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A critical lack of trust

Dec 09,2019
KIM JUN-YOUNG
The author is a political news reporter at the JoongAng Ilbo.

The Legatum Prosperity Index published by British think tank Legatum Institute tracks 167 countries to measure how well they do against their peers with similar resources. Northern European nations mostly dominate the top names. Korea has ranked between the 20th and 30th level since 2007.

In the 2019 report that was announced last week, Korea ranked 29th out of 167 countries. It was second in education and fourth in health care. The country’s economic standard placed 10th. However, in the social capital category measuring personal relationships, social network support, social norms and civic participation, Korea came in 142nd, below former Soviet Republic states like Lithuania and Belarus. American economist Yoshihiro Francis Fukuyama argued that the social capital that arises from the prevalence of trust in a society through regular, honest and cooperative behavior based on commonly shared norms influences the growth of economic competence.

Korea’s ranking in social capital fell dramatically from 78th a year ago. The country’s highest ranking was 51th in 2012, and except for placing 105th in 2016 amid a political chaos from the presidential impeachment, Korea has remained between 50th and 60th on the list.
But the level hit a record low last year. The institute asked individuals if they felt they were treated fairly, whether there were trusting friends in times of trouble and how much they trust their town police.

In recent years, politics have been a target for resentment and disgust. Society has become bisected with liberal and conservative groups rallying in Seocho-dong in southern Seoul and Gwanghwamun in downtown Seoul. A police chief of Ulsan is under prosecutorial investigation for colluding with ruling political forces to get dirt about the mayor and help the ruling party’s candidate win the local election.

The ranking could be a numeric reflection of the social phenomenon. The ruling camp maintains self-righteousness and blames everyone else for being wrong. Yet the president promised the beginning of social unity at his inauguration in May 2017.