Basic income should not be mere campaign promise
The idea of basic income has been thrown into the center of political debate. Kim Chong-in, head of the conservative opposition United Future Party's emergency committee for reform, is acting as the catalyst fueling the debate.
Basic income refers to money distributed to citizens, regardless of wealth or employment status. Relatively new in the Korean political arena, the basic income issue has been gaining credence as the COVID-19 pandemic has left many jobless while automation threatens to take away even more jobs.
Such are the reasons Kim cited as he called on politicians to take a fundamental review of the basic income system to "establish relevant policies for sustainable and inclusive economic growth, rebuild the health and welfare system and develop an ecosystem for the Fourth Industrial Revolution."
The Korean public has now had a taste of a state handout: a one-time provision of COVID-19 relief funds to all those who applied.
The proponents of the basic income tout that it will cut administrative costs, free the economically vulnerable from threats to survival and encourage them to seek jobs. The naysayers predict that the handouts will have negative effects.
The looming question is how to finance any such scheme, and even Kim has said it would be a mistake to believe it possible to adopt basic income under a fiscal deficit situation, which Korea is expected to be in this year. Experts have cited that if the government gave each individual 500,000 won in monthly basic income, it would require an annual budget of more than 310 trillion won ($257 billion) or more than half of Korea's annual budget for the year, including the extra budgets.
Also, the complex task of whether to maintain or cut the welfare programs in relation to the basic income system, must be dealt with.
The least desirable prospect would be the proposal of basic income becoming a short-term promise for the 2022 presidential election campaign. Some have criticized Kim's move as an attempt to expand the party's moderate support base. But top presidential contenders are joining in the debate. Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung has criticized Kim for laying claim to an already existing progressive idea. Lee also said that the adoption of a basic income system as an economic policy would be unavoidable. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon countered that unemployment insurance would be the better alternative to alleviate economic inequality.
The discussion over a basic income system should not be rushed, and must invite public opinion as the public too will have to bear the burden of such a system if implemented.
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