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[Opinion] Saving Salary

Posted February. 25, 2005 23:03,   


Every Sunday, early in the morning, homeless person A, who lives near a Seoul railway station, takes the subway to a church at Gwangmyeong, Gyeonggi province. He can get paid 1,000 won for sitting for an hour during a Sunday service. After “pretending to be a believer” at three churches until three in the afternoon, he has collected 5,000 won (according to a clip from the KBS 2TV program, “In-depth 60 Minutes”). A number of homeless people line up in front of churches in Mapo-gu every Saturday to receive money that the church gives them to buy something to eat like ramen. To the church, this service is the practice of loving your neighbor, but to the homeless, lining up is a struggle for survival.

News of poor lives has no sign of ending. Lives, not only of the homeless, but also of ordinary people, are still frozen. Last year, three out of 10 households spent more than they earned. Among the lower 30 percent of households in income, 52.7 percent had a deficit. To them, the lapse of time means the pain of debt keeps accumulating every day. The polarization has accelerated so that the income of top 20 percent of households nationwide is 7.35 times larger than that of the lower 20 percent.

News of rich people has no sign of ending, too. The day before yesterday, the truth of the rich was revealed again, as the fortunes of high-ranking officials was revealed. A total of 87 officials of the highest rank have increased their fortune by more than 100 million won over a year. Nine high-ranking officials have said saving their salary is the secret of their increased fortunes. President Roh Moo-hyun also reported that he saved some 38 million won last year, though the amount was less than that of 2003 when he saved 161 million won, the most of his annual salary.

On the wall of subway stations is a moving story about Microsoft chairman Bill Gates who donated 27 trillion won, half of his fortune, for social welfare. The story says that the chairman first turned his attention to people in need due to his wife’s persuasion. I am not sure how deeply homeless people would be touched by this story. Also, I am not sure that after hearing news of officials who receive their salaries from the taxpayer’s money and accumulate their fortunes, deficit-stricken taxpayers would truly come to think that the saving is a virtue. Now, 47 million people are living on the Korean peninsula, all with the same identities as Koreans. But the life of every person seems far from similar. “All men are equal,” is a noble saying, but probably untrue.

Bang Hyung-nam, Editorial Writer, hnbhang@donga.com