Justice, jobs top Park's economic agenda
By Na Jeong-ju
President Park Geun-hye’s economic policy goals announced Thursday are focused on creating jobs and boosting the livelihoods of low-and middle-income families.
In this regard, Park plans to take a hard-line stance regarding unfair business practices committed by chaebol ― family-controlled conglomerates. The new government will ban fresh investment between affiliates of a group expand its business in order to protect small- and medium-sized firms, while strengthening cross-ownership restrictions on industrial and financial companies.
Park’s aides say such policies are aimed at nurturing more value-added businesses and strengthening the country’s economic fundamentals. This shows a strong commitment to her campaign pledge of facilitating “economic democratization,” which calls for building a fairer relationship between small and big firms and ensuring harsher treatment for unethical chaebol owners.
Park is expected to extend full support for small- and mid-sized firms, an important source of jobs for young people. She once said more jobs can be created if the country strengthens its services sector while maintaining a strong manufacturing base. Park may also overhaul policies for small firms to help them better compete in international markets.
However, one big challenge for the Park administration is that many small firms are suffering from a shortfall in their workforce due mainly to the salary gap with large firms, and their weaker reputation.
“The small-firm oriented policies are to ensure co-prosperity of both big and small firms. We will make efforts to develop policies that are beneficial to both big and small firms,” said an aide to Park. “We will focus on nurturing those with high growth potential into competitive global players because that’s crucial for the country’s economic future.”
Analysts say the Park administration may take a “carrot-and-stick” approach toward conglomerates.
Chaebol have been credited with driving the country’s economic growth by spearheading exports, but critics accuse them of hurting smaller companies and widening the income disparity gap through their market domination and concentration of wealth.
Park earlier asked business leaders to refrain from layoffs and restructuring in times of an economic crisis, and urged them to protect the business rights of mom-and-pop stores by staying away from local commercial sectors. She once said big businesses should compete with global foreign companies, not small stores.
“Park’s resolve to take a harsher stance on inter-affiliate transactions by chaebol means she will create a fairer business environment for small firms,” the aide said. “She wants to create a society in which all classes of people can live well together and the underprivileged have hope.”
Such a vision largely reflects concerns that the conservative government and ruling party have failed to embrace the working class because its image has mostly been associated with wealthy and powerful people, and big businesses.
Her economic policy goals show she is determined to change such a perception, although the electorate should remember that Park is a member of the same current ruling party.
“After she takes the oath on Monday, the government will create a policy roadmap that is focused on ensuring fair competition and equal opportunities for all classes of people,” another aide said. “Through harsher measures against conglomerates, she wants to build a society in which the privileged few assume more responsibilities and social obligations than the less privileged.”