May 13, 2021 13:26
Two pieces of news grabbed my attention recently. One was about civilian space tours set to start in the U.S. and the successful test flight of a spaceship designed to ferry people to Mars. They made me realize how much the outside world had changed while Korea wasted the last four years trapped in the past trying to ferret out die-hard loyalists of the previous administration. The other piece of news was a six-fold increase in Koreans in their 20s and 30s who sought medical help for depression. Too many young Koreans rely on drugs to treat depression after they were turned down countless times by potential employers and blowing all their savings on stocks and other risky investments.
Young people in America are reportedly having a tough time choosing which job offers to accept, but here they struggle in an increasingly impossible job market.
Presidential hopefuls of the ruling Minjoo Party have already started bribing them, offering between W10 million and W100 million for their vote (US$1=W1,125). It seems like ruling party lawmakers are still not satisfied by causing huge disappointment to young Koreans through their inept policies and hypocrisy and now want to rub salt in their wounds.
The misery of young Koreans started in May 2018, a year after the Moon Jae-in administration started. What happened was the exact opposite of Moon's pledge to create more jobs for young people. In the past, 200,000 to 300,000 new jobs were created every year, no matter how slow the economy was. But once Moon took office, that growth suddenly decelerated to less than 100,000 and real youth unemployment surged to 25 percent. The country saw 2 million full-time jobs evaporate as a result of a failed gamble of Moon's cronies, who bet that drastically boosting wages would somehow lead to increased spending and jack up the economy. How could they have failed to see that a sharp rise in the minimum wage would prompt companies to reduce hiring? Or did they anticipate that but went ahead with their doomed experiment anyway?
Even a few days ago, Moon claimed that his failed "income-led growth" policy had yielded results but only the coronavirus pandemic put the brakes on further progress. Young Koreans must felt sick when they heard that.
Moon needs to listen closely to the complaints of young people, who are set to shoulder the quadrillion of fiscal debt that has piled up due to the government's wanton spending. Much of that money is not being spent on productive and future-oriented policies but on pork-barrel projects like the new airport on Gadeok Island in Busan and pointless part-time jobs for the elderly.
The ruling party handed out W14 trillion to people in coronavirus relief just before the last general election. Moon keeps saying there is more money on the way, and in the meantime, Korea's fiscal debt continues to soar. If the government wants to avoid fiscal disaster, it must reform the state pension system, but Moon has not even thought about that over the last four years. This is shameless populism and a selfish attempt to pile the consequences on future generations.
Fiscal unsoundness can be fatal for a country like Korea, whose currency is easily affected by fluctuations of major currencies. Even the slightest external shock rattles the Korean economy. Young people have the choice of leaving their home country once it falls into a deep slump, and once they do they will not look back. That is what happened in Greece during the global financial crisis 10 years ago. The suicide rate there, too, soared from two to 19 percent in those days.
If a ruling-party candidate becomes the next president, fiscal debt will continue to soar and young Koreans will start to flee overseas. They could even settle for low-paying jobs in Japan or China rather than stay here a minute longer.
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