[VIEWPOINT]Support business, not boo itFormer President Park Chung Hee was a great credit risk analyst. He visited businesses, interviewed managers and fostered some businesses by giving directions to support them with funds if they were likely to grow. But he also nipped some in the bud by stopping support if they were not likely winners. He had an excellent eye for reviewing businesses.
Businesses that budded and grew have now become large companies which take charge of the Korean economy. We usually call Korea’s economic development strategy an “unbalanced growth strategy,” but behind this name lies political intervention in the business sector. This may have been the best policy when businesses had to start from scratch. But it is also true that because of this support, businesses are not free from the criticism of colluding with politicians.
In the 1980s, democratic activists criticized our country’s businesses based on the logic of comprador capital. What is comprador capital? It means immoral and vicious businesses in the colonial period that earned money by doing business in a colony and contributed it to the empire. Be it true or not, our businesses were once considered comprador capitalists, which spoke for the logic and interest of the empire in the dependent economy.
The perspective that looks at businesses with the concepts of politics-business collusion with dictatorship and comprador capital dependent on a foreign power still remains deep in the consciousness of our egalitarian-minded genetic makeup. Perhaps, for this or some other reason, we do not feel good about businesses and have antipathy toward them.
Rather than the positive view that businesses are all “ours,” the logic that businesses are “theirs” or “others’” sounds more persuasive. This may have led to our positive responses to voices that suggest reforming businesses, but show little response to the voices that suggest fostering and saving them.
But times have changed. The dictator is gone. The first-generation business founders are almost all retired. But businesses that were built with difficulty have survived until now to become leading players in the world economy, representing the Korean economy and playing the role of good soldiers who carry out economic war without gunshots.
While we turned away from them, foreigners who recognized the value of Korean businesses invested enormous amounts of money in buying up more than 40 percent of listed companies’ shares. Particularly in the case of major large businesses, they took away over 50 percent of their shares. It is an emergency. Now our companies are becoming theirs or others’ indeed.
Moreover, it has become hard to foster a good business these days. In the past, we could make domestic businesses grow by advocating the protection of infant industries and setting up trade barriers. But now in a completely open world economic system, infant industries have become an object of attack, not protection.
Any country that has not fostered proper businesses so far cannot escape from the shackles of poverty. Businesses are the possessions of shareholders and the precious social assets of all the people as well. A good business will feed many households.
I heard that the government recently began to take measures to dissipate anti-business sentiment. It is good news after a long time. An ad titled “Ours is precious” comes to my mind. So are businesses. We should come forward to foster such sentiment before it is too late and more is taken away. Just as our mountains are den-sely wooded, we should make our economic soil fertile and numerous businesses prosperous and prolific on it. When new seeds are constantly sown and trees grow thick to become a wooded forest, lots of birds can nest and sing. Trees cannot grow in arid lands and birds cannot live where there are no trees.
An economy where anti-business feeling is widespread is like sterile soil. Businesses will wither to death, not grow. When the business birthrate is lowest, with almost no new businesses established and existing businesses leaving this country, it is urgent to change the land of our economy to a business-friendly one.
It is time that the government and businesses should step forward to dissolve anti-business sentiment, conducting campaigns like “Foster Our Businesses” or “Make All the People Shareholders.”
* The writer is a professor of economics at Myongji University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yoon Chang-hyun