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A dialogue of one

The Moon Jae-in government must check itself and be careful not to lose balance.
Nov 14,2017
The proposed spending to “stabilize workplaces and jobs” announced by the government last week is a bizarre plan. Its idea is to subsidize workplaces to keep hangers-on to merely make unemployment data look better. The concept goes against market principles. It is also an admission that the government raised the minimum wage too much and too fast. After pushing up the wage floor for next year by 16.4 percent, it is digging into tax coffers to cushion the blow.

The idea of using public money in that way is dangerous. This is more or less a policy encouraging moral hazard.

Was the government not aware of the grave consequences when it drove the minimum wage up by double digits? The employers group in tripartite negotiations with unions and the government could not have gone along with such a plan unless the government promised to finance the extra labor costs itself. A scholar said that the situation could not have reached such a point unless ideology was involved in policy making.

The mess is entirely political. This happens when policy is made through top-down fiats. Under normal procedures, before it makes an important policy, the government should study the market ramifications and discussed them with involved parties in order to come up with a reasonable compromise. This is how a society communicates and compromises. There cannot be social compromise if there is no critical review or debate. There is no need for dialogue with partners if they merely serve to comply with the given orders.

Under a liberal government, the common thread is a policy being perceived as pro-labor. Fair Trade Commission chief Kim Sang-jo regards chaebol as entities that must be “scolded” and tamed. He criticized the Korea Employers Federation (KEF), which represents large companies, as a body that performs its role poorly. His remark stoked rumors that the KEF could be disbanded.

If that was what he meant, Kim is seriously undermining the constitutional right of freedom of speech. A business organization has the duty to stand up for corporate interests. It obviously cannot perform its role when a powerful government in charge of regulating business enterprises sees large corporations as entities to tame. Kim was more or less warning that companies should keep their mouths shut and do as they are told.

President Moon Jae-in has repeatedly emphasized dialogue and compromise as a lack of those virtues helped the former president lose her job and place in history. But dialogue is impossible if a cabinet member is high-handed. Dialogue is only possible based on respect for the other party.

The government must check itself and be careful not to lose balance. There is a lot of talk about the government commanding a “tilted playing field.” Left-leaning figures dominate internal committees in government offices in charge of “removing past ills” and advising on reforms and policies. A single professor heads several committees. A veteran scholar observed that it was like a cultural revolution. The committees are not bodies for discussion. They serve to meet leftist policy goals.

The same ideological guidelines are applied to public institutions. Heads of public entities are pushed out in the name of clamping down on illicit hiring. Professionalism hardly matters. Those who were shrewd enough to jump ship to the new ruling power are excluded from the purges.

The government has over-stretched its power. If policies are designed by people of the same ideological clan and are dutifully followed, the outcome is pre-set. Those who disagree would be scorned and stigmatized as being connected to the “past ills.”

Social dialogue and compromise were just rhetoric. A state-run think tank researcher noted that bullying a dialogue partner and excluding it in policy deliberation suggests the government does not mean to commit itself to normal social dialogue. “Who is regulating the excess of monopolistic power of the government?” he asked.

The government will soon host another dialogue. But if the outcome of that dialogue is also preset, the market will be hit with another blow. Will the government turn again to fiscal coffers to pay for the damage?

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 13, Page 32

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Kim Ki-chan