Koreans celebrate Liberation Day amid presidential call for ‘responsibility of capital’
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Koreans celebrate Liberation Day amid presidential call for ‘responsibility of capital’

On August 15, 1945, the emperor of Japan declared his nation’s surrender to allied forces (a surrender made official a few weeks later).  As part of that surrender, Korea regained its independence after over three decades of colonial rule by Japan.

South Koreans across the county marked the 66th anniversary of their liberation with rallies and speeches.

Korea-Liberation-Day-2011-AP

South Korea was awash in national flags for Liberation Day (AP photo)

President Lee Myung-bak used his Liberation Day to strike somewhat contradictory (or is that nuanced?) stances on the South Korean economy. He started by stating that capital must move from “freedom” to “responsibility:”

The existing market economy must evolve. What is now being demanded is a new model of the market economy that evolves from greedy management to ethical management, from the freedom of capital to the responsibility of capital, and from the vicious circle of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer to mutual prosperity.

Does that sound like a call for European-style socialism? Perhaps to the untrained ear, but Lee was quick to put those kinds of thoughts to rest:

In some countries, competitive welfare populism by lawmakers brought about national bankruptcy. We have to avoid repeating the same mistakes. If the state budget is depleted, it would be impossible to continue implementing welfare policies.

Instead, Lee advocates a third way.  While supporting the capitalist system that has evolved over the past several decades, he wants private industry to grow in a way that provides social welfare through jobs, saying, “Instead of jobless growth, it has to help create more job opportunities.”

The speech is evocative of the Park Chung-hee era, when Park strong-armed the leaders of Chaebol (family conglomerates) into supporting his development plans. The question is whether Lee actually has the will to try to force Korea’s major corporations to provide sufficient busy work to increase employment and raise family income among Korea’s poorer citizens.

Korea’s industrial leaders are at least playing lip service to supporting Lee’s goal of increasing employment.  The Federation of Korean Industries said that they will do their part by “expanding investment and creating jobs.”  The Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry also supported Lee’s concept, but called on government to do its part by creating a more business-friendly environment.