Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Social inequality worsening in South Korea

Social inequality worsening in South Korea

Ben McGrath's great article reminds us about Korea's a particularly cruel austerity measure for Korean workers called "job sharing" that, as it turns out, has done nothing to relieve unemployment problems here. It's not hurting corporate profits, though. Check it out.

Job sharing can be advantageous for employees. It's not hard to think of the reasons for it working well for certain kinds of workers and the challenges it presents a employers and employees. However, job sharing is not good for Korean workers. It's used here to produce increased profit in corporations during a weak economic cycle. Employee wages do not increase, employment apparently increases, productivity increases, profits increase. It's a way to make employees bear the burden of austerity on behalf of their employers who bear little if any at all.

Like American workers, South Korean workers have been forced to take on more and more debt due to declining wages. According to figures from the National Tax Service last August, per capita earnings for the lowest 20 percent of workers liable for general income tax decreased by 35 percent between 1999 and 2009.

In no small part, this decline in wages came from casualisation of employment. The number of irregular workers—workers without contracts—has risen sharply since 1998. Today, more than half of the workforce, or 17 million people, are considered irregular, earning an average of just 1.35 million won a month ($1,145), or 57 percent of the regular average wage. Irregular workers are also subjected to workplace discrimination and firing at the whim of employers.

The chief architect of this “labour flexibility” was Democrat President Kim Dae-jung, elected in 1998, who imposed the conditions set by the International Monetary Fund for a $10 billion bailout in the midst of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

Kim’s successor, Roh Moo-hyun, continued to develop the Democratic Party’s anti-working class policy, introducing the falsely named Irregular Worker Protection Act in 2007. Employers were required to offer contracts to workers who remained for two years. However, companies exploited loopholes that allowed them to fire their irregular workers before the completion of their two years. After Lee came to power in 2008, he maintained the loopholes.

The result has been a rapid expansion of cheap labour. International Labour Organisation statistics show that workers earning two-thirds less than median wage comprise 25.6 percent of the workforce, compared to 24.8 percent in the US and 15 percent in Japan.

The so-called “poor class”—defined by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development as households earning less than 50 percent of the median income—increased to 3.52 million or over 20 percent of the total in 2009, double the OECD average of 10.6 percent. The so-called middle classes, earning 50-150 percent of the median income, declined from 60.4 percent in 2003 to 55.5 percent in 2009, according to Statistics Korea.

By sharp contrast, the top corporate executives—including President Lee, a former Hyundai CEO—have made extraordinary fortunes. The 2011 list of the 40 richest individuals in South Korea saw a record of 21 US dollar billionaires, up from 11 in 2010 and 5 in 2009. Last year, they added more than $20 billion to their collective wealth, now worth $65.6 billion.

Samsung’s Lee Kun-hee is No.1, with net wealth of $9.3 billion, ahead of Hyundai Motor’s Chung Mong-koo, whose fortune jumped 80 percent to $7.4 billion last year. That was not the most dramatic rise. Nexon online gaming owner Kim Jung-ju leapt 260 percent to $2.06 billion, while Mirae Asset Management Group’s Park Hyeon-joo tripled his worth to $1.5 billion.

Sections of the ruling elite are warning about the explosive consequences of this sharp polarisation between the powerful corporate elite and millions of poorly-paid workers. Former Premier Chung Un-chan warned in July that the gap between rich and poor had reached such a “grave level” that there was a “possibility of our society collapsing.” This was “a more serious matter than relations with North Korea,” he said.

Friday, October 21, 2011

dagSound: Burn Out Sessions, No4

I've just uploaded Burn Out No4: Bombed Out Lovers to dropbox. You can find it on my tumblr or on dagSound. Download it or stream it (if you have the most recent browsers.)

Enjoy And Play It Loud.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Something Rachel Maddow Doesn't Know

While talking about Korean President Lee Myung Bak, fucking Rachel Maddow said the Korean language is “written in the most part using Chinese characters" during the last segment of her show while making a stupid point about pronouncing the President's name.

Apparently, Maddow’s writers didn’t even bother typing “korean and language” into Google. Hangul Day was just last week, for crying out loud. 565 years ago, Korea created its own alphabet. Hangul should not be confused with Hanja, the Chinese characters Koreans use that Maddow seems to be thinking about but knows nothing about. Maybe she was thinking about 19th Century Korea when Chinese was still prevalent here? I don’t know. Maybe she was trying to refer to the fact that many Korean personal names are based on Hanja? I don’t know. She certainly wasn’t thinking about a good portion of the 20th Century when Japan occupied Korea and outlawed Hangukmal forcing Koreans to take Japanese names and to learn Japanese.

It doesn’t matter. Korean is most certainly not “written in the most part using Chinese characters.” It wouldn’t have taken more than a minute of work to figure this out so that Maddow could make her stupid point about how we spell his name, Lee, is not how we pronounce his name in Korea, “eee”.

FTW. Americans are such idiots when it comes to Korea. Maddow should know better because she’s got an army of fans that hang on her every word. We’re still engaged in war in Korea. We have had our American hands involved with shaping this peninsula for over 100 years, often causing intense suffering and harm because of our actions: turning our backs on Korea when Japan occupied, waging war in their country, turning our backs on democracy fighters in Gwangju in 1980. We should know about Korea.

