Categorized | slider, South Korea

Economic Concerns Dominate Political Discourse

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung and former conservative politician Yoo Seung-min exchanged barbs on social media over whether the incumbent administration has given up on economic issues.
  • This comes as controversy mounts over the lack of public relief for delivery workers who are being overworked by the retail industry.
  • The government’s failure to halt runaway housing prices continues to receive heightened attention, prompting policymakers to consider rolling back property taxes.

Implications: Despite concerns ranging from the ongoing pandemic to Pyongyang’s diplomatic intransigence, economic issues dominate the political discourse in South Korea. Housing unaffordability elicited the most scrutiny. Notably, a majority of survey respondents in their 20s and 30s – a cohort that strongly supported President Moon Jae-in in the 2017 election – expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s efforts to rein in real estate prices. Simultaneously, the government has not satisfactorily addressed concerns of marginalized workers who are overworked and underprotected by the current system. In this environment, the social media exchange between Governor Lee Jae-myung and Yoo Seung-min may foreshadow the central debate in the upcoming 2022 presidential election.

Context: The focus on bread and butter issues marks a shift in political discourse since President Moon began his term in 2017. The previous election came on the heels of popular protests against the previous administration’s corruption. Engagement with North Korea also loomed large in the first two years of President Moon’s term as Pyongyang first escalated tensions and then made peace overtures. As late as Spring 2020, the nation’s focus was on the pandemic – with the electorate rewarding the ruling party with a near-supermajority on the merits of the government’s handling of the COVID outbreak. Nonetheless, scrutiny from both the public and opposition parties are now focused on the government’s handling of the economy.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Sophie Joo, Sonia Kim, and Chris Lee.

Picture from the user Republic of Korea on Flickr 

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