[VIEWPOINT]Backtracking Roosevelt“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” In 1933, the new U.S. President, Franklin Roosevelt, gave his inaugural address to the nation. At the time, panic was spreading quickly throughout American society. The gross national product of the United States had fallen to 56 percent of that in 1929, just before the Great Depression, and the number of unemployed people had reached 13 million. People were sinking in despair. President Roosevelt called for a special session of Congress that became known as the Hundred Days, which provided the basis for the New Deal programs such as the Tennessee Valley Authority development projects.
Recently, the Korean government announced that it would pursue a “Korean New Deal” policy in order to overcome the difficulties that the country’s economy is going through. There is, however, controversy as to the actual efficiency of such a policy and whether the term “New Deal” is appropriate.
This writer believes that the most important point in this New Deal policy is the change in thinking that it has shown. The New Deal programs in the United States were based on a change of thought, abandoning “laissez-faire” capitalism to overcome the depression through government intervention. At present, Korea is indeed in need of an epochal policy like the New Deal programs that helped the United States overcome the Great Depression. However, our situation requires us to follow the exact opposite path. Instead of turning from laissez-faire to government intervention, we need the opposite sort of change.
The Korean New Deal needs to focus on what the people and our industries need rather than what the government can do. This is the change of thinking that is needed in our situation. We need to change our thinking from the perspective of the supplier to the perspective of the consumer.
Government officials are people before they are decision-makers. They should think about what is causing people, themselves included, hardships in their daily lives. They should explore and invest resources based on what the people and businesses need, cooperating with the private sector in fields the government can’t take care of alone.
For example, part of the Korean New Deal could be a wide effort to expand daycare centers. The expansion of daycare centers especially for low to middle-income households would help solve the problem of a rich-poor gap, increase the female workforce and help raise the low birth rate. Also, big businesses and financial institutes could form joint funds to alleviate the financial burden of small to mid-size firms that cooperate with the big firms.
Since the big businesses know better than anyone which small and mid-size firms are the competitive ones, the best of the firms would be able to get financial support more easily. While real estate speculation must be checked, regular real estate transactions could be encouraged through temporary real estate-related tax breaks.
Finding out the needs of the people and the businesses and listening to those working on the site is not a duty limited to particular government departments. It is the responsibility of all government departments. Also, the New Deal programs must not become a one-time affair. Therefore, the Korean New Deal policy must not be limited to the “hardware” related projects involving investments, but also include the “software” related to the reform of systems and culture. A classic example of such software is the ability to read the complaints of the people and the businesses in a fair, transparent and systematic way.
A regular conference call through the phone, for example, could help the financial authorities listen better to the voice of the market and likewise help the government agencies that are responsible for assisting corporate and industry activities to listen to the businesses and industries in question. Not only would this save time and money, it would let the government bureaus and the businesses communicate on a more regular basis.
The government needs to change its focus from grand ideas and discourses to practical means that can be executed. It needs to understand the actual difficulties and inconveniences that the people and the businesses face and explore possible concrete solutions to these problems. This would give the people and the businesses hope to start anew, and this hope will be the foundation to our economic recovery.
* The writer is the executive managing director of GE Korea. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Hyun-seung