Challenges in Korean Social Welfare Asia Institute Seminar with Sylvia A. Allegretto, PhD Economist Institute for Research on Labor & Employment University of California, Berkeley

“Challenges for Social Welfare in Korea”

Sylvia A. Allegretto, PhD

Economist

Institute for Research on Labor & Employment

University of California, Berkeley

 

October 12, 2012

Emanuel Pastreich:

Welfare has risen to the top of the list in terms of issues in Korean politics. We do not have a consensus on how much in welfare the citizen is entitled to and where the responsibility for welfare lies. Does the responsibility lie with the state, the employing company, the individual? What services must the state or the employer to provide to all citizens?

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

I spoke with someone earlier today who said to me, he thought it would be great if he could just make enough money so he would not have to worry about social security at all. He would have enough money and make all investment decisions on his own without a government pension plan.

But the fact is the most people simply do not have that sort of income. So my response was that it would be a great solution if everyone made enough money that they did not have to worry about social security. If most people could make enough money that it would allow them to save a reasonable amount and prepare for their retirement, and have enough money to buy insurance and take care of their own retirement The United States does not offer that kind of economic system. In the United States over the last forty years we have been witness to widening inequality on an unprecedented scale. There is new wealth, but that wealth is not being seen in the income of ordinary people. The “growth” that we have seen goes to a tiny part of the population and during those periods of “growth” at best wages for the people in the middle, have stagnated (unchanged).

And if you cannot buy stock, you will not benefit from any of that “growth.” A large swath of workers in the United States have seen their incomes frozen or decline over the last few decades. Making less and less money, they are asked to pay more and more for healthcare, retirement & other services. From 2007 to 2010 the average income stagnated, there is simply less and less income available. We no longer have pensions systems for workers. To use something like a 401K (a privately managed retirement account) requires a considerable amount of financial knowledge and the employer in essence takes no responsibility for the welfare of the employee. Many financial services for more sophisticated 401Ks are essentially inaccessible to the average person.

We already have in the US a shift in terms of pension, healthcare and welfare from state and the employer to the individual. We are not seeing wages increase in a way that would support such a systemic shift in responsibility. We are not in a scenario economically in which we can fairly ask the individual to be responsible for everything. I suspect that this shift can be seen in Korea as well, although the institutions are quite different.

I think that it is absurd to expect the employer to cover the costs for the employee’s life-time investments in healthcare and retirement. Healthcare should not be tied to employment. This policy in the United States of tying healthcare and pension to employment in the United States has been a tremendous mistake in America. There are lots of times when you cannot work, between jobs, illness, family reasons. That is not a reason to cut off health insurance. We really need government to step in and play the primary role.

Of course companies should treat workers better. If a company is profoundly unfair to workers, that is just unethical. But welfare should be something beyond the company. Now we have many companies in the US saying that they cannot afford to cover employee healthcare, and they are right. It should not be a burden for companies.

What we do see, at the same time that welfare responsibility is shifted to the worker is greater and greater corporate profits that go to an extremely limited number of people. Corporate profits are the largest share of GDP in the US on record and at the same time the share of wages and the smallest share on record. That is an unhealthy economy and the same problem can be found in Korea.

As for the state in the United States, we have a plutocracy: rule by the rich for the rich. And the US is considerably worse than many nations like Germany and Korea in this respect.

Emanuel Pastreich:

Well, I would say that government in the United States has changed rather radically. That there once a large number of highly educated capable people in government, people started their ambitious careers in government in the United States. That age is over now. Government is no longer functional as a player in the process of decision-making in Washington. When we say “government” we are talking about bureaucrats who lack self-confidence who end up doing the bidding of corporate power.

But in Korea government still remains vital, a place where the best and brightest go to start their careers. That is not to say all government is good, but the potential is greater.

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

That transformation of government in the United States was most purposeful. Many rich people like a weak government that can only carry out their demands. They want government to be even weaker, even less able to regulate how employees are treated by companies or investigate violations of the law.

We live in very dire economic straights under which individuals will need even more support from the state, not less. If they do not get it, we will see increased poverty, less opportunities for Americans and increasingly a struggle for survival. Yet, in America, even though poverty gets worse and worse, it is not even an issue in Washington D.C. No one wants to talk about this problem that can completely undo the country.

Emanuel Pastreich:

The crisis in Korea today is the rapidly aging population of Korea, above anything else. Part of this problem is a result of how women have been treated. They have been increasingly required to work, but they do so without proper support for childcare. So the natural decision is to not have children, not have as many children. We do not replace the population lost and we are not producing new workers. So we find an aging population.

