Asia Standing Unified Against Wealth Polarization
by Lee, Yong-Kyung, The Creative Korea Party
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.
I want to address on the topic of people’s access to the benefits of development in terms of wealth distribution within the society, especially in Korea.
Korea, with its national gdp that is 13th largest in the world, was more successful than many other countries in wealth distribution when she was enjoying brisk industrial development in the 80s and the first half of the 90s.
During this period, the economy grew at a pace of 8.1% per year, the expendable income grew year after year and people were assured of lifetime jobs. And as a result, we saw a continued expansion of the middle class population.
The Shangri-la ended when the country ran into a foreign exchange crisis and faced a national moratorium in 1997.
Ever since, the middle class population has shrunk from 65% in 1997 to 58% of the population in 2005 and, at the same time, the population at or below poverty level grew from 3% in 1996 to 15% in 2010, a 5-fold increase.
To make it worse, the current regime in Korea was elected with a free market and pro-business platform with a belief that wealth accumulated somewhere in the society will eventually trickle down and diffuse to the rest of the society, benefiting the whole population.
Well, that has not happened.
The disparity between the rich and the poor has worsened and half the total workforce are now hanging onto their temporary jobs where they earn only half as much as their regular counterparts for equivalent work routines.
The wealth disparity problem in a society will eventually develop into a social unrest and will be an obstacle for a sustainable growth.
And, one more thing, it is not going to disappear without a conscientious and relentless and concerted effort by the government and the society as a whole before it becomes a monster because it will be a lot more difficult and expensive to solve later than sooner.
What can be done about it?
I believe the government has to play a bigger and fairer role in this.
Certainly the social safety net for the unemployed and the poor has to be strengthened as much as the economy can sustain it.
Fair practices between the business conglomerates and the small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and also between the corporations and the labor union are imperative and the government has to play an active role as coordinator and arbiter here also.
The government policies should favor the SMEs to a certain extent because they amount to 98% of total business entities and create 90% of jobs.
I would like to mention our party platform, the Creative Korea Party.
It calls for investment of national scale in lifetime education -on and off the job- and in IT for productivity gains and innovation and, eventually, reengineering of the whole country. And we also stand for the SME causes.
And I want to remind you that cooperation and sharing within ICAPP would minimize the trial and errors in the due process. As H. E. Mr. Zhou Yongkang, the Standing Committee Member of CPC, suggested in his speech last night, we expect China to offer and generously share their experiences in this matter with the rest of the Asian community.