[FORUM]Time to develop is running short

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[FORUM]Time to develop is running short

There were three variables that combined to point to the outcome of the recent presidential election, variables that in hindsight appear fairly obvious but were not widely recognized in advance.

A desire for change in Korean politics was an important prelude to the election results, but the key point was the ability of the political parties to interpret three key points correctly.

But now that the election is over, let's look at these three points in detail, with an eye toward differentiating good election strategies from good governing strategies.

First is the differences among generations. We commonly refer to those who have led social changes in Korea in recent years as the 2030 generation.

But to be more precise, the age group must be categorized as 2545. Based on my observation, I can say that people who are now 21 do not belong to the same generation as those who are 29. One university president even said that those who are in their early 20s could be considered "neoconservatives," and they have very different values from those in the late 20s.

In the same context, Koreans who were born in 1958 and turn 45 next year should belong to the same generation group as those who are in their late 20s. People now turning 45 are the first generation to attend school after the equal-opportunity policy for high school admissions was put into practice here. Until then, admissions to high school were based primarily on the results of the high school entrance examination.

In 15 years, the current 2545 generation group will be aged between 40 and 60. Why choose 15 years? Because by then, Korea will begin to be a full-fledged aging society.

In a society where 14 percent of the population is over the age of 65, it will be difficult to retain the youthfulness we have now.

In other words, it will be difficult for Korea to become a fully developed country unless we enhance our social consciousness, improve the quality of our lives and raise our income standard before then.

Fifteen years might sound like a long time, but it is not. It's only the term of three presidents.

By then the middle-aged folks, the then-2545 generation, will be the crucial figures in our society. They will be carrying the burden not only for themselves and their children, but for the increased number of retired persons who will continue to need health insurance and other welfare.

Now is the last chance for Korea to become a developed country. Within the next 15 years, the 2545 must gather their energy.

At the same time, the two generations between the 2545 and those in their 50s and 60s must settle contentious issues, most notably reforms in heath insurance and pension plans, although they disagreed during the presidential election.

Health insurance must be reformed as quickly as possible, but social welfare is not an issue that the government can just push ahead without much planning; welfare issues must be driven by a social consensus involving economic growth, wages, labor-management relationships and wealth distribution.

If the Roh Moo-hyun administration manages to build a strong framework for health insurance and pension plans which can last for the next 100 years, its achievement will be lauded in the history books.

Next is the concern over sensibilities.

Agreements and cooperation on political issues cannot be settled through appeals to people's wishes and hopes and prejudices alone. Just as there is a clear difference between oranges and apples, we must recognize that there is a big difference between political sensibilities and the reality on which our survival depends. Populist appeals based on emotion are the enemy.

Finally, we arrive at the issue of regionalism. We don't even need to say another word about it. We don't want to see or hear the word any more.

If a president were a person designated by God, a nation might believe it is destined for glory. The triumph of a young progressive generation could also be interpreted as the sad decline of a generation that failed to demonstrate a model of respectful conservativism.

Still the country's fate is not fixed. We must find "respectful conservatives" and "refined progressives" in Korean society within the next five years, before time runs out.

* The writer is a senior economic affairs writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Su-gil

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