[OUTLOOK]Set broad economic prioritiesClearly defined priorities is a requirement that determines the fate of a person, a company and even a nation, and it is a principle that cannot be stressed enough. After all, the chaos of Korean politics today, and the prevailing social uncertainty, originates from the failure to define national priorities. As a record-breaking hot summer nears its end, the ruling party and other politicians are, to our relief, beginning to pay attention to rearranging the priorities.
Any nation, and any government, has a plate full of complicated policy plans, tasks, and purposes. It is only natural for a democratic state to have heated arguments and debates over the merits and validity of each plan. However, if the politicians are obsessed with the debates over each policy planning and fail to set a clear priority order of the policies, the state administration would only end up in chaos. Most citizens already have their own understandings of the backgrounds that gave birth to the capital relocation plans and the reassessment of modern history. However, they are also seriously skeptical about whether those policies should be prioritized in today’s situation. Realistically enough, citizens have already reached a consensus that the most urgent pending task is to overcome economic uncertainties, which are directly related to the survival of citizens and the state. Therefore, any rhetoric and reasoning unfolded to bypass the economic solution would be considered an irresponsible political tactic.
Even if the state can pursue several policies simultaneously, they can’t be implemented before the priorities are defined in advance. A life might be short, but the fate of a nation and the people is long. If I cannot finish a task, my successor can inherit and complete it. It is wise for a successful state administration to refrain from avariciously pursuing many goals at once, especially trying to accomplish them all in a single term. In a turbulent time like today, the government should prioritize them and concentrate the national capacity to resolve matters that the majority of the citizens find most urgent.
Prioritizing the economic issue is not just a prescription to overcome the economic slump. We have all heard complaints of how hard it is to make money today, how bad business is and how the market is worse than the times after the financial crisis. The statistics on bad creditors and youth unemployment reflect the grave economic situation.
Koreans eagerly wait for remedies that will mitigate the national suffering and growth policy that will launch the economy on a trail of steady growth. However, we do not want the government to give the highest priority to the mere conquest of the economic slump and come up with a stop-gap measure that is only a reflexive response. Instead, we are expecting a conclusion and prescription formulated by seeking a long-term strategy for the survival and prosperity of the nation and the people in a decade, thirty years, even fifty years. When the strategy of survival in the future is ambiguous, we cannot help being insecure.
It is beyond our imagination how intense the competition among nations will become in the international market. Especially if China continues to achieve rapid economic growth, Korean manufacturing industries will die away and we could be faced with a serious crisis, an industrial vacuum.
It is not an easy task to shift the center of the economy to the knowledge and service-based industries. We are witnessing how India, a nation with a population of 1 billion, is making astonishingly fast development in the service industry. Mean-while, Japan, the second largest economy in the world, has emerged from a prolonged recession and confidently plans a new leap, thanks to restructuring and technology advancement.
Considering the circumstances, it is evident that we should give the economy highest priority in order to improve Korea’s competitiveness and guarantee the survival of the nation. If we continue the confusion over the order of policy priorities when the choice cannot be more obvious, we would be calling a disastrous future onto ourselves.
In short, the Korean economy stands at the point where we cannot delay a total restructuring to prepare for the fight for survival. We should not hesitate to implement educational reform to nurture knowledge-based industries, where creativity and intelligence will be the keys to success.
In order to pursue all these plans smoothly, Korea needs political determination that prioritizes the economy in a broader sense, and only such a resolution will receive extensive support from our citizens.
* The writer, a former prime minister, is an advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Hong-koo