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Fixing South Korea's social problems Fixing South Korea's social problems
by Joseph Gatt
2019-05-07 06:41:10
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The social consensus in South Korea was that you would usually go to university, get a job, buy a house, get married, have children and retire. This model of society was not one without imperfections. Healthcare and education systems were corrupt, housing prices kept rising, gambling was always a problem, and despite job security, there were employers who always found ways to push employees out.

But then household bills kept going up. Education prices skyrocketed, education was still corrupt, the healthcare system was still corrupt, and housing prices rose to the point housing was no longer affordable. The housing bubble, one where a group of entrepreneurs tried to build the most unappealing buildings by taking advantage of inflated housing prices never really burst, because stubborn Korean entrepreneurs still want their million dollars for a three bedroom apartment with no balcony and a broken elevator.

skor01_400So housing was prohibitively expensive, lacked insulation, which meant neighbors could hear your conversations and heating was poor in the winter. Education institutions charged prohibitive prices, and the education system is still one where you must get tutored to get your head around it.

In sum, Koreans gave up marriage, because marriage involves buying an overpriced house and involves children stuck in an education system that no one really understands. And what do young people do when they are not married and have money to spend? They drink, they gamble, they have lots of casual sex, they rape, they get together to form gangs, and they do drugs. Or if they're like me they just spend time reading books, but that's maybe because I'm broke.

The housing market is kind of a trap. Many invested in the housing market, and if the housing bubble bursts, millions and millions of dollars will be lost by investors. So Koreans investors and policy makers are putting their heads in the sand, hoping for a miracle, when there can be no miracle. The Korean youth has spoken. They are not buying housing, and they have chosen to lead a sex, drugs and rock n'roll lifestyle instead. And they will remain doing so until the housing bubble bursts, but when the housing bubble bursts, the Korean youth will lose its jobs as a ripple effect with all the money being lost by investors.

So the first reason Korea's youth isn't getting married is because housing prices are overinflated. Second reason is: no one really understands the education system. Korean policy makers wanted Korea to be a strict meritocracy, one where tests determine everything. However Korea does not believe in alternative learning or alternatives to tests, and still believes that you can strike it rich by joining elite universities.

This means that parents are trying to teach their children docility in an increasingly distracted world. Because the minute you start challenging authority, you fail tests. Tests are more a measure of deferring to authority than they are a measure of academic competence of capability. That is if you follow your teacher's instructions, and if you follow test maker instructions, you pass the test.

This leads to test takers who believe in authority. They believe in following the instructions of seniors, while they believe their juniors will follow their instructions. The problem is, if you've ever been a teacher, most people don't defer to authority. Most people don't follow instructions. That is Korea is training an elite that believes in following instructions to the letter and precisely, in a world where things are done by approximation and vaguely.

Eventually, Korean students rebelled against the authoritarian education system, parents and schools lost millions in an industry that represents thirty percent of the Korean GDP. Back in the 2000s, Korean people were warning that education business officials were pushing the government to make the education system more test-oriented so people would seek tutoring. The government caved in the education business elite, and started demanding tests and more tests. Tests for cooking licenses, tests for foreigners to prove they speak Korean, English tests, language tests, business tests, history tests, before test takers decided tests were not worth their time and stopped taking tests altogether.

In sum Korea's real test is going to be whether business can stop influencing politics. You saw the construction lobby push the government to maintain artificially high housing prices. You saw the education lobby try to get the government to impose test upon test. You also see the business lobby push the government to impose the kind of norms that are so expensive to implement, such as technological norms that demand the purchase of super expensive technology, which weeds out people from starting businesses. So the government has got to stop taking advice from businessmen.

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