Moon has long been leading in the election polls—by a wide margin mostly, but sometimes by a hair’s breadth. He now looks set to win, with all latest polls pointing to a lead of 20 percentage points.
So it’s no surprise that every other candidate has laid into Moon at the debates. In the fourth, on April 23, Yoo Seong-min and Sim Sang-jung relentlessly grilled him on the gaps between his pledges on job creation and his budget plans to make them happen.
Perhaps defending his pledges wore him out. Moon made a serious mistake when confronted by conservative Hong Joon-pyo in regard to homosexuality.
“I oppose it,” the former human rights lawyer stated when Hong asked whether he opposes homosexuality. He repeatedly reaffirmed this answer, making it very hard to consider it unintentional.
Moon later apologized and explained that he meant that he does not approve of homosexuality in the military. But even if that’s true, was it wise for him to say so in public?
Public sector jobs
Yoo Seong-min: I have a question for Mr. Moon. You have been emphasizing jobs a lot, and I think it’s great. But young people in Korea dream of becoming grade 7 or grade 9 civil servants. I think this makes the Republic of Korea a country without a future. Of course young people can want to be civil servants or teachers. We have to hire them when necessary. But you said you’d create 810,000 jobs in the public sector. I think that means you’re going to increase the number of civil servants dramatically using the taxes people pay.
To create 810,000 jobs, you say it would take 21 trillion won over five years, or 4.2 trillion won per year. If we divide that number by 810,000, it comes to five million won per year, or 400,0000 per month. So it means you’re going to create 810,000 jobs that pay 400,000 won per month. Is this correct?
Moon Jae-in: First, among 810,000 jobs, only 170,000 are going to be in the civil service, and the rest are going to be in the public sector. Since public institutions will be able to take care of the problem with their own earnings, [those jobs] won’t require a budget.
Yoo Seong-min: Then where will the budget be spent?
Moon Jae-in: So, 170,000 jobs in the civil service and 21 trillion won, that’s what I said, right? So 17 trillion won in the [civil service] and four trillion in the public sector. On top of that, the private sector should actually take the lead in creating jobs. But in our nation, over a decade, the market has failed to create jobs. Yet everyone’s saying we should leave it up to the market. That’s the same as saying you won’t take care of the job problem.
Yoo Seong-min: Have you calculated it personally?
Moon Jae-in: I’ve disclosed the calculations.
Yoo Seong-min: So you’re saying that you need to spend money on only 170,000 people and not the rest. Then you’re saying 640,000 jobs would be taken care of with the budget of four trillion won. So you’re making an absurd claim that you would create 640,000 jobs in the public sector with four trillion won over five years. And as for civil servants, I was interested in your pledge, so I tried working it out. For 174,000 civil servants, even if you pay them starting salaries for grade 9 civil servants, you need 4.3 trillion won for just one year. Just for that, you would need much more than 21 trillion won.
So you said 810,000 jobs in the public sector, and 174,000 among them would be civil servants, but I think you underestimated the finances without thorough calculations. You should review it again.
Moon Jae-in: We didn’t calculate the budget for jobs in the civil service with starting salaries for grade 9 civil servants. Since wages go up every year, we took that into consideration and calculated it with seventh-level salaries for grade 7 civil servants. You should take a look at what we announced.
Yoo Seong-min: I did. I examined it carefully, but the numbers don’t work out.
Moon Jae-in: For more information, it would be best if you discuss it with the head of [my] policy headquarters.
Yoo Seong-min: No. On this important issue, wherever you go, you talk about jobs, but you can’t even talk about the required finances.
Moon Jae-in: I think we should wrap it up here.
Yoo Seong-min: It’s rather rude for you to tell me to go discuss it with the head of your policy headquarters.
Moon Jae-in: If I had enough time, I would [explain everything in detail], but [since there’s not enough time] I can’t.
… In OECD countries, the public sector and social economy account for a third of all jobs, while the private sector accounts for two thirds of all jobs [on average]. In Korea, jobs in the public sector and in the social economy is less than 1%. That’s why I’m saying the public sector should take the lead and create jobs, as a way of priming the pump for the private sector to create jobs. But if you keep on refuting this, then what alternative measure are you proposing?
Yoo Seong-min: What I said was that it’s ridiculous to say you’ll create 810,000 jobs in the public sector and that 4.2 trillion won per year is enough to cover the expenses.
Moon Jae-in: Stop criticizing [my] policy and talk about what you’d do.
