The UOS Times
The Youth Cry: The Conflict between the Old Guard and the New Guard
In-young Joung  |
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[139호] 승인 2016.06.16  
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3-po Generation

List of most mentioned
new words on Social Media
based on Cho-sun Ilbo's big data analysis on newly invented words

Definition of Potential New Guards

Koreans in their 20s have been given labels more than any other generations before them. The “880,000 KRW generation” was the first label given to them. It is a word from the book 880,000 KRW Generation by Suck-hoon Woo and Kweon-il Park. According to the book, 880,000 KRW is the average income of employees in their 20s, under short-term contracts in Korea. The young generation has a second label “3-po generation” which means these people abandon dating, marriage, and having children. “5-po generation” is an upgraded version, adding getting jobs and housing to their list of abandonment. “7-po generation” is the most recent label given to today’s youth. This label shows that the young people today do not have social relationships and even hope in their lives.

According to Chosun Ilbo’s big data analysis on how much the newly invented words were used in social media, the words that signify the hatred and social inequality had a significant presence in today’s social media. This phenomenon showed the young generation’s negative attitude on current Korean society. “Geum-su-jeo (Gold spoon), and Heuk-su-jeo (Soil spoon)” were the two words most mentioned on social media, recording 190,000 mentions. Gold spoon represents the people with rich parents and soil spoon with the underprivileged. Today’s youth use these words to describe that one’s wealth is decided by their parents not their personal endeavor. The second ranked was “Hell-Chosun”, which is a combination of the words hell and Chosun dynasty (the old dynasty of Korea.) Hell indicates how Korean society is painful to live.

The Chosun represents the old class-system of the dynasty that has not expired and is still effective in Korea. The fourth word, “Bamboo Spear,” is relating to the youth’s hatred toward society as it is a symbolic weapon of the labor movement in Korea. This word shows how average people are angry with who that are rich and powerful people. People with the “Bamboo spear” consider the rich who aggregate the wealth through morally wrong methods. “Passion pay” ranked seventh and it describes the phenomenon that the youth are being unduly exploited as cheap labor on a short-term basis. The next word was “No-o-ryeok” which is a sarcastic expression of endeavor. It was to criticize that society does not consider making effort as a route to success. These new words gained popularity in a short time, which means people, mostly the youth, agree to the messages behind them.

Why does this hostility exist? One of the factors is the labor. Korea’s economy has entered a stage of subdued growth but it is especially harsh for the people in their 20s. The youth unemployment rate remained in the double digits (above ten percent) for the recent three months in a row according to data released on May 11th by Statistics Korea. Won-bo Shim, a director of Statistics Korea, said “The number of the unemployed aging 25 to 29 rose 39,000 in April from a year earlier.” Another factor that exists is the income inequality. While household incomes of those in their 50s and 60s increased seven and four percent respectively, those incomes of people in their 20s to 30s increased less than one percent. Heon-ho Hong, a researcher from The People, Economy, Society Institute, said “People in their 20s and 30s’ relative income decreases, while debt increases. However, people in their 40s to 50s have no increased debt. This means the impact of subdued economy harms the younger generations the most.”

Today’s youth have negative attitude on misused authoritarianism, which is prevalent in society. The youth has experienced the side effects and misuse of relationships based on the authoritarianism. “Nut rage” incident is a well-known case caused by a Korean Air executive who is the daughter of the airline’s owner. It was a typical case of so-called “gap-jil,” which means the arrogant and bossy attitude of the party to a contract who has a lower standing in that situation. Many films and dramas such as “You Call It Passion” depicted the “gap-jil” phenomenon and it has gained popularity.

Old Guard Heroes

Korean people in their 50s and 60s are now playing major roles and have contributed to today’s Korean society. They are known as the 86 generation. The “8” stands for the 80s when they attended universities. The “6” means their birth year, the 60s. This generation recently has taken over more positions of power in society at large.

The 86 generation has been replacing the most responsible positions in the economic section, politics and government. For example, 82.3 percent of 725 executives of Samsung Electronics are from the 86 generation. Also, six CEOs of Samsung who are recently promoted include four people from the 86 generation. In the politics, The Minjoo Party, the biggest and opposition party selected the 86 generation politicians, Sang-ho Woo and Wan-jung Park, as floor leaders on May 4th. Sang-ho Woo is the well-known 86 generation who aggressively participated in the 80s’ democratic movement. The government party, Saenuri Party, also chose the 86 generation congressman, Jin-seok Jeong, as their new floor leader on May 3rd. When it comes to the government, the 86 generation government officials replaced key posts in the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, which is one of the most crucial and responsible organizations for state affairs.

