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Eureka: Solving Korean problems
by Jay Gutman
2018-11-07 09:18:22
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A few simple solutions to complicated Korean problems

North Korea

It was probably not in South Korea's best interest for President Moon Jae In to claim in an interview that Marshal Kim Jung Eun is an obedient man and respectful of his elders. Kim Jung Eun sees himself as a God, feared and loved by his people, and certainly does not want to be perceived as a child in the eyes of the people he calls “South Korean puppets.”

Now for a country like North Korea to build an arsenal of several nuclear weapons, yet incapable of building nuclear power plants to solve the ever pressing problem of electricity shortage that North Korea is notorious for says a lot about Marshall Kim's intentions. North Korea and the United States have been dealing with “the people of North Korea” but from now on should deal with “the leaders of North Korea.”


The problem with South Korea's rank-based career system is that ranks are not transferred from one company to another. You resign as a gwajang at Samsung, you have to go back to square one and become a sawon at LG. This means a lot of gwajangs with MBAs end up driving taxis rather than go back to square one at a different company.

In most countries that beat the scourge of unemployment, ranks can be transferred from one company to another. That enables greater mobility among workers and optimizes the work environment, as people who are not compatible with a company or the evolution of a company can switch to optimum companies. That also enables companies to take bets on new workers as they know workers can leave to other companies while keeping their ranks as they leave the company.

Low birth rate

President Emmanuel Macron of France famously said “everyone wants to be a millionaire.” I find that statement laughable, as many would settle for stable wages and careers in exchange for more modest pay.

Lower working hours and higher minimum wages is not what solves the birth rate problem, it is high housing and education costs. Most developed countries who experience low birth rates end up seeing birth rates go back up. Europe and North America hit 1.3 and went up to 1.7 or 1.8. The problem with South Korea and Japan, and Singapore is that you have to be a millionaire to survive. It's not that everyone wants to be a millionaire; it's that you have to live with your parents until you become a millionaire or borrow a million dollars.

The problem with the real estate market and the education market is that they are monolithic. It's the same houses at the same price and the same education policy at the same tuition costs. If the government allows more flexibility with the job market, including allowing workers to transfer their ranks from one company to another, workers can freely move around the country and settle for more affordable housing, while parents won't have to worry about education being “one shot” and the only life option to be to graduate from Seoul National University and work for Samsung.

Migrant workers

Let's look at things philosophically. Migrant workers are treated like prisoners. Smear campaigns in the media, and they are not allowed mobility at the workplace. They are not allowed to change their workplace until their contract ends and have to leave the country after five years. So do you want prisoners or do you want workers? CEOs complain about the lack of loyalty of migrant workers, but, given decent treatment from their employers, they would keep their jobs. Also, when they go get their visas to Korea in their home countries, it is important to hand them notes that Korea has long work hours, that factory floors are often noisy and cramped, that South Korea is an authoritarian country, that militarized discipline is expected of workers and that there is very little time for socializing. In sum, if you want decent factory labor conditions and strong labor unions, try to get a factory job in France;

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