Yoo Seong-min: I’m saying, your finances seem absurdly low from my simple calculations, so I’m asking you to review it again.
Moon Jae-in: Whether you acknowledge it or not, I’ve spoken about my financial measures. What is your alternative?
Private sector jobs
Yoo Seong-min: Let me explain. Just like Mr. Ahn said, jobs should be made naturally by the private sector. Recruiting necessary personnel for public corporations, civil servants and teachers… every year, we hire 20,000 civil servants now. Your argument about how for most jobs, we shouldn’t leave it up to the private sector, I think you said that with the chaebol conglomerates in mind. But most jobs are created by small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) and from innovative, venture-backed startups. Aren’t we saying that we should reform the chaebol to create an environment for successful startups, like Zuckerberg and Bill Gates? We should think about how to make more SMEs successful, but instead you’re saying we should collect more taxes and create jobs in the civil service? How is that an answer to the job problem?
Moon Jae-in: The Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations constantly said the same thing. And you even led [Park’s pledge] to “reduce taxes, relax regulations, and establish law and order”.
Yoo Seong-min: The person who did that is now in charge of policies in your camp.
Moon Jae-in: What kind of effect did the “tax reduction, deregulation, and establishment of law and order” have?
Yoo Seong-min: That person is in charge of policies in your camp.
Sim Sang-jung: The point of this problem is not that “the government should [create jobs] instead of the private sector” but that they should go hand in hand. But in this era of low growth, leaving the job [creation] up to the private sector is a dereliction of duty. It’s saying we will continue to maintain the current “employment cliff”. Mr. Moon has an obligation to answer [questions on this problem] responsibly. Regarding the issue that Mr. Yoo brought up, there is a point of whether [jobs should be created by] the private sector or the government, but another point is whether you have a responsible budget structure for your promise to deal with the unemployment situation. I also think that increasing corporate tax is completely absent from your pledges.
Moon Jae-in: It’s included.
Sim Sang-jung: When was it included?
Moon Jae-in: It was there from the beginning.
Sim Sang-jung: When I asked about it last time, you held off on increasing the nominal tax rate.
Moon Jae-in: The order of tax increases should be that way.
Sim Sang-jung: In the budget you submitted to the Korea Manifesto Center, your tax increases were [estimated to be] only six trillion won.
Moon Jae-in: Corporate tax, actual tax and nominal tax increases are all included in my tax increases, so you should check that.
Hong Joon-pyo: Homosexuality in the military is very serious. It weakens the military strength for national defense. What are your thoughts on this?
Moon Jae-in: Yes, that’s how I see it.
Hong Joon-pyo: Do you oppose homosexuality?
Moon Jae-in: I oppose it.
Hong Joon-pyo: Do you oppose it?
Moon Jae-in: Yes.
Hong Joon-pyo: Park Won Soon [allows them] in front of the Seoul City Hall.
Moon Jae-in: They have the right to use the Seoul Square. There’s no discrimination. It’s a separate issue. Are prohibiting discrimination and approving [of homosexuality] the same thing?
Hong Joon-pyo: The Anti-Discrimination Act that was submitted to the National Assembly is [the same as] a law allowing homosexuality.
Moon Jae-in: Can’t you tell the difference between anti-discrimination and legalization?
Hong Joon-pyo: You’re against homosexuality?
Moon Jae-in: I don’t like it. I don’t agree with legalizing it.
Sim Sang-jung: First, there was a discussion on homosexuality. I don’t believe homosexuality is something we can agree or disagree with. Sexual identity is, literally, an identity. I am a heterosexual, but I believe the rights and freedoms of sexual minorities must be respected. That’s democracy. In that aspect […] we continued to include the implementation of the Anti-Discrimination Act in my pledges, which has been promoted since the Roh Moo-hyun administration. I would like to say that it’s regretful that Mr. Moon has retreated from that.
Hong Joon-pyo: I’ll ask once again about homosexuality.
Moon Jae-in: I have no plans to legalize homosexuality. I oppose discrimination.
Hong Joon-pyo: Do you know that there are over 14,000 people with AIDS in the Republic of Korea because of homosexuality?
Moon Jae-in: We shouldn’t discriminate against them because of their sexual orientation. Not discriminating and legalizing homosexuality are…
Hong Joon-pyo: That’s virtually legalization.
The Dissolve is publishing extracts from all six presidential debates.
The Korean transcript for this fourth debate is at The Kyunghyang Shinmun.