[EDITORIALS]A crisis by any other nameA confusing “crisis controversy” is under way over the economy. The business sector insists that this is a crisis, while the government insists that it’s not. Following the lead of the president, who said he did not agree that the economy was in crisis and that it would have no serious problems during his term, government officials have refrained from publicly expressing concern.
But the government’s policies suggest otherwise. Lee Hun-jai, deputy prime minister and minister of finance, admits he is worried that his prediction that consumer spending and investment will recover by the end of the second quarter might not come true. In other words, things have changed. Mr. Lee said in a monthly briefing that the only thing pulling domestic demand along was the construction industry, and that the government might consider relaxing restrictions on apartment reconstruction. These restrictions were taken to prevent reconstruction-based speculation that was once the main culprit in spiraling real estate prices. To suggest such a drastic measure as easing these restrictions shows what urgent times these are.
Of course, too much worrying comes to nothing. There are varying definitions of “crisis.” This is a different situation from that in 1997, when Korea was driven to the verge of bankruptcy by a shortage of foreign currency. But industrial competitiveness has fallen sharply, labor-management tension is getting worse and the people are worried. If 1997 was an acute crisis, this is a chronic and even more serious crisis. The government claims the media and the business sector are inventing it. But when has the government ever admitted that things were bad? Didn’t the government tell us not to worry right up until the crisis in 1997?
Whether or not we label the present situation a crisis or not is not important. What’s important is to recognize that things cannot continue the way they are, and that we all need to work hard to get the economy back on its feet. If the government’s bureaucrats understand that the economy is indeed in a difficult situation, they should not hesitate to say so to the president. It is indeed a serious crisis if no one is willing to speak up and report what they observe.