Democracy without Children
The 86 generation has greatly contributed to Korea’s democracy. They experienced military regime and fought against it. Students in major cities like Seoul, Busan and Gwangju led the labor and student movement with workers and average citizens wanting a better life. Their objectives were to accomplish democracy in politics, to protect human rights of the weak and to guarantee personal freedom from “big brother.” Even under severe pressure from the government, this 86 generation fought for their ideology. Many were detained, tortured, and socially excluded. A monumental year for them was the 1987 because the direct election system was enacted as a tangible result of their democratic movement. This was the symbolic event that signifies the 86 generation finally won the fight.

What the 86 generation accomplished after the democratic movement was the replacement of “victim-perpetrator relationship” with their older generations. President Dae-jung Kim and Mu-hyun Roh intrigued many activists and movement leaders into practical politics. Simultaneously, the 86 generations took main parts in the economic sector too. They were full of confidence in that they reached their goal.

After the 86 generation moved into political power, they limited the values of their successful democratic movements in the 80s. One example is the compensation law of 1999. The law was enacted in order to compensate victims and their families during the democratic and labor movement. However, Jeong-hwan Cheon, a professor at Sungkyunkwan University, describes this event as “nationalizing the value of resistance,” saying “this law limited and stereotyped the movement’s value and range.” This law instantly became disputable since the compensation range and the contribution to democratic movement were difficult to be defined and measured. Some activists and victims’ families voluntarily refused to be compensated because they believed the sacrifice and the values of the movement cannot and must not be judged by physical rewards. Professor Cheon argued that the effects of the democratic movement are social benefits for community not personal rewards.

This event led to the failure of developing the idea of democracy and of it transcending to younger generations. Yong-shik Moon, who is one of the members of digital communication committee of The Minjoo Party of Korea, was one of the student leaders in the 80s and was imprisoned during the movement. He said, “The old generation had fought for a better society but after they took power, their priority changed to protecting their power. It eventually led to no consideration for the current youth.”

Economy without Fair Distribution
Most of the 86 generation began their careers in the economic sectors in the 80s, and they achieved unprecedented progress in the Korean economy. According to Korea Bank, Korea’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has increased from 39,471 billion USD in 1980 to 1,485,078 billion USD in 2014 which makes Korea ranked 13th in the world. The 1980, Koreans had 725,000 KRW as an average personal income. This average income has increased to 16,626,000 KRW in 2014. The 86 generation has contributed to this dramatic growth for more than 30 years.

However, the fast economic growth failed to prevent current social polarization because the benefits in the market have not been fairly distributed. According to International Monetary Fund’s report on Asian countries’ inequality on March 16th, top ten percent of Korean people hold 45 percent of the whole household income. This ratio increased dramatically during the last 20 years in that the top ten percent occupied 29 percent of the whole income in 1995. According to a report on social mobility released on February 29th by Statistics Korea, 74.3 percent of the bottom income groups have remained as the poverty households. This data showed how limited Korean social mobility is. Seong-hui Jwa, the former president at Korea Economic Research Institute, described, “Korea’s economic growth depended on the expansion industry for 30 years before the 00s.” He added, “Unfortunately, the 80s is the time when allocative distortions started.”

Different Values and Attitudes

Headship vs Leadership
As a fast-follower, Korea rapidly grew economically since the 80s. Headship methodology was the most effective way to lead. The 86 generation led society with authoritarianism. How they managed organizations was based on authority or just power. The one in charge would distribute the work and deliver orders to the lower classes following the hierarchy of the organization. The 86 generation learned headship and emphasized orders, loyalty, legal regulation, one-sided communication, and physical reward and punishment. However, if members were seeking bigger power and authority, the advantages of the headship system failed.

What the young generation expects from the 86 generation is leadership, because the authoritarian relationships have brought about human rights violations as the side effects. Dong-ho Han (Dept. of Architectural Engineering ’13) said, “The era of the 86 generation is characterized by obedience, militia, fast growth economy, and extensions of cities. Human rights and personality were disregarded during this period.”

