[OUTLOOK]A trusting society helps everyoneEvery driver knows how infuriating it is when you are waiting for the left-turn signal at an intersection for several minutes and cars on your right cut across on every green signal. Why must waiting for your turn be so painful? Is a flagrant contempt of law and order the public’s fault or the government’s responsibility?
Cars are required to slow down in school zones, yet seldom do. A towaway zone sign is visible for everyone to read, yet there are people who still park their car right beneath it. The law prohibits selling alcohol to underage people, but countless teenagers will get drunk tonight as always.
The disorder and contempt for laws that we see everywhere around us are caused by certain people with a low level of community spirit or conscience. However, this is also fundamentally the government’s responsibility. A law that is made but not enforced is no better than a law not made. In fact, it is worse than a law never having been made. That is because the people who do obey the law will be at a relative disadvantage. Even people who start out by respecting laws and trying to abide by them will soon lose the incentive to do so and break the law. In this case, it might be better to just forgo making a law.
Bar owners do not sell alcohol to teenagers because bar owners don’t know there is a law prohibiting it. The owners do it because they see other bars doing it and earning big money in the process. Bar owners begin to feel that it is not such a profitable thing to abide by the law. Account fiddling by companies and bidding cartels of construction companies all develop from this same logic.
Conclusively, what is more important is not whether the law exists but whether it is adhered to. Laws that are not obeyed contribute to a pervading social atmosphere in which those who abide by the law do so because they are not smart. This does not mean that we should spend more of our budget to increase the number of law enforcement officers. Change can be sufficiently achieved through the participation of the public.
For example, instead of signs that only say “Towaway Zone” and “No Parking Allowed,” signs that have telephone numbers to report illegally parked cars are more efficient. Such small changes to encourage public participation will have a great effect on traffic regulations as well as taxes, sanitation, safety and basic order-keeping regulations.
In this light, let’s reconsider the system of recompensing reporters of traffic violations, a plan that was abolished earlier this year. This system that brought the same effect as hiring thousands of traffic police officers without much government spending should have been heralded as a model of administrative success. Instead, the system was abolished during last year’s budget deliberations because it “creates growing distrust among members of society.”
Such a pretext of “trust among neighbors” can only do more harm in real life to honest people who try to live by the law. For example, the national social welfare system for private business owners is based on voluntary income reports. This can be considered an admirable system based on man’s trusting nature. However, the system creates an opportunity for dishonest people to gain illegally.
The fixed wage system for taxi drivers also is based on trust, and you might think that it might prevent reckless driving and unfriendly attitudes among drivers. More than likely it won’t. It will bring the opposite effect and ultimately cause honest drivers to lose more. The national movement to decrease traffic flow by encouraging people not to use their cars on designated days according to license plate numbers only serves in the end to empty the roads for those who refuse to participate. Putting up warning signs that there is a traffic violation surveillance camera 500 meters ahead is not a kind act. It is like telling a college entrance examinee the answers to the exam. It is a mockery to those who abide by the law.
There are people who argue that a society in which humans trust one another is a beautiful society; that keeping watch on one another is a breach of human rights, and that people should decide for themselves whether they want to cooperate for the common interest. Despite their good intentions, these people are neglecting the fact that their sentiments are creating opportunities that conscienceless and selfish people will take advantage of.
A proper legal system will help those who abide by it and those who cooperate for the common good. The Roh Moo-hyun government has sworn to get rid of cheating and vested rights in our society, and to construct a trusting society based on principles.
Thus, we must boldly abolish and revise regulations and systems that are not being kept, and implement necessary legal systems. Acts that violate other people’s rights should be strictly exposed and punished. That is how we can create a trusting society in which all can live in peace and where the honest and the diligent aren’t made losers.
* The writer is a professor of economics at Hongik University.
by Kim Jong-seok