[OUTLOOK]Dilute state's regulatory powers

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[OUTLOOK]Dilute state's regulatory powers

It is a mind-boggling experience to be looking at our politics. Instead of real causes, there is a whirlpool of partisan strategies and personal interests that crowds the scene while an extremely narrow and selfish mentality pervades the general atmosphere of Korean politics. However, even in this confusion, we can sense that our politics is starting to take on a structure of ideological contention.

We are now moving toward a political structure in which three ideologies centered on 1) the state 2) the market and 3) class compete with one another.

In Korea, our ideology for the last 40 years had been dominated by nationalism. The state, represented by the government, directed not only national defense, security and economic development, but also details of the people's daily lives, education and the public values system. As a result, government organizations, such as the military, the bureaucracy and the police exercised quasi-omnipotent powers and all other sectors were forced to be subordinate to them.

However, our developing country showed signs of a serious "moral hazard" after going through the 1970s and the 1980s. The system that tried to justify the limiting of people's political and economic rights in the name of security and economic development was fast losing its legitimacy with its tyranny of dictatorship and human rights abuse. Finally in the late 1980s, a surge of democracy swept the country, to be followed by the wave of globalization in the early 1990s. The state was now no longer the subject, but the object of reforms.

The working class born from the successes bred by the state-led economic development strategies started forming its own brand of "class conscience." Thus, the working class started a fight against the state that exploited it with the help of the military, the bureaucrats and the police, oppressing its labor and political rights. Workers also rose in protest of the capitalist monopoly system that the state paved the way for. As a result, the working class contributed to the general public's struggles to regain its economic and political rights and helped to lessen the unfairness of the social structure that a developing country model had brought.

However, this working class movement also became a monster of its own kind, adhering more to the specific interests of the labor unions rather than the good of the entire labor class and comparatively more to the interest of the class rather than the entire society. This, in turn, gave way to the deterioration of the country's economic competitiveness. This class-centered ideology lost its appropriateness along with the fall of the former Soviet Union and the socialist bloc of European countries and with the economic crises that came over the welfare states of Northern Europe.

With the failure of both these two ideologies of state-centralism and class-centralism that grew out of the battles between the state and working class, the market emerged as the alternative. In particular, after the financial crisis that hit the country in the late 1990s, Korea learned the virtues of attracting foreign investment and started to adopt quickly the market-centered Wall Street mentality of valuing profits more than market share. These reforms brought about considerable achievements and the economy started reviving.

Alas, the tragedies of WorldCom, Enron and the premature leaking of market research data from the UBS Warburg and Merrill Lynch offices in Korea show us the potentially enormous moral hazard of leaving fate entirely in the hands of the market. It is now being revealed that prominent American businesses that had always criticized the moral hazard of Korea's "favoritism capitalism" and crusaded the cause of "global standards" did not hesitate to dabble in account fiddling and insider dealings of a large scale.

If so, which among the state, class and market should hold the reins of the system for our benefit? Considering the political, economical, social and cultural developmental phase of Korea, we are still in need of a state-governed system. Of course, one of the biggest ailments of our society is the existence of a cumbersomely large government and an easily corrupted bureaucracy led by an imperial president. This is quite true. However, neither the class nor the market can be a sufficient alternative to the government.

Therefore, our task is to recreate the government into an entity possessing the capability and morality to appropriately and justly control the market and class without falling into a moral hazard again.

This is the goal we should keep our eyes on in this transition period when chaos over ideologies, systems and values have reached a climax and everything is starting to change.


The writer is a professor of political science at Yonsei University.

by Ham Jae-bong

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