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

The working dynamics for families in the US has also changed drastically, but the working culture has not kept up with those changes. One can look at the welfare problem in terms of the degree to which institutions, systems, laws, are not keeping up with the true situation in our society. I have the impression that the problem is similar to the United States and to Korea. We also have an aging population and far fewer children in certain communities. The difference is that in the US we have a large number of immigrants who will pick up the slack, so although there is aging in certain population groups, overall the US will have the necessary young people going forward.

Emanuel Pastreich:

In the case of Korea, we find that traditionally Korea has discouraged immigration and made it rather difficult for foreigners to adjust to Korean society. But that situation is changing rapidly now. There were not large numbers of foreigners coming into Korea for the last 1000 years. But now we are starting to get foreigners, like me, and yet not immigration is not at the rate necessary to avoid the serious consequences of the aging society.

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

Koreans will be forced to make tough policy decisions. You cannot have in Korea an upside down triangle for welfare with few young people supporting so many old people. That will not work and there must be change. It is unreasonable to expect a small number of young people to support the the old. Korean traditional culture has established all sorts of obligations toward the elderly that make taking care of them an even greater burden-and therefore women do not want to get married or have children! Families and society as a whole will be quite strained by this trend. In the US immigration solves some of the problems, although not all the disruptions. In the case of Korea, the question will be how serious a commitment Korea makes to immigration—and the required multinational society to support it.

Let us consider older people in the United States. In the two last recessions in the US, the only work group whose rate of employment actually went up was Americans over 55. Why was that? More and more older people are working because they do not have the means to retire, or because they have to work to maintain some health benefits.

Many older people are forced to stay in the work force. In the case of the US, the economic downturn means that many older people cannot stop working and as a result there are no openings for jobs that they occupy, no employment is available for young people. There is no way to go forward. So elderly employment impacts young people directly.

Emanuel Pastreich:

Immigration does not solve the problem for us as individuals. Americans like us are facing a rapidly aging population. There may be overall a stability in terms of statistics because new immigrants increase the workforce, but those people are not our families or friends. They are an entirely different part of the United States. The changes are still quite traumatic in Korea or the United States.

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

There are going to be a lot of problems with aging people in the US. Many older people have little or no savings now. A lot of Americans are not going to recover all the money they lost in the last crash, money that they lost when the value of their homes dropped. So many older people are going to find themselves exposed in the future to a degree that they never anticipated. We do not know what will happen to these people, people aged 50 or 60 who have lost everything, or found themselves in debt at the time they thought they would soon retire.

The only positive point is that in terms of the work force immigration brings overall balance of the population. That said, immigration to the US also has slowed down because of the reduction of available jobs. Many people will not be able to stop working, or to retire in any manner. They have no means to support themselves if they can no longer work. And the specter of poverty in the case of not being able to work haunts many Americans who felt quite secure previously.

Emanuel Pastreich:

Let us imagine that there is a change in the mood in the US over the next five years so that the perspective you present will become mainstream. If we could start making new policies, what would we do?

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

There are some very simple steps that we can take to address the social crisis that we face in the United States. We can increase funding for social security to make it solid and dependable for older people.

Now there is discussion of dismantling social security in the United States, in taking apart this reliable system. I think it is one of the most efficient parts of the government that we have now and it would be a disaster to take it apart.

What I tell people is that if there is a program in the United States government that is not well run, it is definitely not social security. The economist Dean Baker has written about what it would take to fix social security at length. He says social security is quite solid right now in Money News.

And yet we keep hearing all this talk about some sort of a social security crisis. Just put in sufficient funding and Social Security will be fine. I suspect that there are also many such created crises created in Korea unnecessarily. There is plenty of money available for welfare; we just need to properly allocate it.

In terms of healthcare, the United States has a crazy system, which I think Korea does not, in which employers are responsible for the healthcare of their employees. The first step in the United States is to take healthcare away from employers. We need a universal system in the United States like Korea, one that takes the burden away from employers. That simple step would much improve the United States economy and our competitiveness.

Emanuel Pastreich:

Do you imagine social security could serve as a true pension system that would be sufficient to live on, that would go beyond the small payments that older people receive today? Could government itself provide pensions to people that are sufficient to support them?

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

I think that we really need exactly that sort of a system today: A system of government payments that guarantees a pension to all Americans that that is sufficient to cover basic expenses. We could end this craziness in the United States wherein so many people are rushing around just to find a way to feed themselves in old age. But there is no support for such an idea in Washington D.C. today, a place dominated by corporate interests. Ultimately, a universal pension system is really the right way to go.

