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Posts tagged ‘South Korea’

Lamentation To The Cows Of Bashan – By Izuchukwu Okeke.


By Izuchukwu Okeke

It is 9 am as I stepped finally into the long-stretched passage. It was empty; no teacher, no students; only me. I was late, quite unfortunately. The lectures start at 9 am, and it is expected everyone be in the class at least 8:55 am. And, surely, here, once it is 8:55 the lecturers all file out to the various classes. And once it is 9 am, the classes start. If you arrive a minute past 9, you are late, as I was this day.

The reality of this empty passage sent my mind back to the country I was coming from. I was not even comparing the punctuality of the academic cadre or the standard of education itself. I was thinking of the massive collapse of its essence, its availability and the poverty of its prospects.

The night before, I read it on the Internet that lecturers in the Polytechnics were still on strike. They had been before the University lecturers joined in the middle of last year and continued till early this year. University students sat through 6 months dining with the two worst devils of life: idleness and boredom. The Polytechnic lecturers took few months break and had resumed strike again. And, as it seems, politicians are busy carpeting and cross carpeting; somehow they are not interested in the rants of these distracting academic hordes. So when will the students in Polytechnic go back to class? It is not even known.

I live in Korea, and in this country education is everything. I think it is not necessary to blow anymore horn about the strength of this nation’s economy, standards of their infrastructure and quality of their living standards; all hinged on the power and value of their education system. But it is worth mentioning what I found to be the major discrepancy between these two nations. Here, psyche is the central and most respected national resource; human resources are the strength of the government, the economy and the society, which is why education is everything. Every effort is invested and legitimately dispensed at developing the individual to become a global brand, to earn the capacity to compete with his mates anywhere they are found in the globe.

This country situated on the peninsula betwixt China, North Korea and Japan squat on a total of 100,210 km sq area of land. But unfortunately 72 percent of this land is hills, plateaus and mountains. Meaning that their populations of a little over 50,000,000 people live within the remaining clusters, in relatively higher density, 501.1/km2, higher than most nations of the world. From the shackles of Japanese domination in 1950, this country has risen in leaps and bounds. Among its endearing statistics is the fact that within these decades that followed its independence South Korea economy has been transformed into a G-20 major economy and has the second highest standard of living in Asia, having an HDI of 0.909.

Yes, South Korea is Asia’s fourth largest economy and the world’s 15th (nominal) or 12th (purchasing power parity) largest economy. But Korea has no Crude Oil, Tin, Iron Ore, Gold or Diamond Mines. This economy is export-driven. South Korean corporations like Samsung and LG (ranked first and third largest mobile phone companies in the world in the first quarter of 2012 respectively) dominate world markets, among the many beautiful, yet daunting stories of their transformation.

Behind this testimony of exemplary 50 decades of industrial development is an educational and social philosophy that underscores, perfectly well, that the true wealth of a nation is not its natural resources as much as it is its human resources. And each new day as I walk towards the class in Sunkyunkwan University, I am reminded of this philosophy. And also of wholly dedicated, hard-working, cheerful teachers who can go to any length to impart knowledge to the students. How many times I pity the extent of their personal sacrifice to advance the academic goals of their students. But they all work according to this country’s educational philosophy.

The classes are fully equipped with advanced learning infrastructure. The chalkboard a long time ago had given way to a board fully equipped with Power Point presentation facility, digitalized and connected to the Internet. Our test books are online and everything we have to do is online based and of the best standards compared to anywhere in the world.

Here, sadly, a 60 mark/grade after an exam is just a pass! Not even a credit. So any score less than 70, you have to go through a review to step you up and you have to write an exam to prove the review produced the expected result. And this and other factors have driven this nation from the brinks of poverty to industrial heights.

But, somehow, as I entered the class with these thoughts, I began, once again, to nurse that deep gorge of guilt that comes to me when I remember my country, Nigeria. That feeling also comes along with a certain gnawing pain of the advanced nature of ignorance spawned by our system on both the leaders and the lead that seems to suggest nothing will change soon. Since I was born the story has always been that the situation is bad for the common man. It had gone from worse, to worst, until there is no relative adverb to describe the situation now.

