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People sometimes wonder whether the Korean economy is not actually in good shape basically and whether the new government’s economic reform program is too radical.
I usually assure them that “Everything will be fine because the economic cabinet is not composed of radicals but of persons with balanced economic views; and even if they are liberal economists, there are limits to what they can do.” Although I say that in my own words, I certainly cannot shrug off uneasy feelings from my mind.
Roh Moo-hyun’s government says it stands for citizen participation, but the president almost completely excluded people from private business sector in his cabinet. And the sole cabinet member from private sector, the new information minister, is in a precarious situation because of questions about some of his past actions. Most of the new ministers are former senior government officials, academics or lawyers who are not conversant with the principles of the marketplace. That, to some, is worrisome.
But it is not likely that the new government will pursue policies hostile to the market economy. Indeed, just the opposite is more likely. The economic ministers and secretaries at the Blue House are people with profound insight into the market economy. But still, it makes people worried because these officials obtained economic knowledge through schools and academic institutions, not by experience in real life.
Scholars, government officials and lawyers have one thing in common. Their career and job have been guaranteed once they had passed the national examination or acquired professional licenses. Furthermore, these people have never had competition for survival. Thus, they would not know the basic fear of people who have to survive living through market competition.
These professionals have lived by dominating innocent and ignorant students, citizens and clients. The high-profile people think those who belong to the lower ranks would not stand up against them because they are right. So professional people have the habit of forcing others to listen to their omnipotent opinions.
These high ranking people casually talk about reform and the improvement of society but they would not understand why they should go through reform themselves. It is hard to expect that they will sympathize with an ordinary citizen’s sufferings from regulations and the tyranny of ignorant civil servants.
They are the kinds who come up with such instant answers as: If there is over supply in the market, “We should promote a big deal”; and, if something is not working in conglomerates, then they say, “The debt ratio of those companies should be decreased to 200 percent.”
That is why the market is afraid of the new cabinet. I hope the new cabinet shows an attitude of understanding the problems and wishes of the private sector economy.

by Kim Chung-soo

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