In the beginning, people knew exactly what they were going to get monthly from their pensions. There has been a shifting of the burden, however, over the last few decades. It was once true there was a set pension that you would receive from your employer. Now there are these 401K savings systems in which it is the individual’s responsibility to put the money in, to manage it and the whole process is invested in Wall Street. And with the 401K a lot of the money is taken by the investment plan administrators through hidden fees. You are left at the whim of the stock market which can crash at any time. Massive amounts of money goes into these 401Ks which just gives the Wall Street Wizards more money to play with.

Emanuel Pastreich:

Korea has advanced significantly as an economy. Korea seems less sophisticated when it comes to investment portfolios. Retirement plans are pretty simple here. But Korea does supply universal healthcare and Korea does guarantee a high level of education for everyone in public schools. Overall, Korea is quite impressive not so much in terms of Harvard-like elite education, but rather very basic education for everyone, Koreans, however, think of themselves as being behind the United States.

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

As the US became richer, its became more sophisticated in finance, but not always in a smart way. We have made it harder for ordinary people, working people to live decent lives. At University of California the cost of tuition for average students has gone up 100% over the last few years. For the children of bankers it seems cheap, but for working class people, it is no joke. Community Colleges have gone up in cost as well. We have become richer, but it is harder for average, low income people to just get by. There is plenty of funding to bail out banks, but nothing to help people to get jobs.

Emanuel Pastreich:

What changed in America? And why? Your thinking may seem rather outside of the mainstream that we see on TV in America when you say that social security should guarantee a decent living to working people. But in fact your ideas about welfare and education—that college should be essentially free, this was standard thinking in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s, even conservatives in America basically accepted what you say about labor and social security. So Koreans are a bit confused, they are under the impression that Americans just want to privatize things, run everything according to market principles. I think many would be surprised to find that there are many who think like you do.

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

Well the reason we see such a shift in thinking in the US is this: after the depression people knew what an economic crisis was and they believed in the system that the government had set up for welfare, the social security system. The United States made enormous investments during the depth of the depression to build up infrastructure, to build the Golden Gate Bridge and the Empire State Building. Well you could say we did not have the money, but we had the will to move forward. So that public spending started to turn the economy around for many people.

We should be spending now on infrastructure primarily, but we are not doing it this time around. We could have had another New Deal starting in 2008 and put a large amount of public spending into large public works projects, but the argument, which makes no sense in light of the giveaway to banks or spending on the military, was that there is no money.

We are one of the richest countries in the world, we bailed out all the freeloading investors on Wall Street in 2008, but if you talk about any program for infrastructure to create jobs, there is no money and it is bad policy. Korea should not make that mistake.

Emanuel Pastreich:

Today, it Easier to get infrastructure built in Afghanistan than in the United States. There is more spent on infrastructure there.

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

Well that might seem to be the case, but in Afghanistan, most of the money goes to contractors, not bridges or houses.

The level of investment government institutions in the 1930s is what made California so great. The public investment in education the University of California made it a world-class university It has singly been investment in education, public education, that makes the difference. So the US benefited from that massive investment in public education—university was almost free back in the 1950s. And that was true all the way through the 1970s. But then, for some reason, the value of public investment in education was no longer clear to people and they were misled by special interests. Today, many ordinary people have been led to believe that somehow we need less government, that government is the problem.

My family is entirely working class and they all live in rural Pennsylvania. My father was a union painter his whole life, never making a large income. My mother worked in a factory for 25 years; My grandmother worked in a factory for 35 years. None of my family has any advanced education. So when I go home to my hometown, a place you would think would be a pro-union pro-labor environment, I am shocked. All these people are losing their jobs and their benefits. All they do is sit down over beer and complain to each other. I said to them, well maybe you should organize, but they really have no concept of what that might be. They don’t think they need a union or any representation. But your salary is just $11 an hour, I say. You have worked for decades with no improvement in pay.

In America we are really fighting an ideology of the free market, and people down to the working class have grown up on this argument that somehow the free market will help them, but it does not in the slightest. It is deep in the political realm. This vision is supported by religious groups as well who suggest that somehow government sponsored social welfare is bad.

Emanuel Pastreich:

So why is that working class people have so much trouble figuring out what their interests are?

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

The start of the problem, which has changed American politics completely, was when working class people started going to the Republican Party over moral, religious issues like abortion or school prayer. They were carried over by conservative forces because of certain morality issues.

But we are seeing an immense shift right now in the United States. A lot of Americans who ask themselves,

“What happened? I got up every day, I worked hard and played by the rules and now I have lost everything. What happened?”

