Jaebeol drive conservatives to bay
Who’ll win the 2012 Presidential race between Ahn and Park?
Dr. Ahn Chul-soo, dean of the Seoul National University Graduate School of Convergence Science & Technology, has begun defeating former Chairman Madam Park Geun-hye of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) who had been leading all the opinion polls on the prospective winner of the Presidential election in December 2012.
According to a Newsis survey on Nov. 15, 2011, Ahn won 47.9% of the supporters while Park got 42.0%, which shows that Ahn won nearly six percent more than Park.
Earlier on Oct. 29, 2011 at YTN TV opinion polls, Ahn got 47.7% while Park won 42.6%, where Ahn won 5.1% more than Park did.
In most of the earlier surveys conducted by various media and survey organizations, Park had won slightly more support than Ahn.
Dr. Ahn has not yet made himself clear as to if he will (or will not) run in the Presidential race in 2012, and there have been all kind of guesses and speculations regarding his position on the election.
Most of the people in the conservative camp appear to be against Ahn’s joining politics (joining in the Presidential race) and conservative media seem to be all out (though not openly) in discouraging Ahm from running. They published an extensive interview with his father, Dr. Ahn Young-mo who runs the Bumchun Hospital in Busan which is not a big one. The story quoted the aged doctor as saying, “I don’t think he will join the political arena because my son does not take interest in politics.”
The conservative media have also published opinion surveys which showed that 50% of the respondents were opposed to Ahn’s running for the Presidency while only 28% or so said they wanted him to run to become Korea’s next President.
Ahn will definitely run in the Presidential elections
However, other surveys and opinions indicate that Ahn will definitely run in the Presidential election next year—and win. Here is one example:
On this matter, Senior Editorial Writer Chung Byung-Jin of Hankook Ilbo has recently published a very interesting article.
He disclosed that Dr. Ahn Chul-soo is already a politician—and he has been working very hard as one. He recently donated 150 billion won (approx. US$131.6 million) . When he gave the money, many politicians and media asked if he will join the political arena. Ahn gave no answer and he did not need to reply because he had already started politics in his own way, which might not have been visible to the eyes of the politicians and ordinary people.
Ahn conceded his candidacy for the Seoul mayoral election to Lawyer Park Won-soon and made gestures in support of Park. Such activities must be construed as a part of involvement in politics. The politicians and the media did not need to ask Ahn if he will run or not because he has already made himself clear in his own way that he is already in politics..
Sign of Ahn’s interest in politics showed early this year at the Kwanhun Journalist Club Forum on March 22 when Ahn said he would not answer a single question if it should be related with politics. And the topic of discussion was economic issue such as unemployment and improvement of cooperation between big businesses and small-medium enterprises (SMEs).
Ahn pointed out the seriousness of the unemployment problem involving the young people, tyranny of the jaebeol businesses, and difficulties suffered by the SMEs—disclosing the causes of the problems.
There Ahn criticized that the government knew the situation but did not take any action. Ahn then stated, “If I were to do it, I would do it this way.” Ahn clearly showed his alternatives. What other proof does one need to show that Ahn is interested in politics.
In an informal meeting, Ahn disclosed that about 10 years ago when he was in the 30s he was asked to run for the National Assembly and recently President Lee Myung-bak told his aide to ask Ahn if he was interested in the prime minister’s post but that the aide never actually asked Ahn’s intention. Then Ahn said that he alone would not be able to cause the changes and he would rather not do politics than try to go it alone.
There are many other indications pointing to the possibility that Ahn is interested in politics. His involvement in the Youth Concert Forum with Buddhist Abbot Bupryun (pronounced Bumnyun) who is largely considered Ahn’s mentor who has made Ahn popular in the Korean political world in merely a few months. Ahn’s success in helping Park Won-soon win the Seoul mayoral election last October is still another good example clearly showing Ahn’s interest in politics.
Thus Ahn has actively been involved in politics since March this year. It is only that the Korean political arena just does not want to admit the situation. In this situation, if the politicians continue to demand “Are you gonna do politics, or what?” Ahn’s answer will be silence which is clearly a taciturn ‘yes’ but which the established political circles do not want to admit as an answer.
Now it is up to the people (voters) to decide whether or not they want to regard Ahn as a politician and the question, really, does not belong to the politicians or the politically oriented media—but to the people. In Korean society today, it already does not matter if one is a politician or not to run for the Presidency or the National Assembly as it is the people who select them and not the politicians themselves.
