&#91NOTEBOOK&#93Do we really want it?

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[NOTEBOOK]Do we really want it?

We often say, “If Korea goes wrong, it will become like a country in Latin America.” I am bothered by such a projection. I am bothered not because I worry that referring to Latin America as a model for a failed economy might insult people there, but because I do not think we are qualified to say that the state of Korea’s economy is much better than that of the economies of Latin America.
One of the key phrases of the “participatory” Roh Moo-hyun government is “Achieving $20,000 in gross domestic product per capita.” If we consider the last several months, this phrase sounds hollow.
In fact, more and more Koreans are saying that achieving $20,000 GDP per capita in the next several years is impossible unless the situation improves dramatically. Even exceeding the current GDP per capita, which is about $10,000, is a tough task, they say.
Is the $10,000 mark an impenetrable wall?
Robert Barrow, an economics professor at Harvard University, recently said that for Korea to advance further it should not forget what it did to achieve the nation’s current economic status.
Indeed, Korea’s track record over the last 40 years is exceptional. During this period, our workers toiled day and night, and entrepreneurs made every effort to invest more and traveled the globe in pursuit of sales.
The governments demanded that people sweat more, and we responded. With such efforts, Korea reached $10,000 GDP per capita seven years ago, just before the 1997-98 financial crisis.
As we look around us today, however, we do not see the determination we had back then. Laborers who work more than 40 hours per week are now considered slaves to management, and entrepreneurs are regarded as the symbol of corruption and illegality, not worthy of respect.
The government is focusing on gaining popularity by going with the current of the time. People do not want to sacrifice themselves anymore. Thus, some people say cynically, “Korea has not passed the $10,000 GDP per capita, not because it can’t, but because it doesn’t want to.”
We may choose to stay at the current economic state. But as soon as we decide to keep the status quo, the economy will start retreating. In the global open market, everyone lives by competition. In such an atmosphere, choosing to remain at the current level means that we do not even want to maintain $10,000 GDP per capita.
Donald Johnston, secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, once said the strongest points Koreans hold are diligence, optimism, the capability to overcome difficulties and a willingness to make sacrifices. Mr. Johnson’s observation now sounds like the description of someone we do not know.
Do we Koreans really want to achieve the $20,000 mark?


by Kim Chung-soo

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