And these Americans see how the rich are now getting so much richer whereas they were just driven into debt and struggle just to survive.

So the question is deep: why people do not understand what is wrong with social welfare in the US. Many people have come only recently to recognize that there is something seriously wrong with the US economy, but they do not see either party as being a choice, as being a solution.

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

There is no political party that advocates for the issues that need to be taken up of average people. Democrats are pretty conservative (concerned with corporate interests) and Republicans have moved to the radical right in the United States to attract religious groups. The consequences are quite serious.

Average people are now just tired of politics and it is hard to improve social welfare if people do not trust the system or the political parties. Both are parties funded by Wall Street that really just want to say what sounds good to average people then get back to serving their masters. I think that the Korean case is perhaps not as extreme as that in the United States.

People in the US feel disenfranchised. One in five homes in the US is worth less than the loans owed on it. That has caused terrible damage because people were counting on the houses they owned to serve as their pension, their welfare. We have a terrible housing crisis and it is not mentioned in the media any more—we pretend it went away.

Many people in the US have been unemployed for a long time, the working class feel nobody cares about them in the system. This is a common feeling among Americans.

As for the response in the United States of working people supporting the conservatives, I saw a documentary recently that gave us a clue as to what is happening. There was an interview with a man in the rural south. He was poor, but he voted for Republicans who are just taking apart social welfare. He said,

“I vote on the side of God. I know these Democrats talk a lot about helping working people. But nothing they talk about up there in Washington D.C. ever gets to me. Nothing here ever changes. So I vote with God.”

So the Republican party may not do anything for working people, but it speaks of God and ultimate morality. The Democrats promise various changes in this material work, but nothing ever happens. So working people think it better to go with God.

Emanuel Pastreich:

Let us talk about childcare for working women. What do you think the policy should be? What do things look like right now in the United States?

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

It sounds to me like the issue of childcare is also very similar between the United States and Korea. In the United States we have seen a massive social shift in terms of women going to work over the last thirty years. Now almost half of the jobs are held by women, near fifty percent now. But the United States has no childcare policy. No changes in family work policy. No real maternity leave, no mandated vacation for women having children. It is up to the employer to decide what to offer, or not to offer. Of course women do get maternity leave, but it is usually unpaid and often not very long at all. Our lives, our work habits, our families have changed, but there has not been a change in policy.

Men’s working hours have stayed pretty much the same the whole time. The change came on the side of women who are expected to work full-time now. It has been a tremendous failure of governments to not properly respond to this change in our society that ultimately affects men as much as women. The cost is enormous. The pain and damage to families is immense. The economy is hurt. Of course for upper middle class women, they can take time off. But no one else can.

Emanuel Pastreich:

So should the government mandate childcare facilities, maternity leave and other aspects of the treatment of women in the workplace?

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

It would seem reasonable for the government to mandate childcare for women working in companies. I realize that it is more difficult for smaller firms and this might be an argument to take the whole process out of the hands of employers and make it a government effort. Right now, the system is so inefficient. As a result, the highly educated and well paid women are able to take off whenever they feel like it and they feel like the system works. But beneath you have this incredibly strained lower and middle income group of workers. They are invisible to the upper class. Those women can’t leave the workforce if they have children. Think about it! How can you take care of newborns if you are constantly worrying about money, if you are constantly under tremendous stress because of work? Some of that onus should be with the employer—although it would be much better to have the government involved.

It is a silent struggle for women, childcare that leads women to choose not to have children. Women do not have the freedom to express themselves. If there is no preparation at the workplace to help them take care of their children, they feel there really is no way to work and raise children and so you end up with the sort of crisis that Korea is facing today: no children. The cost of supporting childcare is really not that great.

Emanuel Pastreich:

But the lack of funding to support childcare is strange. If people commute in to work from the suburbs, if they need to watch television, we have no problem building incredibly expensive highway systems, investing in the infrastructure for shopping malls, power plants, etc. Why is it that we cannot make similar investments in providing for the needs of women so as to strengthen our families?

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

Well, first we must look at the problem in a long term manner, not in a shortsighted manner. Women play a critical role for our nation’s future. Women’s role of raising the next generation of workers and leaders, is as critical, more critical than what the Pentagon, or the police or the Commerce Department does. If you have to get workers to work, you build highways. No problem securing budgets for that. But we are not taking the time to create low-stress environments for women, that is a terrible mistake. We have the funds to make that sort of a change already, but we have done a terrible job in the United States

Women have had less power in the workplace than men, but in fact they do more than men in almost every respect. We are on the edge of a major social revolution. In the US, already, women have taken over. Women do better than men at work, they outperform men at assignments and they do better in school. More women than men finish university in the United States today.