I did not cause Nigeria’s problem. I did not steal anybody’s money to be here. My father until his demise was a poor village farmer. My mother is still living off her labour in the farm. I am only a fortunate candidate of a scholarship programme. But this feeling when it comes doesn’t leave me soon. It keeps digging deep hole on my moral fibre. I keep wondering if there is a way I may have contributed to making Nigeria what it is. Leaving over 70 percent of her human population disillusioned and gasping for life, not knowing how and from which source the next meal will come. Seeking miracle in anything mentioned to possess divine power.

I was also keep wondering how Nigerian students abroad whose parents are part and parcel of this system that created the rot feel. How do they feel knowing their parents have left many of the nation’s youths disoriented and confused? How do they feel when their parents pay so much for them to study in this kind of environment, and knowing that this money, by every legitimate standards their parents cannot earn it? How do they feel when they remember that having messed up the system and exported them abroad to acquire the best education their parents left the system back home in total pell-mell. How do they feel to learn that their mates down in the villages are giving up legitimate endeavors and making career prospects in kidnapping and robbery? How do they really feel? Worse than I do? Or maybe they do not feel anything at all?

In the last one-month a drama has been playing out between the Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi on the one hand and Ministries of Finance, Petroleum and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, on the other. As it were the whole nation focused on it, because of the whopping amount of money involved. And as that drama played out, the reality of the hopelessness of the Nigerian situation dawned so much on me. That drama defines us in the mean time. Nobody in Nigeria’s governance system has an alternative thinking—or may be just a tiny minority of wayward thinkers who do not even possess the gut and grit to make it to the positions of governance.

To many of them there now at the corridors of power, be it political or bureaucratic, all they want is money. Everyone is talking money, oil money; how it is stolen, how it is not stolen! No one else is thinking. To Nigeria and Nigerians this oil money is everything. You have it, you have everything, you don’t have it, and you don’t have anything. That charade at the House of Assembly also defines the 2015 and the slapsticks of cross-carpeting that have become a daily news menu. Because everybody, everybody politician, wants to place himself at the vantage position to have a bite of the piece of the cake come 2015. They have been eating, and they want to keep eating.

Google, two regular guys’ idea is about to worth more than our oil. The Facebook founder is just 24 years old. But where are Nigerian youths? Is anybody concerned at the mess we left him or her? Of the frustration we are building up among them? Just education! Give them education, a qualitative one, so that they can on their own change their world, compete with their fellows elsewhere. No! Nigerian politicians do not see the resource in the youth. They are only tools used and dumped during elections.

In this generation Nigerian leaders are wired in pursuit of oil blocks and loots because in our clime ideas do not sell and if ideas sell, regular guys will become threats to Nigerian politicians. May be that is the fear. Because I do not see the big deal in investing 30 percent of our resources in revamping the educational system, and establishing it on the best standards and employ it to eliminate this endemic poverty in our clime.

As I sit in the class this day carrying this feeling and thinking these thoughts, the pain gnaws even harder that nothing will change. What will I write more than have been written these years, and what will I say that that has not been said? Like Amos in the bible called their likes, they are cows of Bashan. But we will keep lamenting to their ears. Even when they refuse to change, heaven will bear witness that we told them, as our fathers did.

Izuchukwu Okeke Job
KGSP Scholar
Sungkyunkwan University
Suwon, South Korea

 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters

North Korea’s Kim Warned he Might Face Charges over Atrocities.


North Korean security chiefs and possibly even Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un himself should face international justice for ordering systematic torture, starvation and mass killings bordering on genocide, U.N. investigators said on Monday.

The investigators told Kim in a letter they were advising the United Nations to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC), to ensure any culprits “including possibly yourself” were held accountable.

North Korea said it “categorically and totally” rejected the investigators’ report, which it called “a product of politicization of human rights on the part of EU and Japan in alliance with the U.S. hostile policy”.

The unprecedented public warning and rebuke to a ruling head of state by a U.N. Commission of Inquiry is likely to complicate efforts to persuade the isolated country to rein in its nuclear weapons program and belligerent confrontations with South Korea and the West.

The U.N. investigators said they had also told Kim’s main ally China that it might be “aiding and abetting crimes against humanity” by sending migrants and defectors back to North Korea, where they faced torture and execution – a charge that Chinese officials had rebutted.