Similarity and difference between Madam Park and Dr. Ahn
An opposition-oriented internet media, Pressian, published an intersting article on Nov. 16, 2011 making comparison between Dr. Ahn and Madam Park. It said that Ahn and Park had one thing in common—that they are both shrouded in mysticism. They both stay mum most of the time but they ‘strike’ when they think the time is right—and the punch is very strong.
Then it said that while Ahn’s is a straight punch Park’s is repeated jabs.
Ahn does it in deed but Park does it in word.
Ahn acts and by it he shows what he wants to say. Ahn gave up the Seoul mayoral candidacy for the sake of someone else and gave money (150 billion won) for the sake of society.
In contrast, Park says something, a couple of phrases, and leaves them for the people to make out as to what she means. She showed her opposition to President Lee’s move to revise the Sejong New City plan and criticized the cancellation of the new airport plan—whereby she collected political gains paying nothing.
Why are the people excited about Ahn Chul-soo?
Many people believe that Ahn is not a leftist or pro-North Korean while he acts like one when he discusses the problem of unemployment and the tyranny of the jaebeol business groups against SMEs (small and medium enterprises) and self-employed people (small store owners)..
Most of the people and media who have the view of Ahn on economic matters are either pro-North Korean progressives or leftists—or both. Most of the people in South Korea are neither leftists nor pro-North Koreans. However, they hate the way the country is run, especially where only a little over 30 jaebeol business groups have full control of over three million SMEs and another three million self-employed people.
The thirty jaebeol big businesses relentlessly exploit the SMEs and small store owners to the fullest possible extent through various crafty and unethical methods—‘bending’ the law and taking dishonest advantage of the corrupt officials of the government and public organizations.
Seventy percent of the 100 big businesses in the United States are known to have been created by those who started their business on their own. In Korea, 80% of the jaebeol businesses are inherited, which means that the enormous wealth and big business organizations are handed down to the sons and daughters of the jaeveol chairmen—by ‘bending’ the law. It does not matter if the son and/or daughter of the jaebeol are qualified for the important position or not. The jaebeol chairmen just hand the business over to them when they think they are too old to continue running the business.
The majority of people in South Korea believe that it is wrong because in Korea, unlike in the United States and other advanced countries, the present jaebeol groups were born during the 18-year rule (1961-1979) of late former President Park Chung-hee who made them big businesses through temporary suspension of the three basic rights of the workers. Park gave the big businesses all the favors and support depriving the workers of their three basic rights (namely, to organize union, collectively bargain and to collectively act).
Park did it to raise and develop big industries to compete with big businesses outside Korea for a rapid development of the Korean economy. Park succeeded to a great measure increasing the per-capita gross national income (GNI) from US$79 in 1960 to US$1,693 in 1979 (Bank of Korea statistics). However, Park’s so-called ‘Economic Development-seeking Dictatorship’ was partially justified due to the tangible favorable result and his personal integrity (relative freedom from official corruption). However, Park died unexpectedly (murdered by his own Central Intelligence Agency director) and did not have time to adjust the abnormal economic system to a normal one.
The wealth thus amassed by the jaebeol business groups at the expense of the workers became ‘their own money’ due to the sudden death of Park.
Thenceforth, the chairmen of the big businesses have made thus acquired wealth their private possessions and bequeathed them to their off-spring when they became old.
This is how and why the people, the common people, feel that they have been robbed of their possessions by the jaebeol businesses.
As was briefly mentioned earlier, 70% of the 100 biggest businesses in United States are those run by the starters, while in South Korea 80% of the top 100 businesses are inherited from their fathers.
The sons and daughters who have thus unduly inherited the big businesses resort to all kinds of ‘law-bending’ to increase their business areas and turnover not through honest and fair competition with others (small and medium companies) but through all kinds of extortion and exploitation, where almost at all times the three million small and business businesses and the same number of small store owners (self-employed people) are the victims as well as the common people (consumers). Here is how they unduly take advantage of the helpless victims:
Jaebeol’s zoo and interned SMEs
On Nov. 15, 2011, the independent SBS TV broadcast an interview with Dr. Ahn Chul-soo, where he mentioned the famous phrase, ‘Zoo and the SMEs’ pointing out as follows:
The jaebeol big businesses prey upon everything in an environment just like a zoo where the victims helplessly become their food. This kind of ecosystem must be corrected.
