[INSIGHT]Purifying bacteria are neededThe former and the incumbent presidents, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung, both say reform is a Blue House priority. Isn't one goal of reform to root out corruption? But both Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung spent their last year in office amid bad and growing corruption.
There is a reason why the politics corrupts as reforms kick in.
The word corruption in Korean has two meanings: One is the decomposition of formerly living things by bacteria, and the other is moral and judicial breakdowns. Authority that has no checks and balances can quickly become corrupt. Unconstitutional authority that uses pretexts for "special projects" and operates behind the themes operates essentially unchecked.
The sons of both Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam have sunk into corruption scandals. It would be improper to link either Kim Dae-jung or Kim Young-sam to the scandals that their sons are involved in, but it was the authority that their fathers wielded as president that was the main factor in their sons' corruption. Both Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam were presidents who strengthened their authority under the pretext of reform.
Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung must have been envious of the ability of Park Chung Hee and Chun Doo Hwan to expand their autocratic authority as president. They used anticommunist sentiment and economic development as tools to expand their power, which they exercised through crony politicians and bureaucrats.
Many people, looking back, say that the struggles of Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung were not a movement to establish democracy but a way to seize power. In the reforms of both Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung, they both gathered a group of vassals, people with regional or old school ties and even figures linked to the underworld.
If an expansion of power is the end, cronies are the means to do so. A crony enjoys concealed power. The crony is the corrupting bacterium that forms a symbiosis with uncontrolled power.
Kim Dae-jung has expanded on the skills shown by his predecessor, Kim Young-sam, in promoting this kind of reform. Mr. Kim has worked not only on a larger scale, but more adroitly as well. In times of tension, the president gains enormous power, and President Kim Dae-jung is well known for having a lot of ideas. By creating his "sunshine policy, he has turned the concept of a "war president" on its head: the people were ready to give him a blank check to pursue reconciliation with North Korea. In addition, he benefitted as president-elect from his ideas on how to surmount the terrible 1997 financial crisis that shook Korea. He had all the tools he needed to pursue power in the guise of reform.
In the aftermath of the financial crisis, although most of the real power was that of the International Monetary Fund, Kim Dae-jung mapped out four major reforms and began to put those reforms into practice.
The essence of the reforms after the financial crisis was to install a freely-competitive marketplace. The intent was to make conglomerates and financial institutions transparent, to start to globalize accounting and management standards, handle insolvent companies, convert government corporations into private firms, make the labor market flexible and dismantle the web of bureaucratic regulations.
Foreign exchange and foreign investment liberalization were in a different category. The International Monetary Fund took care of that in fact for foreign creditors and investors. Other than the liberalization of foreign exchange and large scale of closure of nonviable buisinesses, the four major reforms have not been properly executed.
But because of the reforms, President Kim exercised more power during his term than Kim Young-sam was able to in his. Kim Dae-jung also embarked on medical, education and press reforms, but their intent was socialistic, not the establishment of a free market. Socialism directly challenges free markets, which are based on private property.
Communists during the Soviet period insisted that the nation be ruled by power and not by law. Socialist countries inevitably corrupt society and authority because they either reject or restrict private property ownership. The only reforms that can root out corruption are those that are anti-crony, liberal, constitutional and strengthen private ownership. Because reforms managed by both Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung had just the opposite intent, the more reform proceeded the more corruption they generated.
Germs that decompose are the most efficient way to purify the ecosystem. They act to recycle and protect the environment. What we need now are germs that decompose misguided reforms and socialistic power.
The writer is the editor of Millennium-Emerge, a monthly magazine.
by Kang Wee-seuk