[INSIGHT]Old beliefs for a new yearThere was a rather curious advertisement placed in the Jan. 2 issue of the British daily The Times. Michael Howard, the leader of the British Conservative Party, listed his 16 core beliefs under his personal name in a centerfold ad. The advertisement, a party promotion piece, reportedly cost the Conservatives some 100 million won ($83,000).
The list of Mr. Howard’s beliefs starts with “I believe it is natural for men and women to want health, wealth and happiness for their families and themselves.” Blended easily and gently in Mr. Howard’s beliefs are the principles of democracy and a market economy. Although Mr. Howard is known as a hard-line conservative, there is both conservatism and progressivism in his beliefs.
He believes that all members of society should be given the opportunity to exercise their full potential but that inequality makes us angry and that we should not forget that the equality of opportunity is the most important value. Whether thanks to the promotion or not, a poll issued four days later found that public support for the Conservatives went up 2 percentage points to 35 percent, the highest since 1993.
Thirteen of the beliefs in the list start with “I believe” but three begin with “I do not believe.” “I do not believe that one person’s poverty is caused by another’s wealth.” “I do not believe that one person’s ignorance is caused by another’s knowledge and education.” “I do not believe that one person’s sickness is caused by another’s health.” These three beliefs provide important clues to the party’s basic line on economic, education and health and welfare policies.
It is precisely because our society has gone overboard in believing these three points that Mr. Howard emphatically does not believe in that tension and strife has taken over our country.
I believe that unless we rid ourselves of the populist fantasy of an equality that cannot realistically be achieved, our society will not progress. We will not advance unless society acknowledges the reality that while everyone can dream of becoming a millionaire, not everyone will actually become one. I also believe that in a society in which people do not acknowledge that the primary responsibility for their poverty lies with themselves and not with the rich, no enterprise and no economy can and will flourish. I believe that there is something seriously wrong with the social atmosphere that does not accept the fact that the reason I can’t hit home runs is not because Lee Seung-yeop is hitting them all.
In the same way that not everyone can be Lee Seung-yeop, not everyone can be president and not everyone can become a millionaire. A honest day’s work, a vocation according to one’s liking and abilities, can make anyone “wealthier” than the wealthy. Whether a millionaire, a baseball player or a salary-earner, everyone is the same in that he lives his own life. It is only because we do not acknowledge the inequality of everyone being born different that we point our fingers at the rich and criticize anyone who happens to be more successful than we are, blaming them for our own problems.
A society that cannot acknowledge inequality is a diseased society. The capitalist medical system allows the rich to pay more and receive better medical treatment. Providing a social safety net of medical care and welfare to the poor and the weak is a public welfare policy of the government that supplements and makes up for the shortcomings of capitalism. If everyone were to pay the same treatment fees, the same hospital fees, the same surgical fees, we could not expect any progress in medical science.
The opportunities for an education should be equal but the contents of education should be different. Humans are born with different abilities. Imposing the same education dressed in the same uniforms and the same frame of thought will bring only empty results. I believe that no matter how much we cry for the enhancement of our national competitiveness and the education of intelligent and able social members, the future of our country is doomed unless we change our “standardized” education system, which has failed us for over 30 years.
Our economy is at a point where even if the government and companies try their best to increase investment and create new jobs, we still might not reach our goals. Nobody believes that our economy will be revived and jobs will be created in a business climate where company owners are kept waiting lined up outside the prosecutors’ office and being treated as if they were guilty until proven innocent.
I, also, would like to believe at this start of a new year. I believe that when the president stops his irrational plan to win as many legislative seats as possible by making all his ministers and deputy ministers run as candidates, when he runs alongside entrepreneurs and encourages them, trying to help them with their problems and praising them as patriots, that then the economy will live and this society will become one in which entrepreneurs are respected.
It is my hope that the government will concentrate on enhancing the competitiveness of our education system and that this will be its main platform in the general elections. The people would warmly welcome a government plan to designate a special education zone for the purpose of enhancing our competitiveness and national development, even if it is just an election strategy. I believe without a doubt that when the president and the government maximise their efforts in reinforcing our national competitiveness, they will save this country ― and win the legislative elections as well.
* The writer is the executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kwon Young-bin