The business environment in Korea, too, must be readjusted to the normal state like the natural ecosystem where all living things co-exist like herbivorous animals feeding on the grass in the meadow and the carnivorous ones find their own prey.
The present business environment in Korea is oriented for the benefit of big jaebeol businesses at the expense of small ones, where the small businesses can hardly pay their employees adequately.
In the present business environment in Korea, the big businesses literally control the entire market through semi-monopoly and oligopoly and through other unfair means.
It is true that the big businesses are a strong pillar of the country that supports the global competiveness of the industry. However, Korea needs another reliable pillar formed by the small and medium businesses.
Under the present system, most people are having a very difficult living.
A similar statement was made by Dr. Ahn earlier in March this year. According to mass-circulated Korean language daily, Hankook Ilbo, on March 24, 2011, the small and medium businesses interned inside the zoo of jaebeol big businesses cannot leave their cages in the zoo until and unless they die.
Speaking at the Kwanhun Journalist Club Forum on that day, Dr. Ahn said that the competent government officials and jaebeol leaderes. are not interested in insuring fair trade practices between big businesses and SMEs (small and medium enterprises)..
The small and medium businesses and the newly born companies in Korea can hardly avoid signing a very unfair ‘exclusive’ contract with big businesses such as Samsung, Hyundai, LG and SK. The minute the small businesses sign such a contract they are interned in the cage of Samsung Zoo, LG Zoo and other such zoos run by the big businesses. The small and medium businesses inside the zoos of the big businesses can never leave their cages unless they die and become a mummy.
The unfair business practices applied to the small and medium businesses in the jaebeol zoo are institutionalized and conventionalized.
For instance, the big businesses have a so-called SI (system integration) companies that they run and these SI companies give the big business contact to the small and medium businesses making them subcontractors, which runs counter to the provisions of the Fair Trade Law but which the big businesses feel very binding. Under this abnormal system, the small and medium businesses can hardly grow and the situation is the same with their employees if not worse. This type of environment put the national economy of the country in a state of vicious circle.
The small and medium enterprises can diversify the portfolio of the national economy and reduce the risk factors as well as produce new jobs. In South Korea today, however, the number of small and medium companies are decreasing drastically and are literally facing extinction. The medium-sized companies (with 300 to 999 employees each), too, are facing a similar situation and now account for only 0.2% of the total number of SMEs (small and medim enterprises).
The competent government authorities, who are supposed to watch the market to insure fair trade practices, and the big business jaebeol chairmen are suspected of having little interest in improving this situation.
The Fair Trade Commission (FTC) of the Government receives unfair trade grievances from the SMEs but the actual number of unfair trade cases perpetrated by the big businesses are 10 to 100 times more than the number of cases actually filed with the FTC. Illegal practices are perpetrated by the big businesses almost openly because the FTC does not take action as it is required except in a very limited number of instances. The FTC simply does not report the unfair trade practice cases to the law enforcement agencies.
The personnel management system at the purchasing department of the big businesses require an overhaul but there is little improvement effort made there.
It is very difficult to find any SME (small and medium emprise) that has grown to a big business since 1970s. The jaebeol big businesses have grown through undue privileges given them by the government but they are far from helping the business ecosystem in Korea grow in health or prosperity. The big businesses continue resorting to means of extortion against the SMEs that could make them go extinct. The government and the big businesses might not like it but they must learn that this is the sentiment commonly shared by the people.
Tit for tat between big businesses and political circles
On June 29, 2011, Jose Ilbo (a Korean-language daily on tax) reported a tit for tat between the Federation of Korean Industries (organization of the big businesses) and the political circles, especially the ruling GNP (Grand National Party).
President Lee Myung-bak took a series of measures to assist the big businesses, including tax cuts in favor of big businesses, on the premise that they would create new jobs to ease the serious unemployment. However, what the big businesses did fell far short of the expectations of the government or the ruling GNP. On this situstion, the GNP leaders told the big businesses that they will suspend the pro-jaebeol tax reduction policy.
In response to this and the accusations from the opposition political parties about their exploitation of the SMEs, President Huh Chang-soo of the FKI said on June 21, 2011 that the tax cuts would increase jobs and threatened that the big businesses would find fault with the populism (welfare) policies of the government during the 2012 National Assembly elections.
Then on June 24 at an informal meeting between the Minister of Strategy & Finance and the leaders of the five economic organizations (FKI, KITA, KCCI, KOTRA, etc.), the big business chairmen complained that the government was not thinking of the future of the country.
