[NOTEBOOK]Candy-coated expensive promisesRumors are circulating widely that the government is quietly helping the Millennium Democratic Party. For example, there are whispers that the government is allowing the number of strikes to increase without taking action or delaying the sale of Chohung Bank in order to court the strikers and the Chohung Bank union, which opposes the sale.
Government officials are bitter about these rumors, and some say that the MDP is spreading them to curry favor with voters. Jeon Yun-cheol, the deputy prime minister for economics, reportedly warned civil servants about actions that could be misinterpreted during the election campaign. In fact, some government measures that could be construed as favoring the MDP have been announced, even though they could have been decided and annouced after more thought and after the presidential election. The government should assure the people that it is truly neutral about the election. But being neutral does not mean avoiding decisions that should be made. The problems we now face like waste disposal, high taxes on small apartments and the privatization of the railroads are in this category. The more difficult the problem, the more the government stalls. It looks as if problems we now face with Hynix, Hyundai Investment Trust Management and Daewoo Securities will also be passed on to the next government.
Economics is simply a matter of making choices. If a person chooses one position, he will be criticized by those on the other side. If he chooses to do nothing, he may feel safe at the moment, but the costs of missed opportunities can be high.
Hanbo Steel has recently found a buyer after a long search. It will probably be sold for 450 billion won ($371 million). If the firm had been sold during the Kim Young-sam administration, it would have fetched 2 trillion won. But the administration spurned buyers like Posco and Dongguk Steel because it was afraid it would have been accused of selling Hanbo to one of those companies at a ridiculously low price.
The political agendas of the Grand National Party and Millennium Democratic Party, like the delay in opening the rice market, freezing university tuition costs and forgiving debts of farmers and fishermen, are rosy, but all those things cost money, and the money has to come from taxpayers' pockets. Other projects -- reunification, civil servant and military pensions, corporate restructuring -- all will cost money. Somebody needs to talk about how to reduce spending. Many people are getting anxious because nobody talks about saving. There is no trace of serious discussions about how the government will survive in a competitive world, how we are going to handle the lack of manpower here and why local firms are fleeing abroad.
The notion of differentiation is also disappearing; the parties are copying each other's attractive policies. The Grand National Party is insisting that it will make the economy grow and expand public welfare. The Millennium Democrats say they can stimulate more growth than the GNP while focusing on income redistribution.
We cannot see their real faces because they are all wearing too much makeup. The frustrations of the candidates are somewhat understandable; they are hearing that the number of undecided voters is increasing as the election nears. Since they decided to refrain from negative campaigning, they have no other options than putting out sugary promises.
Many would agree that this election has cost less money than those in the past because the candidates did not have to pay to attract large audiences for their outdoor speeches. But the country may eventually end up paying more if they try to honor their sweet election pledges.
A week before the election, we hope to see candidates who are more truthful to their images. Citizens want to see candidates who openly discuss problems and try to come up with the best solutions possible even though that would require courage.
Such tactics would give much more hope to the citizens because it will give them a chance to make a real choice.
* The writer is economic news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Min Byeong-gwan