[GLOBAL EYE]Dusting off the U.S. coattailsAs the administration and the governing party prepare a Korean-style New Deal to cope with the economic slump, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the U.S. president who implemented the New Deal, is in the spotlight. The Uri Party’s floor leader, Chun Jung-bae, said at the Assembly, “I am reminded of the conviction and courage of President Roosevelt, who did not give up his reforms and overcame the crisis although the opposition criticized him as a communist and the radical faction of the Democratic Party censured him as being too timid.”
But President Roosevelt is the hero who saved American capitalism from the Great Depression by integrating social welfare elements in the market through federal intervention. Therefore, if the governing party is learning from the success of President Roosevelt, hoping for a breakthrough similar to the New Deal, Mr. Chun’s reference is on the mark. But the governing party seems to be making a historical reference to the American leader in order to advertise the inevitability and justification for reforms that are far more extreme than the New Deal and are being unilaterally pursued by the governing party.
The governing party’s continued attacks on the Constitutional Court after the court found the capital relocation plan unconstitutional support that allegation. Ironically, reform-minded legislations by President Roosevelt were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court one after another, and he countered those setbacks with a bill to pack the court with reformist judges. In the position of a governing party whose capital relocation plan was frustrated and whose four reform bills are facing obstacles in and out of the party, isn’t the American leader a welcome teacher to reflect on?
In fact, the reforms of President Roosevelt are a rare case of a progressive social experiment in the capitalist history of the United States. While some decried the reforms as a progressive intermission, it is generally accepted that it was a final phase of adjustments that made up for the flaws of American capitalism. Therefore, if the governing party is to benchmark President Roosevelt, it should model itself on the reform-minded leadership that completed a capitalist system.
Never in U.S. history had the state made such extensive interventions in the daily lives of the citizens as it did during the New Deal. Similarly, the president never had such concentrated powers as at the time of the New Deal. If President Roosevelt exploited that power to achieve his political goals, the reforms would have failed. You have to essentially play a villain to implement a reform. You have to persuade the establishment and minimize the opposition. The wealthy Americans and capitalists were repelled by President Roosevelt’s reforms, but he was never hostile to them. He did not try to flatter the populace and convinced the citizens with his signature “fireside chats.”
If the governing party demands citizens take sides, abuses its power to seek revenge for past wrongs and exploits reform as a tactic to extend its rule, it will be a reform for its own sake only. When it has a firm centripetal point, focuses on the key agenda and displays predictability and stability through systematically establishing a reform ideology, the governing party can win even its opponents over.
While President Roosevelt attempted to expand the nine-member Supreme Court to 15 members to add liberal judges, the legislation was rejected. In the process, his invincibility was undermined, and he had to pay a high political price. The Democratic Party was divided and the Republican Party gained power. President Roosevelt, a man of conviction and courage, had to be satisfied with replacing seven supreme justices whose terms expired in the next four years. Unilaterally pushing without respecting the process of consultation is not a reform but a revolution, and it might end as a footnote to history.
To the Korean-style New Deal, Japan’s experience of the last decade might prove more helpful. Although the government spent 123 trillion yen ($1.16 trillion) on public construction projects and other programs, it only enriched the construction industry and farmers and failed to boost the economy. What brought a recovery was the revival of the manufacturing sector thanks to the emerging Chinese market. What we desperately need now is a social “Big Deal” that can revive an investor-friendly atmosphere and entrepreneurship. Businesses are the nation.
* The writer is the editor in chief of the monthly publication NEXT.
by Byun Sang-keun