We need to understand that those women workers are our best workers, and we need them to have the time to properly raise the next generation. So it is reasonable to invest heavily in women.

Emanuel Pastreich:

In Korea as well women are now outperforming men in the workplace and in school. The changes are immense.

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

We have women in America opting out of certain professions because they want children and families. This is a terrible loss. Although women working in math and medicine are increasing in numbers, these women are not becoming surgeons or engineers; there are many fields in which women are not well represented—although women could play an important role and offer a different perspective. That situation is a real loss because women can do a better job, and they often take more considerate approach to work. Surgeon is a hard job, but it does not have to be that way. We could have more human, more compassionate, surgeons.We are losing good people.

Emanuel Pastreich:

Korea is more patriarchal than the United States. Fifty years ago there really were no women in any positions of authority in Korea. There is a very short history of women serving as leaders in this country and women often do not have real mentors in their careers. But the changes are immense now. If you look ahead down the line we will have a female-dominated society here in Korea in the next decade. There has been no preparation for that transfer, especially with regards to welfare.

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

The situation of women in Korea sounds similar to the United States. Maybe in some symbolic sense women have received more attention in the US than in Korea, but we also are not prepared for these shifts. Many men make more money than their husbands, but the gender divides remain in daily life. The changes have not been large enough in terms of taking care of the household. Men are still not helping with cooking, shopping, cleaning and caring for children.

Ultimately the problem is that our culture changes so very slowly, but these demographic changes are extremely rapid. We just cannot keep up with the changes in our society. We have these old, old habits; men’s behave is based on what they learned from their parents. It is much harder to change those habits and it is something government cannot simply mandate.

Emanuel Pastreich:

What about housing? The cost of housing has gone up in Korea, in part because of speculation. Houses are not really about living in, they are about making money, even trying to get a future retirement fund. So many people can no longer afford housing at all in Korea. They find themselves in a very difficult situation indeed. What can the role of government be with regards to housing?

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

In the case of the United States, we tend to favor people who can afford to buy houses, the mortgage deduction gives special tax advantages to those who own over those who rent—even advantages to those who buy a second home! It is not fair.

Speculation in real estate has a lot do to with the problem of housing in the United States. I live in Oakland and the housing market crashed here. Many people lost their homes to banks. I have a friend who is now trying to buy a house. She tells me that many of the houses that she has seen belonged previously to people who could not meet the payments and the banks foreclosed on them (because the owner cannot pay the mortgage). So then the bank takes over the house, repaints it and puts it back on the market for $100,000 more than its previous price. Banks are taking over hundreds of houses and then selling them for a profit.

Why can’t we just let ordinary people buy these houses? Why do ordinary people not have even have a chance to bid on them when they are foreclosed on? This systematic speculation is exactly what is keeping the price of houses up.

The housing market should be exclusively for homeowners, and not for banks to speculate. Housing should be about people, not about making money. Let house be about homes. You do not need middle men, speculators, who drive up the price.

Emanuel Pastreich:

In Korea speculation has driven up land costs to the point at which ordinary people cannot even afford rent in the city. The implications are serious.

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

Someone who is struggling to survive pays high rates. But the person next door who can own land gets all sorts of breaks in taxes. This is just wrong. It makes no sense. Basically the incentives are in the wrong place. We know that politicians and high-level policy makers benefit directly from these policies.

In California we do have rent control to slow down the rate at which rent can be increased. We need those controls to avoid chaos.

Emanuel Pastreich:

What do you think about the role of government in providing government housing?

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

So the issue of government housing is complex in America—but that is perhaps because the social divides are much worse in America than in Korea. We have had many disasters in the United States, such cases as the Cabrini-Green public housing complex in Chicago. These public housing projects were immense failures, the money ran out, the complexes were not maintained, and they fell into disarray. One issue we must consider with regards to public housing is long-term planning. We really need to be thinking one hundred years into the future when making plans for public housing. We cannot just do it for one politician’s short-term goal. We need a mechanism to represent the needs of ordinary people beyond the next election.

It would be better if everyone could just make enough money to buy their own house, but that is simply not how our economy works. We have a lot of people we cannot afford housing. We have people who are homeless who need housing. And then there are the homeless who need mental health services and they have been deprived of care. They need to be cared for separately—and it is a different issue than working poor.

Emanuel Pastreich:

What about work? Actually the number one issue brought up by politicians in Korea today is “job creation.” I hear that theme every day. But what does that mean and can government really help much?

The government is under pressure to start programs to help people, young people, get jobs. But most of these programs are very ineffective. What is there that the government can do?

