All Things Korean; Reforming Economic Reforms

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), April 2, 2000 | Go to article overview

All Things Korean; Reforming Economic Reforms


Economic hardship and sustaining recovery in Korea is transforming the perceptions of the Korean people in many ways. The underlying strength and toughness of ordinary people are known to many overseas ``Korea watchers,'' yet the extent of sacrifice and perseverance has been much stronger and wider.

Korean people are witnessing a continuing saga of debt clearance problems with the leading industrial conglomerates, while the nation's debt will reach well over 25 percent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), nearing 120 trillion won by the end of this year. The snowballing interest on redemption will further swell as the scheduled financial restructuring continues to progress, and this is indeed an alarming sign for the economic recovery.

With no concrete debt reduction program at hand, the continuing trend of debt will be a time bomb for market interest rates and inflation pressure. If the economy is picking up as quickly as it seems, inflation will likely accelerate. The pressing task of labor market reforms and performance-based job outputs will further pressurize inflation, causing an eventual increase in interest rates.

Last year, June's quarter-point increase of the U.S. interest rate followed by four more subsequent raises in August, November, February and March of this year, and at least two more likely increases in the months ahead, are good indications of monetary policy to remove some disruptive elements of U.S. trade imbalances in the ``euphoric rise in stocks leading to increased consumer spending,'' as Dr. Greenspan of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board constantly warns.

The end of the Asian economic slowdown and the rapid rise of global economic conditions will further increase inflationary pressure on our economy. The Korean government must be prepared for this risk as the robust U.S. economy at the heels of a productivity growth rate of 3-4 percent after the wea ening 1 percent growth in the 80s will no doubt affect most Asian economies.

One pressing task of labor market reform in Korea resembles the chain of reforms in Australia beginning in 1983. The reform-minded then Prime Minister Paul Keating said that, ``...it is important now that we accelerate the reform so that all the other elements of flexibility in the economy can work in greater harmony...'' With Kim's government in its third year in office and with a fresh National Assembly after this month's general election, there is more urgency to reforming some of the reforms. The reform agenda of the labor market and industrial relation is definitely one of them.

Some labor market reforms presently debated in Australia are enterprise bargaining at the workplace, a safety net provision of a compulsorily arbitrated wage system, workplace bargaining between the employer, employees, and their union, and maintaining the Industrial Relations Commission as an advisory and facilitating role. …

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