As referral to the ICC is seen as a dim hope, given China’s likely veto of any such move by Western powers in the U.N. Security Council, thoughts are also turning to setting up some form of special tribunal on North Korea, diplomatic and U.N. sources told Reuters.

“We’ve collected all the testimony and can’t just stop and wait 10 years. The idea is to sustain work,” said one.

 

“REMINISCENT OF NAZI ATROCITIES”

Michael Kirby, chairman of the independent Commission of Inquiry, told Reuters the crimes the team had catalogued in a 372-page report were reminiscent of those committed by Nazis during World War Two.

“Some of them are strikingly similar,” he said.

“Testimony was given … in relation to the political prison camps of large numbers of people who were malnourished, who were effectively starved to death and then had to be disposed of in pots burned and then buried … It was the duty of other prisoners in the camps to dispose of them,” he said.

The independent investigators’ report, the size of a telephone directory, listing atrocities including murder, torture, rape, abductions, enslavement, starvation and executions.

“The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” it said.

The findings came out of a year-long investigation involving public testimony by defectors, including former prison camp guards, at hearings in South Korea, Japan, Britain and the United States.

Defectors included Shin Dong-hyuk, who gave harrowing accounts of his life and escape from a prison camp. As a 13-year-old, he informed a prison guard of a plot by his mother and brother to escape and both were executed, according to a book on his life called “Escape from Camp 14″.

North Korea’s diplomatic mission in Geneva dismissed the findings shortly before they were made public. “We will continue to strongly respond to the end to any attempt of regime-change and pressure under the pretext of ‘human rights protection’,” it said a statement sent to Reuters.

 

“DELIBERATE STARVATION”

The abuses were mainly perpetrated by officials in structures that ultimately reported to Kim – state security, the Ministry of People’s Security, the army, the judiciary and Workers’ Party of Korea, according to the investigators, led by Kirby, a retired Australian chief justice.

“It is open to inference that the officials are, in some instances, acting under your personal control,” Kirby wrote in the three-page letter to Kim published as part of the report.

The team recommended targeted U.N. sanctions against civil officials and military commanders suspected of the worst crimes. It did not reveal any names, but said that it had compiled a database of suspects from evidence and testimony.

Pyongyang has used food as “a means of control over the population” and “deliberate starvation” to punish political and ordinary prisoners, according to the team of 12 investigators.

Pervasive state surveillance quashed all dissent. Christians were persecuted and women faced blatant discrimination. People were sent to prison camps without hope of release.

The investigators were not able to confirm allegations of “gruesome medical testing of biological and chemical weapons” on disabled people and political prisoners, but said they wanted to investigate further.

North Korea’s extermination of political prisoners over the past five decades might amount to genocide, the report said, although the legal definition of genocide normally refers to the killing of large parts of a national, ethnic or religious group.

North Korean migrants and defectors returned by China regularly faced torture, detention, summary execution and forced abortion, said the report.

Kirby warned China’s charge d’affaires in Geneva Wu Haitao in a Dec 16 letter that the forced repatriations might amount to “the aiding and abetting (of) crimes against humanity”, it said.

Wu, in a reply also published in the report, said that the fact that some of the illegal North Korean migrants regularly managed to get back into China after their return showed that the allegations of torture were not true.

“The DPRK (North Korea) has been looked at by the Security Council solely as a nuclear proliferation issue,” Julie de Rivero of campaign group Human Rights Watch told Reuters.

“This (report) is putting human rights in the DPRK on the map, which it wasn’t before, and hopefully will put the spotlight on the U.N. and international community to respond to not just the security threat,” she added.

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.
Source: Newsmax.com

LIGNET: Kim Jong Un’s Charm Offensive Makes US, South Korea Nervous.


Image: LIGNET: Kim Jong Un's Charm Offensive Makes US, South Korea Nervous

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves to the crowd during a military parade above Kim Il-Sung Square in Pyongyang on July 27, 2013. (Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

North Korean rhetoric in the run-up to this year’s joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States has been more restrained than usual. Last week the North Korean government, headed by leader Kim Jong Un,  issued an open letter to the South urging improved relations and complaining that the military exercises are an obstacle to better ties.

