Regional affirmative action has the right premise but does everything wrong in its attempt to solve the problem. The disparity between the regions of Korea is enormous and warrants both concern and an effective solution. However, this policy designed to address that issue is both misguided and grossly incompetent in its design.
There is no denying that South Korea as a nation is heavily skewed towards its capital, Seoul. The Seoul Capital Area (SCA), comprising of Seoul, Incheon, and Gyeonggi-do, is home to 49.84 percent of the entire population of Korea. According to the Korean Statistical Information Service (KOSIS), Seoul’s regional GDP (GRDP) places second overall in the entire nation, with 372.1 trillion KRW. When half of the population lives in 11 percent of the total space of the country, policies and budget allocation start to become concentrated. Businesses, from massive enterprises to private firms, gravitate and consolidate within this region, providing more for Seoul while circulation dwindles everywhere else. In fact, while Ulsan had the highest GRDP per capita in the whole country with 64.4 million KRW, Seoul had the highest per capita consumption at 20.2 million, with Ulsan lagging at 16.5 million. For further comparison, Seoul boasts a 1,113km underground rail network, while Busan, the second most populous city in Korea, has only 40.7 kilometers.
Considering all, there is no wonder why non-SCA residents criticize this phenomenon by calling the Republic of Korea, the “Republic of Seoul.” Because we live in a democracy, 50 percent of all votes is not something candidates can lose; politicians have set forth policies to address this difference and close the gap between regions. Perhaps the most ambitious of such policies is regional affirmative action. Regional affirmative action is a policy that aims to empower regions by setting quotas on civil service examinations and state enterprises’ hiring process. In essence, its current form defines candidates’ “region-ness” by factoring in their alma mater. If their alma mater is not in the SCA region, then that person is a “regional human resource.” The bureaucratic incompetence is most glaring here.
If a person has lived in Seoul for 19 years but moves to Daegu, to pursue higher education for four years, would you say that that person is from Seoul, or from Deagu? This hypothetical illustrates the problem of regional affirmative action quite well. The issue is that people move. Statistics for 2018 show us that while Seoul’s out-migration rate (per one hundred people) is the second highest in the country at 16.1 percent, the in-migration rate of people in their 20s is also second highest at 2.7 percent. Seoul was one of only five regions where more youths moved in, rather than out.
Where do these people come from? Well, of course, they come from the very regions the government is trying to empower through affirmative action. So due to this policy, these people, who perhaps lived their entire lives outside of Seoul, is now a non-regional candidate because they got an education in one of the SCA colleges. To put it bluntly, they are now discriminated in reverse because they had the audacity to leave their homes and come to Seoul to attend college, a college that most likely has better prospects and opportunities than ones available at home. The disparity is a problem, but this “solution” is not helping anyone.
The crux of regional affirmative action is this: the problem is real, and the underlying idea is noble. The implementation, however, is as well planned as trying to chop down a tree by sawing off a branch while standing on one. It gets nothing substantial done, and you will be offended.
Choi Hyun-bin firstname.lastname@example.org
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