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

What the government can do is in part related to where we find ourselves in the economic cycle.

Let us consider the present moment. We find ourselves now four years into this recession. There is very high employment, and even more for teenagers. In the case of teenagers, they leave the labor force in despair. There really are no opportunities for young people. Why is that? Well jobs for youth has been a problem since the 1990s. But now in the US and start working in a depressed economy, your lifetime earnings will always be reduced. There will never be any way to catch up. So not helping youth is not just a matter of today—it is matter of the life of the individual.

There have been government policies we could have followed that would have made a difference. Specifically, the policy that Germany adopted of “work share” to deal with unemployment has been extremely effective. The government took money that was meant for unemployment benefits and used it to reduce the number of hours worked but maintain the salary—then share the jobs at the same salary among more people. If we had policies to make real investments on jobs it would make all the difference. To have kids out of college sitting for two, three four years doing nothing is a very serious situation. I hope Korea will take this issue of real employment for youth seriously.

Emanuel Pastreich:

Even more than the problem of youth, the entire social welfare in the United States breaks down when you have extremes of wealth and poverty. What counts as social welfare in one group is not relevant in the other realm. There are Medicare benefits, for example, that require a lawyer to use. So rich people use them!

In the United States increasingly we have two un-connected economies. There is an upper middle class economy, and you may be hurting in that economy and looking for solutions. But even at the worst, you are nowhere near the lower economy. There is another economy out there in which the best is still way below what counts as the worst state for the upper economy.

I know we have all had the experience of feeling sorry for ourselves for what we don’t have. Then we think of those who are really poor and suddenly a voice comes in our head and says, “Well that does not really count.” As long as we have such divisions, welfare will be difficult. How can we include everyone?

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

So the question is: how did the US create this middle class? How did we lift up workers to enjoy some of the benefits of stability and education? Some people say it was the policies of the New Deal, and Ahn Cholsoo has recently mentioned the New Deal his book. Some say it was rather the Second World War, the war economy, that built the middle class. In any case, it is clear that it was government spending that drove the growth of the middle class. That is where we have to start.

I would love it if the private sector stepped forward to develop the economy, but that simply is not happening. But private industry and government is now not working for the people.

Emanuel Pastreich:

Ahn Chulsoo cites Franklin Roosevelt, but the world today is truly different than what it was in the 1930s. This is a different world. Can we still use those sorts of welfare policies?

Sylvia A. Allegretto:

Globalization does introduce new problems. But the essential problem in the United States is that we are told by the media, by companies, that there is no money, but in fact there is plenty of money out there.

We have incredible wealth in America there. There are large budgets for the government to spend on defense, on bailing out investment banks. The same is true for Korea. There is plenty of money in government to address the problems of welfare, education and housing. The problem is simply one of priorities, of political will.

We need to worry about our children right now. We must make sure they can have the best education possible and that their parents feel secure. That is the true long-term interest of the country and there should be no limit to the amount we are willing to invest for that purpose.

This idea that we should shrink the role of government is a political battle, just that. If government is well run, and focused on essential issues, it can make a difference. The free market will not work.

Germany kept up demand by focusing on employment. That was a far healthier decision. In the US, the decision to sit by and watch as people lost their homes to banks, the same banks who had created the bubbles for their own profit—that was traumatic.

Government should help a large swath of Americans, not just a small number of the rich. Financial bubbles and government bailouts go way back.


“Wise Words of Confucius on Shifts in Institutions”

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Asia Institute Essay:

 

“Wise Words of Confucius on Shifts in Institutions”

 

Emanuel Pastreich

October 22, 2012

 

 

Confucius argued that the most critical issue for a healthy society is the relationship of the terms we employ to the institutions and objects that they describe. Now, in an age of increasing incoherence and confusion about the most basic terms used to describe our society and economy, Confucius’s insight offer us an invaluable perspective. His suggestion that it is the discontinuity between terms we use and the practice they describe, rather than simple unethical behavior and greed, that produces these contradictions presents us with a means of going beyond the unproductive argument all problems stem from the fact that a small group of the powerful are too greedy. Knowing that a small group of powerful people has immense control does not does not help us understand how we got in this situation, or how we can get beyond it.

Confucius suggested that the problems we encounter in the political realm are the result of a slippage in the meaning of the terms that we use to describe. For example, there has been tremendous slippage in the significance of the term “bank” and that slippage has introduced chaos into our society. Although we use the word “bank” without even thinking about its meaning, the term’s significance is far from clear. Whereas the word “bank” referred to an organization with a rather limited mandate to lend money under strict regulations, it has evolved into a complex financial instrument whose roles are multifarious and changing rapidly as money itself has shifted in its significance as a result of the IT revolution. We need perhaps to redefine “money” at the same time.

