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The price of a legislative seat

Dec 24,2019
HA HYUN-OCK
The author is the head of welfare and administration team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing,” said Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a French economist and Minister of Finance under King Louis XIV. He is notorious for heavy taxation in order to increase the state coffers. He entered the role with the help of a spoils system, which was a key means to buttress the kingdom’s fiscal integrity. The spoils system was even legislated with the advent of the absolute monarchy in the 17th century. There was even a “tax for becoming a public official” at the time.

The United States is a country where a modern version of the spoils system is established. Those who make large donations to a presidential candidate are still rewarded with top government posts, including ambassadors, when they are elected president. U.S. President Donald Trump went so far as to nominate a member of his own golf resort as an ambassador. USA Today ridiculed him for trying to turn the State Department into a “Trump country club.”

On Thursday, ruling Democratic Party floor leader Lee In-young proposed that the ruling parties’ candidates for next year’s general elections sell any extra residences they may have to help reign in the soaring housing prices. Earlier, President Moon Jae-in’s Chief of Staff Noh Young-min forced high officials at the Blue House to sell their extra homes after the government’s 18th measure to control skyrocketing housing prices seemed to fail, followed by Prime Minister for the Economy Hong Nam-ki’s recommendation for high-level government officials to do the same.

Under these circumstances, we cannot rule out the possibility of the presidential office determining candidates for the next legislative election based on whether they have one or multiple homes. If it really happens, it would be the equivalent of an exchange of their homes with legislatorship, a variant of the old spoils system. Can they be elected if they sell their homes?

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 23, Page 35