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Rivals slam Gov. Lee over his basic income pledge

Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung (Yonhap)
Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung (Yonhap)
Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung is fighting back criticism from all across the political spectrum of his presidential campaign pledge to provide a universal basic income of up to 2 million won ($1,730) per year to all citizens.

Lee, currently the ruling Democratic Party of Korea’s presidential front-runner, announced last week that if he is elected president, the government will start giving 2 million won a year to citizens aged between 19 and 29, and 1 million won to all other citizens within the five-year term of the next administration.

The end goal would be paying every citizen 500,000 won per month, he said, the equivalent to what is currently offered to those in the lowest income bracket.

Lee said his basic income plan is not just about welfare, but will also help the economy grow, and that he will finance it by introducing new taxes on land holdings and carbon emissions.

Critics of Lee’s idea say the money will not improve welfare, and his plans to afford the payouts don’t make any sense.

“Giving 80,000 won a month to all citizens is a waste of tax for those who can live without the money, and is too little for those who need the money,” Yoo Seong-min, a former legislator and current opposition presidential contender, wrote on Facebook on Saturday, adding that he was beginning “a war against Gov. Lee’s bad populism.”

Former chief state auditor Choe Jae-hyeong said spending over 50 trillion won in taxpayer money a year to give 80,000 won to all citizens is unlikely to improve people’s lives.

“It would be better to call it ‘dining allowance for the entire nation,’ instead of basic income,” he said.

“I agree to the idea of expanding welfare, but cannot agree to throwing cash around. Welfare benefits can be effective when they are provided where necessary at the right time.”

Lee immediately shot back, saying the money could be peanuts to some, but it will be a lifeline for others, referring to news about people who took their own lives due to extreme poverty.

He also asked others running for president what their alternatives were to bridge the deepening socioeconomic divide.

Former prime minister and presidential hopeful of the Democratic Party, Chung Sye-kyun has been denouncing Lee’s basic income plan as “a policy that will ruin the country” and “robbing the state budget that should be used for those who need protection and giving it to the rich.”

Lee said he will secure over 25 trillion won by reforming the government’s financial structure and spending less in other areas, and much more by collecting new land holding and carbon taxes.

Chung shot back that Lee was basically saying the Moon Jae-in administration was wasting 25 trillion won, and asked how exactly Lee plans to save so much.

Chung also said the purpose of introducing land holding and carbon taxes was to reduce land lease fees and carbon emissions, and eventually make those taxes unnecessary.

“If you want to use them to finance basic incomes, it will be possible only if the goals of those two taxation policies fail,” Chung said, adding that Lee’s plans were “amateurish” ideas that anyone who knows the minimum about public finance management principles would not suggest.

“Before blaming candidate Lee, I want to scold his policy advisers. As a candidate of the same party, it’s uncomfortable watching (him) being mocked by other parties.”

Lee Nak-yon, another former prime minister running for the Democratic Party’s presidential candidacy, also said a carbon tax is merely an incentive to reduce carbon emissions and cannot be the source of a welfare plan, and that the new land holding tax will clash with existing property holding taxes.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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