[OUTLOOK]Liberals should be capitalists too"I am a believer in the free market," Roh Moo-hyun, the Millennium Democratic Party's presidential nominee, proclaimed a few days ago. His words gladdened my heart, for it is my firm belief that Mr. Roh, or any other person running for president of this country, should believe in the free market.
Anyone who falsely declares to believe in the free market in an attempt to please the crowd is bound to get caught in the end. A true believer of the free market follows one true path of thought that requires a certain consistency. When a person lacks that consistency, then you know he's not a true believer.
What does it mean to truly believe in the free market? Humans have always pursued "freedom" and "equality" as two of their highest ideals. But the problem lies in the fact that sometimes these two ideals are not compatible. If unconditional freedom were given to humans, inequality would follow as well. Everyone possesses different qualifications and abilities and comes from different backgrounds. These differences mean that some hunters are capable of catching 10 rabbits a day but some go days without catching any.
The biggest advantage freedom has for society as a whole is the fact that it generates wealth. Let humans work with their greed unleashed and they will be sure to create profit out of anything. Thus the pie grows bigger. But the more the wealth of some hard-working people grows, the higher the level of inequality as well. The number of have-nots, that is, discontented people, in society would grow.
What should be done to keep the number of discontented have-nots down and to make society a fairer one? One must inevitably set limits to people's freedom. All hunters should be forbidden to hunt more than a certain number of rabbits per day or the excessive number of rabbits caught by some should be given away to others. Thus, equality can be gained by limiting freedom, but this brings another problem. Equality means the wealth of a society would decrease. Humans always calculate gains and losses. Once they calculate that a bigger input does not necessarily mean a bigger output because the surplus will be given to others, they will not work as hard. As can be seen in many cases of communist states, too much emphasis on equality can lead to disastrous consequences in the end. Even in our own country, think of the high price we had to pay for limiting employers' freedom to downsize their employee roster.
Because of this contradiction between freedom and equality, we are inevitably forced to choose. Believing in the free market is, in short, tending to lean toward freedom more than toward equality. This is not to say that equality does not matter, but equality only takes on meaning when there is wealth enough to be shared by all.
"Market" and "freedom" mean essentially the same thing. The market is a place where people are allowed to do what they want as long as they are not causing intentional harm to others, a place where people are able to exert their potential and creativity to the fullest. Believing in the free market is trying to create such a market in all fields of society, and to generate as much wealth as possible.
Believing in the free market does not require one to give up the pursuit of equality. After wealth is produced, it should be shared, provided that the sharing is done only to the limit that it would not take away people's desire to work hard. The freedom of the market, however, does not include the freedom to do evil. Any freedom that is intentionally harmful to others and thus to the market as a whole should be shunned. Government policies checking conglomerates from growing too big are examples of how "freedom to do evil" is being controlled.
Limiting a company's investments, like limiting the total shares one company can buy and own of another company, is an action opposing free markets. But systems to punish wrongdoings, like allowing class action lawsuits of minority shareholders against a company, are very much in line with the way of a true free market.
In conclusion, market means "freedom." Even a progressive person of the center-left can be a believer in the free market. If making the market grow is good for working people at the end of the day, there is ample reason for liberals to believe in the market. Observe the new slogans that many center-left politicians in Europe, many representing the "third way," have been using. Instead of "freedom" and "solidarity," there is talk of "flexible markets," "achievement and success," "entrepreneurial minds" and "self-responsibility." A person who is easily willing to restrict freedom for equality is not a true believer in the market.
It is my hope that Roh Moo-hyun, the recently self-proclaimed believer of the free market, shows consistency in his future pronouncements on the subject.
The writer is the dean of the graduate school of business administration at Sejong University.
by Junn Sung-chull