[VIEWPOINT]Honest mistakes can be fatalMany people are worried about our economy these days. The economy is getting better around the world and even Japan is emerging from a 10-year recession. Korea, on the other hand, is predicted to see an economic growth rate of less than 5 percent this year. Last year, the economy grew at a rate of less than 3 percent. We could very well be heading for a long stretch of hard times.
Japan, too, had not been aware that it was falling into a recession at first. Even with all its efforts to pull out of the economic slump, Japan had to toil through ten years of recession. The Japanese, however, did not give up and everyone tried their hardest to climb out of the recession. The government tried to stimulate the economy by increasing its expenditures and the political sector tried to lessen the blow for the voters through legislative efforts while firms and banks tried their best to stay alive. Unfortunately, the government money was often spent for useless purposes and policy-makers were more concerned with fending off immediate hardships rather than with fixing the fundamental problems. As a result, in hindsight, the revival of the economy was delayed and everyone was guilty of having made a mistake in an honest endeavor.
The revival of the Japanese economy could come in no other way but through the fundamental recovery of self-sufficiency by companies and banks. Mistakes made in honest endeavors are the worst things to happen to an economy, but if we’re not careful, we could also end up making the same mistakes as Japan.
Strenuous efforts to revive the economy don’t always bring good results. Efforts should be made only where they should be made. What would be the surest way to contribute to the economy? One often tries looking in far-away places for the better and more brilliant answers when many times, they are close at hand.
First, taking time off work can sometimes help the economy. Right now, there are too many people out there who are spurred by a fervent sense of duty to work extremely hard. The complicated and intricate wheels of today’s society require that every one works according to his or her own pace in his or her appropriate place for the economy to run smoothly. The speed and direction of all segments in society should be determined by the topmost value or priority that the times require. When there are too many people running around like unbridled racehorses, resources are wasted and collisions happen. When everyone has a different road map and is running at full speed, their individual efforts, no matter how diligent, will not be able to merge into proper achievements. Even within the government, the Ministry of Finance and Economy, the Financial Supervisory Commission, the Fair Trade Commission and the National Tax Service and other economic agencies are unable to coordinate their policies. Recently, the chief of the National Tax Service was publicly rebuked by the finance minister despite the fact that he had been working quite hard.
There seem to be a lot of other people who could be rebuked by the president because of the state of the economy. It must be frustrating for the president because he can’t scold the officials for working hard. Yet their efforts are actually impeding, rather than helping, the economy.
Second, keeping silent sometimes can greatly help the economy. Korea has many self-titled experts and scholars of the economy armed with passion and firm beliefs. Korea has too many, in fact. There are always pros and cons to a policy. If the numbers add up to become a plus, the policy should be implemented. But when there are too many learned participants in the making of the policy decision, the cons tend to be emphasized and in the end, nothing is left to pursue. One thing they are regretting in retrospect in Japan is having missed the right time to put public funds into insolvent financial institutes. This caused considerable losses and now the financial sector of Japan has become the Achilles’ heel of its economy. Investing public funds was an option under consideration from early on, but policy-makers had been unable to make up their minds because of the strong opinions voiced by some that it was wrong to use people’s tax money to try to rescue insolvent banks.
There shouldn’t be more mouths talking than hands working. It is desirable that people feel they should speak out for the good of their country, but too many voices can hamper progress. Keeping one’s mouth shut and letting others do their job is a virtue dearly needed these days.
Finally, resisting the temptation to take on a job you’re not capable of also helps the economy. When people try to take on jobs that should be distributed to more appropriate candidates, they not only bring failure upon themselves but do great harm to the economy. Doing the actual work is very different from looking and evaluating from the outside. Enthusiasm and good will are not enough to make the economy work. This goes without saying for those with less brilliant minds but it also goes for those with intelligence as well. The world is changing at such a fast rate these days that one’s abilities quickly become outdated. One should consider very carefully when a job is offered. Taking on a job can sometimes help the country but not taking on a job can sometimes help even more.
We must all remember that these are scary times when it is easy to make mistakes in honest endeavor.
* The writer is the chairman of Samsung Economic Research Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Choi Woo-suk
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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