Although there is obviously greed among some who work for banks, our inability to regulate banks is most directly related to the immense shifts in the meaning of the very term “bank.” If we want to solve the problem, we are more likely to be successful if we first address the meaning of the term than trying to artificially go back to a previous golden age. The meaning these institutions have most likely changed permanently and we should make sure that their new meanings are clear. In the extreme case, if a “bank” has become a casino, perhaps it should be called that. If “money” has become bits of “information” maybe the term needs to be modified.

Let us look at what Confucius wrote in the Analects.

If the terms that we employ to describe the institutions in society cease to be accurate paige davis pokies representations of what those institutions have become, then, although we can discuss the problems of our age, the discussion will not correspond with the actual reality in a political or economic sense.

In that case, if our discussions on the issues of our time no longer correspond with reality, no matter how much we say, we really will not be able to accomplish anything. The result will be that since our discussions about policy do not go anywhere, then all political discourse will lack the vitality and relevance.

Under those conditions, if the political discourse lacks vitality and significance, then we cannot expect that the processes of government can properly function.

The ultimate consequence of such a breakdown in governance will be confusion among the people as to what they are supposed to do.

It is for this reason that the terms employed by the intellectual be such that they can be explained readily. And that speech must be formulated so that it can be readily implemented. In a word, the intellectual must not be sloppy in the terms that he employs.

Confucius postulates that the failure in public debate and policy response stem primarily from gap between the terms used and the institutions described. This problem is easy to identify in our society. If we look at our newspapers, whether progressive or conservative, we can find a universal failure to engage in a thoroughgoing consideration of the meaning of the terms employed. We read about the International Monetary Fund, but we provide no detail, or make no investigation into how that institution has evolved and changed in is mission and its structure over the last 10 to 20 years, let alone its primary mission. A more extreme case is Google, which people praise or condemn, but they rarely stop to think how that term “Google” refers to something quite different today than what it referred to two years ago, or five years ago. Tracing the evolution of these institutions and terms is perhaps a more pressing issue than reporting on the latest predictable development, but it is never done.

Before we start to attack individuals for greed and immorality, we should think carefully about how the terms like “Pentagon,” “Republican Party,” “Central Intelligence Agency,” and “university” have fundamentally shifted in significance over the last few decades. In a sense, it is unfair to attack people in these institutions for doing things that are “immoral” if what we really mean is that they are doing things that are improper only according to our accepted definitions of those institutions

 

 

 


大学教育中的危机

 

最近越来越多的学生因为教育的压力而自杀,使得一个问题愈发明显,我们在教育孩子的形式上犯了本质的错误。这关乎的不是考试系统的优劣,也并不意味着大量学生都会效仿。尽管、、学生的成绩如何,代价却是学生正被作为祭品献上新模式大学教育的祭台,即大学里人文经历和精神成长都不再重要的新模式。学生像电脑内存或碳纳米管一样被生产出来,他们被制造得各方面都拥有超高品质,耐高压,且高效率。

但对学生来说,除了拿高分和找好工作,生活的目的已所剩无几。 他们仿佛在和一股永远无法超越的力量竞争,一股势必会导致绝望和自杀的力量。也许学生会认为他们的竞争对手是彼此,但事实上却是摩尔定律。它注定会驱赶孩子们前进,也注定了无法被超越。不断提高的电脑性能让年轻人不堪重负,他们的思维与电脑越一致,他们离人类创造新文明与新思想的能力也就越远。

逐渐地,我们发现许多大学都在建造昂贵的研究设施和行政办公楼,且不惜巨资打造广告宣传,但从学生角度出发,除了工作必备的资格证书以外,对寻求其他事物的他们来说,这类大学只是毫无人性光辉的荒漠而已。我们需要为学生把剩余的钱投在实用的课程、指导,和能让学生广义理解人性原则、哲学、文学、艺术、意识形态的项目上。不管技术革新造成何种变化,这样的教育都会为他们指引正确的方向。

坦白说,以背诵而后在测试时复述知识的能力来评判学生无异于把人类驯化成机器。但人类终究无法胜过机器,我们的大脑是由碳水化合物组成,而非硅元素。

如此错误的攀比无疑将导致难以言喻的悲剧。此外,也许我们会发现那些正被我们培养成电脑工程师或者律师的学生将会消失不见,那些职业将会在他们的有生之年里失去踪影。为什么?因为在今后十年里,科技会以史无前例的发展速度推动全面自动化,从而威胁到这些职业的存在。已经有许多法律机构由于自动化操作而减少人为分析的必要。