This meeting enraged the political circles who had not been happy with the big businesses over their failure to create new jobs as desired in spite of the government privileges given them. The ruling party members accused the big businesses of unduly recruiting employees from small and medium businesses, unfair slashing of prices of the products and services supplied to them by the SMEs and other ‘evil’ practices perpetrated by the jaebeol.
Rep. Jeong Tae-keun of the GNP charged that the big businesses possessed 85 trillion won each in reserve fund but did little to do their share of responsibility for the society and that they should stop using ‘market machiavellinianism.’
The big business leaders claimed that they employed over one million workers and that they have increased the number by 100 thousand in the past one year.
At that juncture, the political circles decided to teach the jaebeol chairmen a lesson and Cheong Wa Dae (the President), too, was resolved that he would not stand on the side of the Jaebeol this time although he did not agree with the political circles 100%.
President Lee Myung-bak and his government started out with a pro-big business position under a ‘business-friendly’ policy. However, the government and the ruling party changed this position following their loss of by- and re-elections in April 2009 and shifted their policy goals from the business-friendly position to a pro-common people stance. This year following the April-27 by- and re-elections, the GNP has withdrawn the business-friendly policy and adopted pro-people policies, including halving of the university tuition and cancellation of the pro-jaebeol tax reduction measures.
Who are the present jaebeol business groups?
During the foreign exchange crisis in 1997, a total of 16 of the 30 original big businesses were closed down in the process of restructuring under the regime of the International Monetary Fund, including the Daewoo Business Group. The bigger ones of the 14 big businesses that survived the IMF regime have thence undergone a process of ‘cell division’ and given birth to a total of 16 new big businesses—bringing the total number to today’s 30 big businesses.
Samsung Group begot four new big businesses, Hyundai Group five and LG three. This reorganization of the big businesses further intensified the concentration of wealth on a limited number of big businesses at the expense of the small and medium industries.
As a result, the total amount of value-added produced by the enlarged Samsung, Hyundai, LG and SK Groups accounted for one tenth of the entire GDP (gross domestic product) of the Republic of Korea and when the amount of their affiliated companies is added the total proportion of their value-added comes to about 15% of the GDP of Korea.
And a considerable number of the lucrative affiliated companies went to the family members and/or relatives of the jaebeol chairmen.
The paternal big businesses awarded their contracts to the new-born affiliate companies who relentlessly invaded the realm of the small and medium industries. In this process, the industrial ecosystem has gone barren causing various serious problems. Hence the birth of the name of Jaebeol Zoo.
Safety and security of Dr. Ahn Chul-soo
There are people who are worried about the safety and security of Dr. Ahn. They suggest that Ahn should try to take appropriate personal security precautions—including accompaniment of personal security people. They remind the cases of the late Korean independence fighter Kim Koo who was assassinated by a South Korean army artillery officer (2nd Lt. Ahn Doo-Hee), the late former President Abraham Lincoln, Mahtma Gandhi of India, and President John F. Kennedy.
However, if anyone should think of attempting such a crime, one should bear in mind that it is not only Ahn who has such a position on jaebeol but that there are many more Ahns and that therefore any such attempt is futile.
An opposition-oriented Internet media, Ohmynews, said on Nov. 2 , 2011: “Ahn Chul-soo is only the beginning. There will be Ahn Number 2, Number 3 and many more Ahns.”
It might take one a long time to train oneself to be a regular politician. However, Ahn is not a politician and anyone who views the present political arena and the business world as Ahn does can be another Ahn. At that, Ahn, a layman in politics, can emulate any existing politician.
Role of the social network service
Conservative media, such as the influential Korean-language dailies like Chosun Ilbo, Joongang Ilbo and Donga Ilbo, used to play a prominent role in the formation of public opinion in Korea and during elections periods they exerted a great measure of influence on the result of elections.
However, the situation has changed considerably following the birth of the social network service (SNS) media such as Facebook, twitter and Me2Day used by the common people, especially the students and other young people who are largely opposition-oriented.
The SNS media are known to have played a very important role in causing the opposition victories during the by- and re-elections, including the successful election of Lawyer Park Won-soon as new Seoul mayor. The SNS media are expected to favorably affect Dr. Ahn.
Now more and more people are using smart phones where they can use the SNS media. It is a real-time means of communication, which are much faster and much more effective than the conventional media such as the daily newspapers and TV.