The North also agreed to a South Korean proposal to resume family reunions, which have been suspended since 2010. But South Korean and U.S. officials reacted skeptically to the North’s charm offensive, worrying that it is a deception and a prelude to a resumption of provocations.

Click HERE to read an exclusive analysis from LIGNET’s top intelligence experts. 

© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

 

Kim Uncle’s Execution by Dog Story Likely Came From Satire.


Image: Kim Uncle's Execution by Dog Story Likely Came From SatireJang Song Thaek

SEOUL, South Korea — An international media frenzy over reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s uncle had been executed by throwing him to a pack of dogs appears to have originated as satire on a Chinese microblogging website.

The story, which spread like wildfire after it was picked up by a Hong Kong-based newspaper, has created an image that Pyongyang’s young ruler is even more brutal and unpredictable than previously believed.

While North Korea has said it purged and executed Kim’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek, last month, it did not release details of how the man who was once the second most powerful figure in the isolated country was killed.

Initial speculation was that Jang had been killed by firing squad, a fate that media outlets said was the usual one reserved for “traitors.” But an alternative narrative of the 67-year old’s death emerged on what appears to have been a satirical post on the Chinese Tencent Weibo site that has been repeated by many media outlets worldwide.

The post records that it was viewed 290,000 times.The Hong Kong-based Wen Wei Po newspaper released an article and a screenshot of the Weibo post which it used to justify its report that Jang had been torn apart.

Wen Wei Po, although independent, is viewed as being pro-Beijing. Its report was in turn picked up 12 days later by the Singapore-based Straits Times and then by a wide range of U.S. and European media from print to television.

Kim Jong Un, believed to be around 30 years old, has been in power for two years and presided over a nuclear test and two rocket test launches that are banned under United Nations sanctions.

In 2013, Pyongyang threatened to strike South Korea, the United States, and Japan in fiery rhetoric that triggered an arms buildup in East Asia.

One of the pitfalls of reporting on North Korea is that few independent media have offices there and visiting media are tightly controlled in a country which ranks among the lowest in global surveys of press freedom.

Because of the lack of first hand information, many lurid stories about the country gain credence.

Trevor Powell, a Chicago-based software engineer, who first spotted the link to the Weibo post and reported it on his own blog said that analysts and experts were “still all missing the obvious fact that the original source of the Wen Wei Po story was a tweet from a known satirist or someone posing as him/her.”

Powell blogged about the post at http://trevorpowell.com/2014/01/04/120-dogs-chinese-satirists-tweet-takes-all-english-news-media-for-a-ride/. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

Officials at Wen Wei Po declined to comment on the article.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: Newsmax.com

Rodman’s Former NBA Team Arrives in NKorea for Kim Birthday Game.


BEIJING — Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea Monday with a team of former NBA players for an exhibition game on Kim Jong Un’s birthday, after saying he wants to show that North Korea isn’t so bad.

The flamboyant Hall of Famer arrived in the North Korean capital from Beijing with a squad of a dozen former basketball stars including Vin Baker and Cliff Robinson in what Rodman calls “basketball diplomacy,” although U.S. officials have criticized his efforts.

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“It’s about trying to connect two countries together in the world, to let people know that: Do you know what? Not every country in the world is that bad, especially North Korea,” Rodman told The Associated Press in an interview outside his Beijing hotel before his flight to North Korea.

“People say so many negative things about North Korea. And I want people in the world to see it’s not that bad.”

The United States is at odds with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program, and Rodman has been faulted for not talking about North Korea’s human rights record, described as one of the world’s worst by activists, the U.S. State Department and North Korean defectors.

The defectors have repeatedly testified about the government’s alleged use of indiscriminate killings, rapes, beatings and prison camps holding as many as 120,000 people deemed opponents of authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un, the third generation of his family to rule.

The U.S. players are to compete in an exhibition game against a North Korean team on Wednesday, Kim’s birthday.

“Somehow we have to get along, and no matter what disagreements or what discrepancy we have in life,” Rodman said. “It’s like saying: Why do we have the Olympics? When everyone one comes together in the Olympics, there’s no problems. That’s what I’m doing. That’s all I’m doing.”

