be pursued. He has repeatedly stressed that comprehensive welfare policies without figuring out where the necessary funding will come from are tantamount to populism.
The paper said that as Korea develops into an advanced economy, its politicians appear to be confident that their country is capable of expanding welfare programs but, unlike Bahk, seem unaware that U.S. and European-style welfare programs are not easy to handle even for advanced economies.