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Revolutionary Idea: The More Vulnerable, The More Votes

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A radical proposal from a national policy research institute suggests reforming the one-person, one-vote electoral system to give more voting rights to younger and lower-income individuals. This is because the current progressive tax system, which taxes the wealthy more, is limited in resolving polarization.

The Korea Institute of Public Finance recently published a report titled Reflections for a Sustainable Society: From Tax Policy to Political Philosophy for Reducing Polarization. The report was the last one written by Hong Beom Kyo, 66, the former head of the Tax Policy Research Office, who recently left the institute.

In the report, former Director Hong proposed an equal voting system by generation, taking into account the population differences among age groups. He stated, “The likelihood of the voices of future generations being reflected is extremely low as long as we rely on the one-person, one-vote system.”

He pointed out that “the population of people in their 20s is only 75% of those in their 50s,” and suggested that introducing a differential voting system that grants 4 votes per person in their 20s and 3 votes per person in their 50s could a fairer system. The idea is to reflect the aspirations of the 2030 generation when making government economic policies.

Hong’s argument stems from the premise that there is a mismatch between the group making policy decisions and the group affected by the policies in a low birthrate, aging society where the population pyramid is inverted. When designing economic and social systems, the younger generation will be affected by the system for a longer period, but the actual elections reflect the opinions of the elderly and middle-aged population, which have a higher population proportion.

Against this backdrop, former Director Hong pointed out that the current progressive tax system, which is being introduced to resolve the polarization of income and wealth in our society, is not working as originally intended, which is to collect more taxes from the rich to support the weak.

He emphasized that “To create a sustainable society, we need to mitigate polarization, and the structure of the progressive tax system is a basic solution to mitigate polarization. However, although most countries have a progressive income tax structure, the reality is that polarization is intensifying. This shows that the progressive tax system alone is not enough.”

Despite the progressive taxes, the situation of polarization remains severe. In South Korea, progressive taxes are applied to income and property taxes. According to the report, as of 2022, the average wage in Korea was calculated at $32,300. The lower 50% earned $10,400, while the top 10% earned $150,300, 14.5 times more than the lower 50%. The top 1% holds 25.4% of Korea’s wealth.

Former Director Hong believes that the current level of progressive tax has limitations in resolving wealth polarization and that it is necessary to decide on the introduction of additional tax policies such as strengthening the progressiveness of income tax, wealth tax (tax on the highest income bracket), and windfall tax (tax on companies that make excessive profits from natural disasters). The decision on how to introduce additional tax policies is the role of ‘politics’, but the current one-person, the one-vote system can only create political polarization between generations, making it difficult to reach a consensus on wealth redistribution.

Hong acknowledged that the idea of a differential voting system “could cause antipathy,” but he also suggested that it could be considered an exemplary idea considering the current political structure where the voices of the wealthy elite are reflected more strongly.

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