Leadership prefers voluntary fellowship rather than forcing members. It is the way of persuasion and cooperation. Teamwork in the base of equitable role and responsibility is emphasized. Leadership pursues bilateral communication, cohesion, and trust.

Conservative vs Progressive
Professor Cheon from Sungkyunkwan University also said that the misuse and overuse of the 86 generation’s pride has brought about the youth’s hostility and contempt because it created a chasm between the two generations. He added “the 86 generation who already made successful careers do not look back or doubt any wrong doings of the past. They keep solidified and romanticize the past.” Yeong-shik Oh, one of the 86 generation and a congressmans in The Minjoo Party, said “Many hoped a shift from the old politicians of the military regime, however, we were not able to change the old paradigm and became accustomed to conservative standards and customs.”

The 86 generation in high positions of companies are often disregarded by the young generation. The young generation has criticized that the old generation has passive attitudes on adopting new skills. According to a survey by Job Planet, young workers call the old generation “salary-thieves” meaning they receive huge amount of wages even though they have failed to adapt to new techniques. They evaluated them as more conservative like the older generation who are the people in their late 60s and above. One anonymous businessman from Samsung said in the interview, “Our team chief repeats his glorious memories in the 80s, being proud of participating in democratic movement. However, he does not know how to connect Wi-Fi even though he is in a mobile firm.” He added, “It would be more productive to replace high-salary elders with the young skillful workers that have today’s cutting-edge skills.”

Person vs Structure
People from the 86 generation regard the youth’s lack of passion and endeavor to resolve problems as the reason for their suffering. Sae-hoon Oh, the 86 generation politician from Saenuri Party, pointed out that today’s youth are lack of courage to accomplish goals, saying “Phrases like ‘anything is possible’ was popular in the 80s back then, however it is hard to find any pride like that from the youth today.”

The young generation refutes this argument, saying it is a completely different circumstance. Korea is now approaching 30,000 KRW GDP which is 30 times bigger than that of the 60s. This economic growth was a result of strategies by the older generations in the 50s. The 86 generation enjoyed the result even though they were born in one of the poorest countries in the world. Current subdued economic growth required different strategies to be prepared, however, what the 86 generation did for it was simply maintaining the old strategy; supporting the economic growth over democracy.

Another different circumstance is the amount of social cost responsible for the each generation. Standard & Poor reported that Korea will see the fastest aging population growth among advanced economies. In 2010, the old-age dependency ration, which is the measurement of elders in proportion to working-age population, reached 15.2 percent which means seven working-age people take over one elder. However, about two working-age population will have to take responsible for one elder in 2040. This is 57.2 percent increase and will be a huge burden for today’s youth and will weigh down the prospects of the economy.

Today’s youth have had more and higher education than the 86s, but there is a limited labor market. The 86 experienced five percent unemployment rate while today’s youth recorded its highest unemployment rate in March at 12.5 percent. This indicates that earning money in the 80s was dependent on how much you willing to try, while today’s youth suffers from the lack of opportunities.

Democracy, Again?

The 86 generation need to change the current economic paradigm into economic democracy. Economic democracy is the way to shorten the gap between the rich and poor by adjusting the balance of income disparity. Do-joong Jang, labor committee member from The Min-joo Party, defines economic democracy as fair distribution. In other words, exceeding benefits should be distributed fairly to the masses not to the establishment.

Economic democracy should be followed by democratic organization. Samsung plans to announce an innovation roadmap for human resource management. It includes reducing or removing positions in order to enhance communication among its members. It is to increase horizontal equality since Samsung evaluated the hierarchic class system and found it hindered creative ideas from young generation.

The 86 generation completed their first mission. Since they are taking over the most responsible positions in society, it is time for the 86 generation to regenerate the passion and the ideas that they have failed to develop. It is the last opportunity for them to precede another democratic movement together with the young generation. Their first mission for the extension of society has been completed. The next mission is to improve the quality of the society they have helped to create. Seok-hwi Song, professor of Urban Administration at UOS, stated “It is difficult to change economic structure and cultures through reorganization even though the 86 generation are in the top of the hierarchy. It is because they have become accustomed to the system for more than 30 years. However, no one can substitute the 86 generation's task to revamp social structure.” He added, “For the new movement, the young generation need to participate in their issues more actively, proving how solid their ideology and needs are.”

In-young Joung

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