[NOTEBOOK]Only certainty is uncertaintyThe legislative elections are over. Still, there is no sign of economic recovery. The vague expectations that the economy would get better after the elections has disappeared in the face of bleak economic reality.
The politicians talk in unison of improving the livelihood of the people. It seems, however, that there is not much that the politicians can contribute to make the economy get better. When the first session of the new National Assembly opens, if only they can enact pending bills without further delay and do not create any further instability by indulging in unnecessary political maneuvering, it would be most fortunate for the economy.
Nowadays, businessmen don’t make noise. As there is no noise at all, we feel desolation. Big businesses do not invest. They do not make a move to put to use the cash they made through exports. They all intend to wait a little longer. But small and medium businesses that hang their survival on a recovery of domestic consumption find it difficult to stand the hardships day by day.
The deputy prime minister of finance and economy is busy abroad explaining the economic potential of Korea to potential foreign investors. But it is not easy to meet investors who show a willingness to invest in Korea. They, too, have the attitude of watching further the developments surrounding the Korean economy.
The government and the economic institutes here and abroad have raised their forecasts for this year’s growth rate. But we do not have the feeling that the economy is getting better. Except for the growth of exports, the economy is still in the doldrums. Businesses don’t make investments and consumers don’t open their purses. Without a revival of investment and consumption, jobs can’t be created. Finding jobs becomes harder and the number of unemployed Koreans increases. People’s livelihoods are difficult and the minds of the people are narrow.
Why do things go this way? It is because people feel uneasy. They cannot make investments because they feel anxious about the future. They cannot spend money easily because they feel uneasy about their future. Uneasiness comes from uncertainty. Even though the legislative elections are over, the uncertainties in society have not disappeared.
Uncertainties exist in many sectors of our society. The president is still suspended from his duties. The government under the acting president does not want to start new projects. Government ministries seem to be calling for new policies for economic recovery, but their moves are basically ones to maintain the status quo.
It is not yet clear how long it will take for the Constitutional Court to issue the final verdict on the impeachment and what the verdict will be. The direction of government policy after the Constitutional Court’s decision is not clear, either.
The alignment of the new political community that will be formed after the legislative elections is still emerging. We still don’t know what the Democratic Labor Party, which has seats in the Assembly for the first time, is up to. It is not easy to predict labor’s moves in this new political atmosphere. The Chinese economy has been faring well, but the latest news coming from China deepens our anxiety over a bubble bursting in the Chinese economy. The prospect of an economic recovery in the United States is not clear, either. How will the Iraq war unfold, and how high will oil prices go?
When it is difficult to predict the future, people get uneasy. People don’t make decisions when they feel uneasy over future prospects. No businessmen would easily decide on an investment plan that requires huge amounts of money. People who worry about the security of their jobs will not buy durable goods. These are the reasons why investment and consumption do not revive, although the government produced several inducement policies. Under the present circumstances, people do not believe in the government, however rosy the prospects it presents.
Instead, everybody will wait, holding his breath, until the fog of uncertainty is cleared and the road ahead becomes visible.
The government said optimistically that the economy will revive in the second quarter, but we are already a month into the quarter. It is not likely that the economy will rise up like a fire in the remaining two months.
The uncertainties we face now are difficult ones to dispel. Insisting that there is no reason to feel uneasy over the future will not make uneasiness disappear. Instead, let’s admit that there is anxiety and wait until the uncertainties disappear. About the only thing that is clear right now is that future prospects are uncertain.
* The writer is the business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jong-soo