在这种情形下我们能做什么呢?首先,我们需要建立一所人性化的学校,在那里从艺术作品到多样性的文化,从杂志上的广告再到政客间的论战都是所要学习的科目。随着社会科技的进步,批判任务将由那些能够评价科技对于社会和环境的含义并且能对此含义负责的人所承担。这种责任要求对玄学和心理学的理解深度丝毫不亚于对电子工程和电脑编程的掌握程度。

有些问题我们不得不考虑:当现实和虚假的影像不再能被分辨,我们该怎么办?怎样运用科技手段来挽救而不是毁坏环境?我们怎样确保未来机器人和电脑有助于人类?随着机器人、电脑与生物技术开始融合,我们该怎样定义“人类”这一概念?

这些有关我们怎样运用科技的问题将会是对人性的直接拷问。这才是我们的学生在课堂上应当学习的问题。问题的答案则存在于美学、哲学、文学以及艺术领域里,而不是化学或者电气工程里。我们必须彻彻底底地重新考虑教育的意义,使其更为人性化,同时也符合我们孩子的未来需求。这并不意味着存在一种最为恰当的职业,也不意味着我们的孩子必须能够自己决定如何在一个变幻无常的世界中生存。在孩子所必须接受的教育中,以上问题应该被优先考虑纳入其中。

假如我的儿子终其一生都在学习电脑设计,结果却发现自己在35岁时就被所电脑取代怎么办?这种可能性有多高?比我们绝大多数人的预想都要高。我们也许会问如果他是一位创造新文化展示新思想的诗人或画家,结果是否会好一点。

倘若没有这类人,没有能够想象新的世界和可能的人,我们将会冒着科技失去控制的巨大风险,制造出自己无法解决的难题,如果我们完全依赖机械,情况尤其如此。也或许科技会向着意外的方向演变,违背人类的需求,以自己的意志发展。

接下来的议题是领导能力。我们教授给年轻人的这一概念很是模糊。领导能力被概念CEO做了最终概括。但就我所知,CEO们——正如他们呈现在年轻人面前的那样——是一群衣着体面, 会议上慷慨陈词,事业上顽强拼搏,生活中奢侈无度的男人或女人。以上个体是存在的,但他们并不是领导者。大多数情况下,他们只是典范的追随者和被他人粉饰出的榜样。

教育当然应该培养出领导者。但真正的领导者指的是这样一类人,他们拥有想象力,道德感和勇气去做别人想象不到的事,道德约束失职的事,和不敢做的事。我们需要扪心自问,究竟有多少领导者正被大学培养出来?然后我们才能回过头来创造真正关乎教育的学校。

另一个中国大城市里教育面临的,大多数学生不能充分理解,却值得我们全面关注的危机是老龄化社会。未来20年里,随着60岁以上的人口比率迅速攀升,政府和社会把关注重心移向对老人的照顾,年轻人和孩子将会作出越来越大的牺牲。虽然中国没有日本与韩国严重不过还是很值得注意。

老龄化的结果将是促成一个对年轻人的教育极少关注,而极度聚焦于延长老年人生命的昂贵方法的社会。

这将意味着绝大多数资源将不被用在学校里,而被用在医院和对老年人的看护上。甚至在教育领域,不难想象老年群体利用原本用来培养年轻人的资金打造针对老年人的教育计划。在经历了所有民主政治之后,那将会成为现实。

我们需要创造一个教育年轻人的空间,从而使他们免受老年人利益需求的侵害,并让他们感受到尊敬和被需要。早于中国大城市被卷入老龄化社会大潮的日本,已经出现了一代感觉不受社会及政府重视的年轻人。

在这个电脑式教育的时代,还有一个相当隐晦的问题摆在我们学生面前。我们正冒着相当单调且过分简单地“再现真实”的风险,这是对现实的低级模仿。我们的世界是一个无限复杂、充满矛盾和无法预期的世界。大部分科学对现实的再现形式是数字和图像,这样的形式掩盖了我们对自然的知之甚少。学生被灌输了以下这种错误印象,如果一个人类基因组能被表示为一定的数字,那么生命和遗传学就被表现完整了。虽然遗传编码与数据的对话是对理解的有力阐释,但用途却极为有限。因此我们冒着给孩子们制造盲区的风险让他们以为“看见即理解”。弄清现实是极为困难的。即使电子或DNA的性质继续挑战着人类分析,这也仅仅是对人类掌握这些学科的有限的感官认识。

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