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[Newsmaker] Mayor of Seoul, Gyeonggi governor clash on social media over basic income plans

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon (Yonhap)
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon (Yonhap)
The mayor of Seoul and the governor of Gyeonggi Province, the heads of the two largest local governments in South Korea, exchanged words over the weekend on the topic of basic income support.

While Gyeonggi Gov. Lee Jae-myung proposes prioritizing the equal distribution of funds to people of all socioeconomic levels, Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon wants to give more to those with less income.

The two had clashed in the past over the matter, but the conflict flared up again last week when Oh wrote a social media post criticizing Lee’s universal basic income plan.

The idea of ensuring that everyone has at least some income has gained momentum here during the pandemic.

Lee is the first political figure who has championed the idea and made it a fiercely debated topic among presidential contenders from all sides.

“Universal basic income follows the basic concept of providing a consistent amount of cash every month without any conditions, but what Gov. Lee has pursued is mostly off this basic set of rules,” Oh said in a Facebook post Friday.

“Gov. Lee’s universal basic income scheme has already been criticized for being a one-time rescue finance, potentially worsening income polarization between the rich and the poor and being overly burdening in terms of finance.”

Oh said Lee’s proposal to give 1 million won ($905) a month to those under 30 and those aged 65 and above already violated the rule of being unconditional, and that his earlier promise to give out 300,000 won per year to every citizen to offset the new real estate property tax could not be considered consistent.

The Seoul mayor added that Lee’s concept had already been tried in Finland, but the experiment ended in failure.

Finland’s two-year plan, which ran until 2018, paid a monthly income of 560 euros ($685) to 2,000 randomly selected unemployed people without obliging them to actively search for jobs. A 2019 study from the University of Helsinki later revealed that the experiment had not been successful, as the number of people relying on the program had grown while jobs had not.

In criticizing Lee’s plan, Oh instead endorsed his own plan to provide financial support only for low-income households.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government is looking to hold a trial run of the initiative soon and decide further details. The experiment is to determine who should benefit and how much within the given budget for the city.

Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung (Yonhap)
Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung (Yonhap)
Gov. Lee fought back a day later on social media, arguing that Oh’s initiative made no sense considering how much the measure would cost if launched. He responded that his proposal was more conducive to equality and economic growth.

“Around 17 trillion won would be needed for Seoul to issue out ‘safe income,’ but that equals around 1.7 million won per Seoul citizen, or 6.8 million won for a four-person household, per year,” Lee said in a Facebook post Saturday.

“If we take the universal basic income way, the measure is equal for benefiting every taxpayer and helps economic growth through increased sales.”

The concept of basic income is expected to remain a hot-button topic in next year’s presidential race, as seen by the immense interest among presidential hopefuls. If Korea eventually implements a full-scale basic income program, it will be the first country in the world to do so.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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