The Democratic Party’s presidential nominee Lee Jae-myung mentioned the possibility of introducing a quota system to limit the number of restaurants, which would be a flagrantly unconstitutional and anti-market policy, if adopted. At a town hall meeting with owners of small businesses and mom-and-pop stores held in a traditional market in Gwanak-gu, Seoul, Lee said he was mulling over an idea of introducing quotas on the number of restaurant businesses. “[A quota system was not implemented] because of criticisms of violation of autonomy, but is not necessarily disadvantageous,” said Lee. The Democratic Party’s presidential nominee also said that theoretical debates would have to follow, but that he believed the quota system is necessary. “A good regulation by a good state is an imperative,” added Lee. These seem more than just an impulsive idea.
Although excessive competition among the self-employed needs to be reined in, the idea of the government controlling the number of restaurants or the starting and shutdown of restaurants, which make up the highest share of the self-employed in Korea, is outrageous to the point of unthinkability under the free market economy. It also risks infringing on the freedom to choose an occupation in the Constitution.
Those who want to start business may have to pay licensing costs to the government to start a business. Even if there is a need for restructuring of small businesses, let the market decide depending on the competitiveness and repayment capacity of businesses. The government’s job is to facilitate the process and create an environment conducive to market restructuring.
After his remark caused a stir, Lee took a step backward saying, “I didn’t mean I would implement it immediately; I meant we need to give it a thought.” However, Lee’s remark cannot be lightly considered because his other campaign pledges appear to be based on the “government-can-do-it-all” mentality. Some of these radical ideas include: basic income (giving an annual allowance of one million won to all people); basic housing (building 1 million public rental apartments and providing them with houseless people; and basic lending (loaning 10 million won per person at low interest rate. Only South American socialist countries would carry out such policies, and even within the Democratic ruling party Lee’s remark is receiving harsh criticism.
“We should not condone noninterference that provokes danger in the name of freedom,” Lee commented in explanation of his remark on the quota system. However, economic freedom, including the freedom to start a business, is the backbone of the free democratic system, along with property rights. Freedom to invest one’s property and earn profits and freedom to close down a business are both people’s basic rights that deserves the state’s protection. No matter how goodwilled the state may be, people’s basic rights should not be arbitrarily taken away or breached. Ruling Democratic Party presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung must candidly reveal his real intention behind the remark that poses a threat to the fundamental principle of market economy and correct his thoughts.