If she wanted to say something cute, nerdy and interesting about the surname 이 (most commonly pronounced “Lee” in English and pronounced “eee” in Korean) she could have talked about all the variations Chinese and Korean immigrants used.  For example: Lee, Li, Yee, Yi, Rhee are all the same name.

Here's the segment:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Pessimistic Whiteness: It's your privilege catching up to you

Life is getting hard for white people in the United States, and they’re not happy about it. The government is to blame, right? Not so fast.

What happens when white people become class conscious? In other words, what happens when a white family wakes up from the dream of upward mobility to find that they, like all the non-white families around them, aren’t quickly moving up the social ladder?

Apparently, they give up hope for a better life while their nonwhite neighbors believe, with a little time, they’ll be better off than they are today. In my opinion, what we see in this story is a desire for whites to hang on to their whiteness. In order to cling to whiteness, they give up their optimistic looking forward to wealth and general, social upward-mobility. They say, At least I’m white. That statement embodies white pessimism.

The research is proving Lillian Smith’s claim about the bargain poor whites make with wealthy whites about wealth and whiteness. She published Killers of the Dream in 1949. Guess it takes the popular culture 63 years or so to wake up to the reality that when white people realize they aren’t “getting rich,” they become satisfied with their social and economic status and begin relying on whiteness itself to provide its unique and unearned privileges. Others must look forward to the potential for upward mobility in spite of its difficult achievement because they aren’t born privileged, and they know it. They’ve didn’t inherit access to privilege and they realize they must work hard if they’re to have any opportunity to achieve. They can remain, or be seen to remain, hopeful. White people feel it’s owed to them. When they don’t get success, they become (get) pessimistic.

Check out this article from The Atlantic, “Why Whites Are More Pessimistic About Their Future Than Minorities”. The Atlantic doesn’t put it like I did above, but that’s not surprising. I think it’s an operation of white power: we’re encouraged to look at non-white families to see what’s different about white families. Such narratives provide us, as a culture, with the notion that we are integrated. Of course, white people are pessimistic. We are taught to expect (to inherit) privilege. I’m not saying The Atlantic article is racist, so don’t get me wrong. I’m just pointing out that an article (that examines white pessimism) is mostly written about non-white people. White is always in contrast with others. It’s always non-essential to the narratives that describe it. Dig?

Why do white people blame the government? Because the bargain they make with white privilege is that they will never blame wealthy white Capitalists, the actual culprits. SEE ALSO, crass libertarianism, capitalist libertarians, Ron Paul dittoheads. These people have a radical certainty that they, too, have a natural right to achieve the wealth rich folks merely inherit.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ignore my crappy Hangukmal, but not my privilege.

I'm working hard at being a better Korean speaker and reader. I'm trying to learn. I'm in my fourth year here and I've lived in the same neighborhood for three years. I feel at home here.

I'm trying to learn. I'm in my fourth year. I've lived in my neighborhood for three years. It's very hard to go from knowing beginning Korean to knowing complex Korean--what we call intermediate Korean here. So difficult. Especially out of school. The learning curve for beginning Korean is not too high. If you speak Korean as often as possible and practice with friends, you can do well because Korean has strict rules that once learned and understood help instruct more than confuse. And the longer you live here, you learn to mask your foreign accent and sound a little more Korean. But once you've mastered small talk in Hangukmal, the learning curve becomes difficult.

I'm excited, though. Next year, I'll be in school full-time, five days a week at Sungkyunkwan University. I get a family discount on tuition--thanks wife!--and am going to take advantage of it while I'm unemployed. Goal is to be at a good level of spoken Korean next Summer. I want to be able to use Korean and resort to English. That's not as easy as it sounds.

It's hard because I feel super-guilty the longer I stay. I want to talk to my friends with more than small talk. It's my responsibility. I feel obligated. This obligation-feeling, the impulse to be obligated, is very Korean. It's not something we learn in the US. I feel obligated to the folks in my neighborhood to learn Korean. I could reject the obligation, as most of the foreigners who live here do. To be fair, most do try to learn survival Korean and some learn the next level, small-talk Korean. And many succeed. But it takes dedication to be good (intermediate,) even a little schooling. So, it takes investment and dedication.

I just went for a drink to the corner store and the clerk wanted to know why it's been a while since he saw me. I told him I've been studying. He asked where. I told him, no I'm writing at home. He then asked me what exactly I was doing. He didn't understand because I confused him. Studying at home? For what? Well, that's hard to explain because it's technical. And I can do it with Korean and English, which he can't understand because he can't use English. Now, I feel obligated to learn so I can tell him.

I'd never have felt this way in the US, for example, felt obligated to learn Spanish to speak with my neighbors in West Denver. I had twenty years to do that and not once did I say it with a sense of obligation, I should learn Spanish. And not one native English speaker would ever feel obligated. It's a choice. I wanted to learn Spanish, but I studied Latin. (Why the fuck did I study Latin. What a dork.)

That I still have the option to invest and dedicate myself to learning Korean language while living and working in Korea while my Korean neighbors are obligated to learn English is a sign of my privilege. And this is something many foreigners simply don't care to understand.