[VIEWPOINT]‘Trial and error time is over’Soon after Chun Doo Hwan took power at the beginning of the 1980s, government officials conducted a massive search for ideas questioning people on how to improve the economy. The economy was in bad shape at the time and the political and social insecurities were serious. I remember I had caused a debate of sorts when I said that abandoning the thought of ideas to save the economy would be one idea to save it.
These days, the economy is just as bad. Everywhere I see people searching earnestly for ideas to save the economy. It did not reach its present state in a day or two. There are some old conditions to be dealt with, and those conditions are getting worse. No matter what the reason, it is up to the administration to solve this difficult economic situation. How should the government go about solving it? The situation has passed the stage where it can be solved by policies or techniques. It needs a fundamental approach and cure.
First, the economy must be repaired through humility. Until now, we have been too arrogant about our economy. The economy should be treated with kid gloves, yet we were too rough on it. The economy should be raised with care because it moves according to long-term economic principles. A good economy is not like a lottery ticket that can be quickly chosen; it must be handled from a long-term perspective. Careful attention and safe driving are the two most needed elements. Speeding and sudden braking are forbidden.
Up until just a few months ago, the government had denied that the economy was getting worse and even called it a conspiracy when others said so. Even now, it claims that it is confident, and it presents grand dreams without concrete plans to make those dreams come true. The government should learn to read the situation correctly by keeping alert and listening to different opinions if there is to be a way out. It is truly regrettable seeing the government underrate the economy without even knowing that it is doing so. The economy will get better when the government obeys the profound logic of economies, respects the advice of experienced experts and tries to solve the economy through choices and decisions rather than seminars and debates. All this is possible only when there is humility.
Second, the economy must be healed through boldness. Boldness is not outward belligerence but a state of mind and internal discipline. A person in a position of responsibility should possess boldness and a sense of responsibility befitting such a position. He must also take risks and make decisions. There are too many leaders these days who act like they are in the ranks. These people like to blame others, cause divisions and delay handing down decisions. A senior official should always remember his duty to keep the country at ease and to feed the people. A leader is not a leader if he or she feels no sense of responsibility over unsettling the country by engaging in struggles with enemy forces. “We once fought and won even when we were so poor we couldn’t afford anything but instant noodles. We are not afraid of hardships,” people say from time to time, but our country has now gotten too big to rule while living only on ramyeon.
Even former President Chun Doo Hwan, at the beginning of the fifth republic, once noted, “I’ve taken over power but whenever I see the throngs of people passing by Gwanghwamun, I worry about how to feed that entire crowd.” These are words that were good to hear. Although it was lost later on, there was humility towards the economy at the beginning of the fifth republic.
Third, the economy must be healed through fairness. The new government has tried to change many things since its inauguration, but there are many times when policies are ambiguous in direction. The government claims that it is trying to change the outdated and obsolete framework of our country to make it more competitive and turn the country into a better place to live. But it has yet to win the trust of the public. Too many people suspect the government of implementing policies to crush its political enemies as part of a long-term political strategy. Many of the government’s policies seem unreasonable and overly hasty, putting burdens on the economy rather than removing them and raising unnecessary havoc. It is little wonder that the public doubts the fairness of the government. Even if there are differences of basic opinions, there should at least be a fair system of deciding priorities and the importance of issues at hand. The government must convince the public that it has no ulterior motives behind its policies ― that is, if it is indeed not willing to risk the economy to get the reforms it wants.
If the basic situation continues like this, no amount of brilliant economic ideas will save the economy. What are the words that Koreans would like to hear right now? They are probably, “Trial and error is over. Now is time to pay attention to the people’s needs. True reform lies in eliminating the obstacles to economic recovery and competitiveness with consistency and boldness.”
* The writer is the vice chairman of the Samsung Economic Research Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Choi Woo-suk