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© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: Newsmax.com

NKorea’s Kim Claims Strength After Removal of ‘Factionalist Filth’.


SEOUL, South KoreaKim Jong Un boasted Wednesday that North Korea enters the new year on a surge of strength because of the elimination of “factionalist filth” — a reference to the young leader’s once powerful uncle, whose execution last month has raised questions about Kim’s grip on power.

Kim’s comments in an annual New Year’s Day message, which included a call for improved ties with Seoul, will be scrutinized by outside analysts and governments for clues about the opaque country’s intentions and policy goals.

There’s widespread worry about the country’s future since Kim publicly humiliated and then executed his uncle and mentor, one of the biggest political developments in Pyongyang in years, and certainly since Kim took power two years ago after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.

North Korea’s “resolute” action to “eliminate factionalist filth” within the ruling Workers’ Party has bolstered the country’s unity “by 100 times,” Kim said in a speech broadcast by state TV. He didn’t mention by name his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, long considered the country’s No. 2 power.

Kim called for an improvement in strained ties with South Korea, saying it’s time for each side to stop slandering the other. He urged Seoul to listen to voices calling for unification between the countries.

The language on unification, which is similar to that of past New Year’s messages, is an obvious improvement on last year’s threats of nuclear war, though there is still deep skepticism in Washington and Seoul about Pyongyang’s intentions.

North Korea’s authoritarian and secretive government is extremely difficult for outsiders to interpret, and analysts are divided about the meaning of Jang’s execution on treason charges.

Many, however, believe that the purge shows Kim Jong Un struggling to establish the same absolute power that his father and grandfather enjoyed. The public announcement of Jang’s fall opened up a rare and unfavorable window on the country’s inner workings, showing an alleged power struggle between Kim and his uncle after the 2011 death of Kim Jong Il.

Jang’s public downfall was seen as an acknowledgment of dissension and loss of control by the ruling Kim dynasty. That has caused outside alarm as Kim Jong Un simultaneously tries to revive a moribund economy and pushes development of nuclear-armed missiles.

Seoul worries that instability caused by Jang’s execution could lead to Pyongyang launching provocations to help consolidate internal unity. Attacks blamed on North Korea killed 50 South Koreans in 2010, and tension on the Korean Peninsula still lingers, although Pyongyang has backed away from war rhetoric from early last year that included threats of nuclear attacks against Washington and Seoul.

Recent indications that North Korea is restarting a mothballed reactor that can produce plutonium for bombs has caused deep skepticism in Washington and Seoul about Pyongyang’s recent calls for a resumption of long-stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

The country conducted its third nuclear test in February. It’s estimated to have a handful of crude nuclear devices and to be working toward building a warhead small enough to mount on a long-range missile, although most experts say that goal may take years to achieve.

In comments that mirror past North Korean propaganda, Kim also said South Korean and U.S. “war mongers” were working “frantically” to bring nuclear attack devices to the peninsula and surrounding areas, part of training for northward nuclear attacks. An accidental conflict, he said, could trigger “an enormous nuclear catastrophe,” which would threaten U.S. safety.

North Korea was shaken by nuclear-capable U.S. bombers that flew over the peninsula last year after Pyongyang made war threats. Pyongyang’s state-controlled media regularly accuses Washington and Seoul of plotting to attack the North and overthrow its government, something the allies deny.

The 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula technically in a state of war. About 28,500 American troops are deployed in South Korea to help deter North Korean aggression.

There had been some early hope in Washington that Pyongyang could see change under Kim Jong Un’s rule. Kim’s government reached an agreement in early 2012 with Washington for a nuclear freeze in exchange for U.S. food aid.

It was meant to pave the way for full-fledged negotiations on the North’s nuclear program, but the North wrecked the deal within weeks when it launched a rocket in defiance of a U.N. ban.

Kim has since overseen a nuclear and missile test, other high-profile purges and a barrage of threats. Kim Jong Il took a much more low-profile approach when he rose to power after the 1994 death of his father, the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: Newsmax.com

World Braces for Retirement Crisis.


A global retirement crisis is bearing down on workers of all ages.

