[OUTLOOK]It's time for an awakening periodTheodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, promised to dismantle all monopolies when he ran for re-election in 1904. As soon as he won that election, Mr. Roosevelt did exactly what he had promised U.S. citizens. The president put stricter regulations on oil companies, tobacco firms and railroads.
The presidents who followed, including William Taft, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, picked up Theodore Roosevelt's cause and a lot of monopolies actually disappeared. Furthermore, the relation between companies and the government was re-established and greatly improved. This period is referred to as the Third Great Awakening, according to a book titled "The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism," by Robert W. Fogel, an economics professor at Chicago University and a 1993 Nobel laureate in economics.
Mr. Fogel said that the capitalistic efficiency of the United States was created and readjusted throughout the early 20th century.
Korea needs an awakening period similar to what the United States went through. Since the election on Dec. 19, a large number of companies have released hopeful investment plans amid concerns over President-elect Roh's somewhat radical economic policies.
Major economic organizations have started attacking all the details of new economic policies as soon as they recognized that Mr. Roh's transition committee was comprised of more progressive and younger scholars than those in the past administrations of Korea. Members of the committee have been busy dealing with counteractions from somewhat conservative heads of economic organizations. In this chaotic situation, it seems difficult for the Roh administration to present blueprints for the Korean economy's harmony and efficiency, even before launching policies. Currently, there are hopes and concerns among people about new economic policies to be presented by Roh Moo-hyun's administration next month.
It is crucial that both Mr. Roh and the committee members recognize people's enthusiasm and passion for changes, which have been shown all through the presidential campaign. Of course, global economic conditions do not seem optimistic this year with negative internal and external factors. Oil prices, which will lead the global economy, will likely rise sharply, and a Korean economic downturn will occur if the United States wages war against Iraq in February.
Korea has to be prepared for an actual war between these two countries. Also, the new administration is burdened with the former government's unsettled economic problems and issues, such as about 3 million credit delinquents, controversial public fund spendings, unfinished reorganization of troubled companies and a widening gap between the rich and the poor, wider now than during the financial crisis.
The most significant points that the transition committee should focus on, before inauguration on Feb. 25, are not public opinion but preparing both long- and short-term economic policies according to its priority after deciding both internal and external situations precisely.
Koreans have been through many trials and errors during the last 50 years in applying economic regulations in order to build a better nation. From time to time, the implementation of most desirable policies have been put aside because of lobbying making an excuse that the situation does not permit. Some were pushed through because policy makers were obsessed with their causes, but they have been proven to become burdens on people's shoulder.
The next administration should not repeat the failures of previous governments. If it avoids following the foot steps of its predecessors, it will be able to build foundatons for stable long-term economic growth and social harmony. President-elect Roh Moo-hyun should in particular bear in mind that it is not as easy as before to manipulate or dominate people here because Koreans are now much smarter. The knowledge on economic policy and government administration in general, to which Koreans have access now, has grown explosively. The flood of knowledge, improving educational standards, rational way of thinking and increasing trend of keeping a critical viewpoint have changed people's reactions to the political environment.
The next president should not forget his identity. That identity, which represents people who have had relatively fewer opportunities and who are less privileged, has, for all intents and purposes, gotten Mr. Roh elected.
In addition, President-elect Roh should be aware that a lot of Koreans are curious and wish to know what he will be addressing on inauguration day, where the Korean economy will go and how the economy will be managed by this country's top decision-maker.
* The writer, a former senior presidential secretary for economic affairs and a minister of health and welfare under President Roh Tae-woo, is a visiting professor at Myongji University.
by Kim Chong-in