[OUTLOOK]A Togo for the economy

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[OUTLOOK]A Togo for the economy

If the deputy prime minister for economic affairs resigns to run for a National Assembly seat, who would be a candidate to succeed Kim Jin-pyo at the post of the country’s chief economic policymaker?
First of all, he should be a lucky person. Here, a lucky one is not a Lotto winner but someone whose enterprises in the past were marked by a bit of luck. Some executives are praised as being fortunate because whenever they take charge, companies thrive. Maybe their involvement coincided with a favorable economic cycle, but that is not necessarily the case all the time. You can make your own luck. If the business is to go right, you need cooperation and the devotion of those around you.
Also, you are expected to have leadership skills that can encourage harmonious team play. A virtuous man makes other people help him gladly and sincerely appreciates the assistance. If nothing else, you need the virtue of the ancestors. I hope the next deputy prime minister for economic affairs will be someone who has experience serving in a responsible position and has done well in every job he was involved in.
When imperial Japan was choosing the commander of the combined fleet to stand against the formidable Russian Baltic Fleet during the Russo-Japanese War, the military authorities actually looked for the lucky one among the naval officers. Admiral Heihachiro Togo was a low-ranking general who was about to retire, but he was given command of the fleet because he had a good record. When the fate of the empire was riding on a naval battle, the government made a drastic decision to promote Admiral Togo to lead the fleet. Admiral Togo did not disappoint the imperial government. He chose competent men for his staff, discussed matters with them and came up with a bold strategy. He led the fleet to the battle of Tsushima in 1905 and defeated the Russian fleet.
During the Russo-Japanese War, the Japanese government had comprehensive financial and military planning. Not only had Japan gotten government loans issued by the London capital market, but it also had received aid from the British Navy, which was the most powerful in the world at the time.
The Korean economy is currently standing at a pivotal point. Korea needs extraordinary measures to overcome the national economic crisis. Along with an effective national strategy, we desperately need a lucky commander of the economy. A fortune’s favorite is bound to leave a good impression. If he has been generous to others and has achieved great success, his personal history will make him look sparkling. If we can trust him just by looking at him, he is the one.
Secondly, the deputy prime minister candidate should be lenient and broad-minded. The current economic situation is far too complicated. Economic problems are entangled with other issues, and sometimes they encompass international issues as well. In order to handle the complicated problems, the deputy prime minister needs to understand the causal relations and consequences of the situation. He should be able to convince government officials or interested private parties as well as the chief executive of the country that his plans are sound.
So many pending issues need immediate care, and countless problems need to be tackled in advance. It might be too late once the problems come to a boil. The deputy prime minister for economic affairs can take actions in advance only if he can sense the currents of the economy and make intuitive decisions. So he should have a large capacity for work. When a computer’s capacity is exhausted, it crashes. The economic leader would be lost if the workload were beyond his capacity.
It would be good if he were an optimist who could enliven a depressed atmosphere. If he had an eye for microeconomics to deal with financial and industrial problems, it would be even better. Even if he did not have a working knowledge of the field, it would be good if he understood the importance of microeconomic mechanisms and was ready to pay attention to the comments of experts. He should not be a self-righteous man who does not listen to others. We also don’t want an amateur. A man of large capacity would look gentle and at ease, not uptight and nervous.
Finally, it would be best if the new deputy prime minister were a little insensitive. The new economic leader will have to suffer from all kinds of pressure. With the National Assembly elections scheduled in April, he will be approached with requests for favors. If he starts to listen to them, he might bring down the economy further instead of reviving it. He might not be able to stay completely indifferent, but he should remain within acceptable boundaries. He should not allow any solicitation that could damage the mainstays of the economy or which might become a burden to them.
It would be dangerous if he were the kind of person who alternates between laughter and tears according to the constantly changing situation. If he is quick-minded and sensitive, he might not be able to stay undeterred. If he is to be able to turn down favors sought by ruling party officials, his predecessor or even the man who appointed him, he would need to be somewhat insensitive. If he gets involved in the election campaign more than he should, the burden on the national economy will take a long time to shed. But the government and the ruling party would someday feel thankful that the insensitive deputy prime minister had not responded to their requests.
So, do we have a man who meets all the qualification criteria? If we open our eyes and minds and search hard, we surely can find him. The man is out there. So the task is to be open-minded when evaluating the candidates. What is more important than finding him is employing him well.
Appointing Admiral Togo to the command of the fleet was not a conventional decision, but the Japanese government trusted him, gave him full support and allowed him to act according to his convictions once it made the decision to give him the command. In the end, the appointment was clearly the right choice.

* The writer is the vice chairman of Samsung Economic Research Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Choi Woo-suk
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