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Friday, November 19, 2004

Polarization of economy; big and small businesses

Hankyoreh 21 Weekly has an interview with the head of the presidential economic "task force team" (t'aesk'ûp'osût'im, really) and the head of the policy planning board at Cheongwadae Yi Jeong-u (or Lee Jeong-woo, or...), who sees that the economy seen in general is not that bad - 3% unemployment, 5% growth - but the polarization is. That is mostly a consequence of oversupply of small businesses like restaurants and taxis (he mentions these two). (Translation AL)
Small businesses like restaurants and taxis are having the hardest time. Since the currency crisis the number of restaurants and cabs has increased. There's oversupply. There are 240 000 taxis in Korea, that is 1 per 200 people. Looking at other nations, a proper proportion would be one per 2000. So that's ten times the normal supply. And the number of restaurants is one million. A few years ago with high real estate prices and credit card bubble, business was good for restaurants and taxis despite of oversupply. Now that the bubble has burst the oversupplied branches are hit the hardest.
I had an earlier post about the low Korean unemployment figures and what lies beneath them; one thing was that there is a lot of petty self-employment and low quality employment in Korea, which absorbs much of unemployment: part-time work, peddling, non-paid family business work etc. And the lack of social security systems doesn't really invite anyone to stay idle but scrape together pennies for example from selling socks on the curb. Or start a restaurant or drive a cab and barely get by.
Now comes the real proof from this guy that the president and his cronies are ready to turn the Republic of Korea all red:
So what's to be done to overcome the polarization?
The the social security model of Europe has its limits, so we can't go in that direction. The problems needs to be solved with production, and it means creating middle-class jobs. In my view work based on human capital can be found in manufacturing, welfare services, culture and tourism and other services and especially education. What's important is the reform (reorganization) of the distribution of asset sources (자산의 원천적 '분배' 개선) rather than redistribution of income (소득의 '재분배'). [He mentions government's recent real estate policy, reallocation of finance capital, and investment in education.] Trying to 'redistribute' what has already been 'distributed' in a wrong way will not be successful.




And here is an example of the kind of low-quality employment that is common in Korea and that keeps the unemployment figures down, a tearjerker case of an underwear shop keeper in Ohmynews, presented by the person herself. (Now that's the reason why the article arosed such a strong wave of sympathy.)
나는 속옷 가게를 하고 있는데 먹고살기 힘든 마당에 속옷이 팔리겠는가. 임대료조차 나오지 않는 가게를 붙들고 앉아 긴 한숨만 뱉어내고 절망에 빠져 우울해지고 몸도 자꾸 아파온다.
Gas had been cut last May for unpaid bills, and electricity was going to be cut. Called the gas company and managed to get better conditions for paying the unpaid bills and the guarantee. Called the electricity company, and managed to keep the electricity coming despite of paying only one month's bill. She managed to persuade the phone company to open her phone despite of paying only one month's bill.
더구나 고 2학년인 딸아이는 제 할일을 정말 열심히 하고 있다. 지금 또래의 친구들은 학원에 과외에 그 뒷바라지가 대단한데 나는 뒷바라지도 제대로 못해주고 있다. 하지만 혼자 열심히 공부하여 고맙게도 상위권을 유지하며 자신의 목표를 세우고 그 꿈을 이루기 위하여 열심히 살고 있다. 딸아이의 이런모습이 내게 가장 큰 격려와 힘이 되어주고 있다.
This becomes a story of a person trying to overcome difficulties despite of very bad circumstances, and readers are some moved as to open their purses and send voluntary fees en masse so that by now the amount adds to over 5 million won. See the voluntary fee window and the article of the expressions of sympathy by the readers; the presidential task force head has apparently much less sympathy and expectations for prospects for this kind of livelihood...
From the Ohmy interview of the woman:
- 하루 매출은 어느 정도인가?
"담배 가게도 함께 운영하는데 거의 담배만 팔고 있다. 담배는 마진이 별로 없다. 속옷은 하루 5~6만원 정도다. 그나마 마진은 25% 수준이다. 임대료도 밀려 있는 상태다."
- 언제 가게를 열었나. 처음부터 안 좋았는지.
"2002년 12월에 시작했다. 작년의 경우 동네에 속옷가게 처음 생겨서 그랬는지 괜찮았다. 하지만 지난해 여름 이후 조금씩 나빠지면서 올해 완전히 바닥을 기고 있다. 예를 들면 지난해 카드매출이 한달 2~3백만원까지 나왔다. 그러나 지금은 한달 카드 매출이 20만원도 안나온다. 현금은 말할 것도 없다. 하다못해 담배를 사러 오더라도 동전을 긁어 온다. 그 정도로 돈이 없다.
내가 업종을 잘 못 선택한 건 아니라고 생각한다. 근처 상가들도 마찬가지인 것 같다. 동네 슈퍼마켓도 가끔 전화가 끊기는 것 같고 매장 물품들이 비어나가는 것 같다. 나는 같은 심정이니까 말 안 하는데 손님이 '폐업정리하나'고 물으면 아픔으로 다가온다."

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