Recovery Starts With Personal Reform

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Recovery Starts With Personal Reform

Koreans Are Resistant to Initiating Change, And Only Look to Others to Change First

I took a taxi a few days ago and told the driver to head to the National Assembly Hall. Upon hearing my destination, he immediately launched into a fierce tirade against politicians. Wondering what business I had in that place occupied only by corrupt politicians, he claimed the nation''s economy is in such a dismal state today because politicians do not give a single thought to the well-being of the people, only their self-interest. He feels great fury each time he drives past the National Assembly Hall, he said.

"But we are the ones who voted for those parliamentary lawmakers to run the country, aren''t we? And when you vote, what criteria do you use to pick a candidate?" I asked. The driver admitted that he votes for a candidate from his home region, regionalism being his only guideline.

"Do you usually obey the law when you drive?" I asked again. He seemed embarrassed at the question and said, "No, I often break traffic regulations and also take in additional customers when I already have one."

As a sense of crisis about the nation''s economy spreads across the society, it seems the public''s distrust of and dissatisfaction with politicians and bureaucrats are rising in tandem. There is a strong tendency to blame them for the economic crisis.

This sense of crisis forced President Kim Dae-jung to admit candidly to his lack of leadership at a year-end gathering with reporters and to appeal for pan-national cooperation in overcoming the economic crisis.

But it is necessary to analyze objectively whether the government alone is accountable for the current economic difficulties. The fundamental cause of today''s economic crisis lies in a failure to reform the economy to eliminate the bubbles of high growth that accumulated during the past 30 years.

The state-run Korea Development Institute is also calling for thorough restructuring, saying that the nation''s economic recovery depends on a successful pursuit of the four key restructuring tasks aimed at introducing reforms to conglomerates, finance, labor, and public enterprise sectors.

But why did these reforms fail to produce successful results? It is because the government and the political camp failed to make policies based on principles and convictions, becoming instead bewildered slaves to political logic.

It is also hard to deny that companies and workers did not actively seek restructuring. In some cases, they tried to avoid it altogether.

The U.S. economy is so strong today because it has the systems in place to eliminate bubbles. Each time the economy goes into decline, U.S. companies cut back employment and wages. Once the economy picks up, they increase hiring and wages. Noncompetitive companies are soon forced out of business and workers move rapidly to other companies with greater competitiveness.

The United States became a leader in the knowledge-based information society because market logic determines everything and each individual responds speedily to changes.

But Koreans are endemically resistant to initiating change in themselves and only look to others to change first. They denounce the government and politicians for failing to change, but when it becomes necessary for them to change, they often resist by resorting to group selfishness.

Perhaps this can be understood as an unavoidable struggle over the right to survive in times of crisis. But the pains of restructuring would be much less if each person makes an attempt at self-transformation before a crisis becomes full-blown.

We cannot find fundamental answers if we condemn only the government and politicians for the prevailing sense of economic crisis, which was caused by the failure to reform.

We all must see clearly that the Korean economy is no longer characterized by industrialization, high growth rates and a protected competitive system. It is changing rapidly into one marked by informatization, globalization and a highly competitive system.

When the world we are living in changes, our ways of living in it must also change. We have to nurture a sense of commitment to our jobs. By this, I mean loving one''s job and becoming a competitive and knowledgeable worker by developing job competencies.

We do not yet have much interest in fostering job competencies; we only emphasize patriotism or commitment to our workplaces.

When we are faithful in carrying out our jobs and developing job competencies, there is no time to interfere in others'' business. It is also difficult to criticize others unilaterally. All of us have to constantly improve, develop and be innovative in our jobs. An individual''s competitiveness leads to an organization''s competitiveness, which is directed linked with national competitiveness.

While being lenient with ourselves, we have applied an excessively strict standard to others. We have to change this habit and be strict with ourselves but lenient with others in order to increase our competitiveness and initiate changes.

The writer is vice president of the Labor Economics Institute.

by Yang Byong-moo

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