Spawned years before the Great Recession and the 2008 financial meltdown, the crisis was significantly worsened by those twin traumas. It will play out for decades, and its consequences will be far-reaching.

Many people will be forced to work well past the traditional retirement age of 65. Living standards will fall and poverty rates will rise for the elderly in wealthy countries that built safety nets for seniors after World War II. In developing countries, people’s rising expectations will be frustrated if governments can’t afford retirement systems to replace the tradition of children caring for aging parents.

The problems are emerging as the generation born after World War II moves into retirement.

“The first wave of under-prepared workers is going to try to go into retirement and will find they can’t afford to do so,” says Norman Dreger, a retirement specialist with the consulting firm Mercer in Frankfurt, Germany.

The crisis is a convergence of three factors:

— Countries are slashing retirement benefits and raising the age to start collecting them. These countries are awash in debt since the recession hit. And they face a demographics disaster as retirees live longer and falling birth rates mean there will be fewer workers to support them.

— Companies have eliminated traditional pension plans that guaranteed employees a monthly check in retirement.

— Individuals spent freely and failed to save before the recession and saw much of their wealth disappear once it hit.

Those factors have been documented individually. What is less appreciated is their combined ferocity and global scope.

“Most countries are not ready to meet what is sure to be one of the defining challenges of the 21st century,” the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington concludes.

Mikio Fukushima, who is 52 and lives in Tokyo, worries that he might need to move somewhere cheaper, maybe Malaysia, after age 70 to get by comfortably on income from his investments and a public pension of just $10,000 a year.

People like Fukushima who are fretting over their retirement prospects stand in contrast to many who are already retired. Many workers were recipients of generous corporate pensions and government benefits that had yet to be cut.

Jean-Pierre Bigand, 66, retired Sept. 1, in time to enjoy all the perks of a retirement system in France that’s now in peril. Bigand lives in the countryside outside the city of Rouen in Normandy. He has a second home in Provence. He’s just taken a vacation on Oleron Island off the Atlantic coast and is planning a five-week trip to Guadeloupe.

“Travel is our biggest expense,” he says.

UNDER SIEGE

The notion of extended, leisurely retirements is relatively new. Germany established the world’s first widely available state pension system in 1889. The United States introduced Social Security in 1935. In the prosperous years after World War II, governments expanded pensions. In addition, companies began to offer pensions that paid employees a guaranteed amount each month in retirement — so-called defined-benefit pensions.

The average age at which men could retire with full government pension benefits fell from 64.3 years in 1949 to 62.4 years in 1999 in the relatively wealthy countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“That was the Golden Age,” Mercer consultant Dreger says.

It would not last. As the 2000s dawned, governments — and companies — looked at actuarial tables and birth rates and realized they couldn’t afford the pensions they’d promised.

The average man in 30 countries the OECD surveyed will live 19 years after retirement. That’s up from 13 years in 1958, when many countries were devising their generous pension plans.

The OECD says the average retirement age would have to reach 66 or 67, from 63 now, to “maintain control of the cost of pensions” from longer lifespans.

Compounding the problem is that birth rates are falling just as the bulge of people born in developed countries after World War II retires.

Populations are aging rapidly as a result. The higher the percentage of older people, the harder it is for a country to finance its pension system because relatively fewer younger workers are paying taxes.

In response, governments are raising retirement ages and slashing benefits. In 30 high- and middle-income OECD countries, the average age at which men can collect full retirement benefits will rise to 64.6 in 2050, from 62.9 in 2010; for women, it will rise from 61.8 to 64.4

In the wealthy countries it studied, the OECD found that the pension reforms of the 2000s will cut retirement benefits by an average 20 percent.

Even France, where government pensions have long been generous, has begun modest reforms to reduce costs.

“France is a retirees’ paradise now,” says Richard Jackson, senior fellow at the CSIS. “You’re not going to want to retire there in 20 to 25 years.”

The fate of government pensions is important because they are the cornerstone of retirement income. Across the 34-country OECD, governments provide 59 percent of retiree income, on average.

THE FINANCIAL CRISIS MAKES THINGS WORSE

The outlook worsened once the global banking system went into a panic in 2008 and tipped the world into the worst recession since the 1930s.

