Saturday, July 16, 2011

Welfare Politics

Grand National Party (GNP) Chairman Hong Joon-pyo has embarked upon a “pro-working class journey,” making visits to the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) on July 14 his first official events since assuming the party leadership.

“There is no conservative and no progressive when it comes to policies for the working class,” said Hong during an afternoon visit to the PSPD. “The right thing to do is work together to solve North-South Korean problem, starting with working class policies.”

GNP chairman reaches out to pro-working class organizations, Hankyoreh

Over the past two years there has been quite a shift in the discourse of Korean politics, with the ascendency of welfare state discourse. Unlike the conservative discourse that framed welfare states as immoral excess and dominated Anglo-American countries from the 1980s, this discourse seems generally affirmative and has resulted in competition between parties vying with different visions for making Korea into a welfare state. Much of this talk revolves around policies such as free school lunches and lower tuition, but there is a potential here for more coherent and egalitarian political vision to shape the discussion. That the very terms of the debate are structured around welfare shows that there is weakening of conservative discourse and that, in many ways, the political left should be able to more effectively leverage the debate towards a more comprehensive social democratic vision. Unfortunately, I haven't seen much in the way of substantive policies from the DP, both parties seem to talk about welfare apart from the necessary policies needed to pursue it, such as progressive taxation. In other words, they tend to depoliticize the discussion. It will be interesting to look in more depth at some of the new organizations that have sprung up in this debate are proposing to reshape Korea's political economy. I'm going to try to post more on this, and a few other things, in the coming months.

Pictured above: proto-welfarist Robert Owen's New Lanark


  1. i love this blog... i just found you from a comment on Roboseyo's blog where you mentioned Ian Buruma's Playing for Keeps... I am still searching for the text of the article... so, you come up on a google search there.

    It's late where I am, but I will def come back tomorrow and read up... I can't believe I never knew this was here.

  2. Cheers! I've not been posting very frequently the last 2 years, but will try to update the site in the coming months.