Based on the regime theory of welfare state, this study aims to inquire into the current state of the Korean welfare system and obtain implications for its future directions by comparing welfare states in various areas, including the labor market, family support policy, old-age security, tax system, welfare expenditure, redistribution and the quality of society. The findings of this study can be summarized as follows.
Firstly, one of the advantages of the regime theory is that it reveals the roots of “sameness” and “difference” in the historicity and sociality of one society, and the systematic structure as a result, and helps us understand how even though the advantageous institutions of one society are selectively chosen and implanted in another society, it is impossible to expect the same outcome.
Secondly, according to the three intended areas of formalization through the combination among unemployment insurance, unemployment assistance and active labor market policy oriented to 12 Welfare States in 2005 and after 2010, Korea was classified as an “unstable unemployment safety net”,along with Italy, Japan and the UK. This shows that these countries have in common a high level of poverty and inequality, and the labor market regime is not effective in alleviating the poverty and inequality.
Thirdly, Korea is classified as “a male breadwinner model” with low level of cash grant of family allowance, maternity leave and child care services on the whole. However, this is the situation of 2010, after which the country’s child care services have vastly improved.
Fourthly, a look at public spending on old-age income assistance, health and long-term care indicates that Korea’s old-age security system has shifted from “medicine-centered” (2000) to “service-centered” (2011). This phenomenon is the product of two factors of contribution. 1) In the middle of the weak system of public income security for the elderly including National Pension, health insurance is relatively developed. 2) Due to the settlement of long-term care insurance system for the elderly implemented from 2008, geriatric care services rapidly extended.
Fifthly, Korea is classified as “neutral country” which is not inclined to one side in terms of tax burden, similar to Southern Europe. In fact, considering the current coordinates of tax burden, it is considered advantageous if the direction of tax increase is not inclined to one side. In other words, it is required to look for the golden rule minimizing the tax resistance and maximizing tax increase effects through the appropriate com bination among reduction of corporate tax exemption, increase of income tax rate, decrease of Duty Free Shop, increment of consumption tax focused on non-basic goods and increase of pension contributions.
Sixthly, Korea’s public welfare expenditures are low while its health care expenditures are high. However, we can see the difference in the sense that, in the 1990s, cash assistance and expenditures for the elderly were higher than the OECD average, while, in the 2011, the spending for families and expenditures in kind were relatively higher. It is presumable that this happened by the sudden growth of expenditures on child care and social services, while the public pension was still unstable. However, the moving point of the current coordinates will be related to how the social risks can develop and how and to what degree the reproduction risks can be raised as a consequence.
Lastly, the level of inequality in Korea is slightly lower than the average and the quality of life greatly falls short of the average, but compared with some Southern European countries such as Portugal and Greece, it is relatively higher. As we can see, the level of Korea’s social expenditures does not even reach half the OECD average; however, it is too early to judge that Korea is becoming more like Southern European countries, where, even after a great amount of social expenditure, inequality remains high and the quality of life low. Nonetheless to synthetize a variety of welfare coordinates we have studied so far, it is equally understandable that there many similarities between Korea and Southern European countries.