Government budget deficits swelled in Europe and the United States. Tax revenue shrank, and governments pumped money into rescuing their banks and financing unemployment benefits. All that escalated pressure on governments to reduce spending on pensions.

The Great Recession threw tens of millions out of work worldwide. For others, pay stagnated, making it harder to save. Because government retirement benefits are based on lifetime earnings, they’ll now be lower. The Urban Institute, a Washington think tank, estimates that lost wages and pay raises will shrink the typical American worker’s income at age 70 by 4 percent — an average of $2,300 a year.

Leslie Lynch, 52, of Glastonbury, Conn., had $30,000 in her 401(k) retirement account when she lost her $65,000-a-year job last year at an insurance company. She’d worked there 28 years. She’s depleted her retirement savings trying to stay afloat.

“I don’t believe that I will ever retire now,” she says.

Many of those facing a financial squeeze in retirement can look to themselves for part of the blame. They spent many years before the Great Recession borrowing and spending instead of saving.

The National Institute on Retirement Security estimates that Americans are at least $6.8 trillion short of what they need to have saved for a comfortable retirement. For those 55 to 64, the shortfall comes to $113,000 per household.

THE ASIA CHALLENGE

In Asia, workers are facing a different retirement worry, a byproduct of their astonishing economic growth.

Traditionally, Chinese and Koreans could expect their grown children to care for them as they aged. But newly prosperous young people increasingly want to live on their own. They also are more likely to move to distant cities to take jobs, leaving parents behind. Countries like China and South Korea are at an “awkward” stage, Jackson says: The old ways are vanishing, but new systems of caring for the aged aren’t yet in place.

Yoo Tae-we, 47, a South Korean manager at a trading company that imports semiconductor components, doesn’t expect his son to support him as he and his siblings did their parents.

“We have to prepare for our own futures rather than depending on our children,” he says.

China pays generous pensions to civil servants and urban workers. They can retire early with full benefits — at 60 for men and 50 or 55 for women. Their pensions will prove to be a burden as China ages and each retiree is supported by contributions from fewer workers.

The elderly are rapidly becoming a bigger share of China’s population because of a policy begun in 1979 and only recently relaxed that limited couples to one child.

China is considering raising its retirement ages. But the government would likely meet resistance.

THE END OF TRADITIONAL PENSIONS

Corporations, too, are cutting pension costs by eliminating traditional defined-benefit plans. They don’t want to bear the cost of guaranteeing employees’ pensions. They’ve moved instead to so-called defined-contribution plans, such as 401(k)s, in the United States. These plans shift responsibility for saving to employees.

But people have proved terrible at taking advantage of these plans. They don’t always enroll. They don’t contribute enough. They dip into the accounts when they need money.

They also make bad investment choices — buying stocks when times are good and share prices are high and bailing when prices are low.

Several countries are trying to coax workers to save more.

Australia passed a law in 1993 that makes retirement savings mandatory. Employers must contribute the equivalent of 9.25 percent of workers’ wages to 401(k)-style retirement accounts.

In 2006, the United States encouraged companies to require employees to opt out of a 401(k) instead of choosing to opt in. That means workers start saving for retirement automatically if they make no decision.

EASING THE PAIN

Rebounding stock prices and a slow rise in housing prices are helping households recover their net worth. In the United States, retirement accounts hit a record $12.5 trillion the first three months of 2013.

But Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research says the recovery in housing and stock prices still leaves about 50 percent of American households at risk of being unable to maintain their standard of living in retirement.

When they look into the future, retirement experts see more changes in government pensions and longer careers than many workers had expected:

Cuts in government pension programs like Social Security will likely hit most retirees but will probably fall hardest on the wealthy

Those planning to work past 65 can take some comfort knowing they’ll be healthier, overall, than older workers in years past. They’ll also be doing jobs that aren’t as physically demanding. In addition, life expectancy at 65 now stretches well into the 80s for people in the 34 OECD countries — an increase of about five years since the late 1950s.

“My parents retired during the Golden Age of retirement,” says Mercer consultant Dreger, 37. “My dad, who is 72, retired at 57. That’s not going to happen to somebody in my generation.”

 

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Source: Newsmax.com

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