[OUTLOOK]Closed, shuttered and locked

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[OUTLOOK]Closed, shuttered and locked

“Can’t we import the president from abroad?” a taxi driver recently blurted out to me. In his opinion, because foreigners have been called in for positions as the presidents of colleges and the heads of banks, we may as well experimentally invite some foreigners to be our political leaders.
He was aware, certainly, that foreigners could not be the president, lawmakers or executives of political parties. I was surprised to hear such fearless remarks, which he had made innocently not knowing who the passenger was, but the words he blurted out when I was about to get off lingered on: “I had made up my mind not to take any interest in politics or to talk about it, but I once again babbled pointlessly.”
This reminded me of a scene that I had seen in front of a building: The shutter was firmly closed, and on the stairs in front of it, several union members with red headbands were staging a demonstration. On the unlit windows and the walls of the massive, looming building, placards that said “Oppose the shutdown to the death” were attached in disarray.
The business shutdown was a business’s countermeasure to a strike. Be it short-term or long-term, the lockout is mortal to the business. In most cases, businesses close down when they fall behind the competition with accumulated losses and cannot stand the demands from the union any longer.
Even if the number of business shutdowns is not great, many businesses may have considered a lockout. They anguish over and over again because it is difficult to recover even if they end the lockout and start operations again.
How about the situation of labor unions? Although union members cried out with “Unite, fight, oppose to death” written on the strips of their headbands, the force they are fighting disappears after the shutdown, and of course there is no need for determination to die. Except that both the union and the business suffer a tragedy and nothing is gained.
Politics seems like a tragedy of a business shutdown these days. People close the shutters of their hearts tightly against politics.
The politics about which the people feel disheartened is not the post-politics of wise hermits who turned against the mundane world nor the anti-politics of anarcho-nihilists. Nor are they anti-politicals who are too preoccupied with other things to be interested in politics. The people just feel displeased and disillusioned with politics. The taxi driver’s remarks even had a tint of anger in them.
Just as vain slogans are written on the headbands of union members in front of the building with the shutters closed, politicians and parties are crying out only vain slogans. A governing party lawmaker said that the people are afflicted with “reform fatigue”; this clearly shows the nature of slogans for “reform.”
The loss in production due to strikes is about 2 trillion won ($180 million) a year, and the loss in exports is $600 million to $700 million. The number of lost man-hours far exceeds a million. This is an irreparable loss to the nation’s economy.
How could the loss from the people’s political shutdown be calculated? The sense of betrayal and frustration the people feel suppresses their vitality and eventually undercuts their enthusiasm for economic activity. This can never be calculated quantitatively, but it too is tremendously damaging.
How can we overcome this tragedy? Above all, politics should change. While politics should provide the people with a vision and hope for the future, the slogans for reform that now come from the mouth of politicians are only stirring up uneasiness, rather than expectations for the future.
There is a pile of problems that politicians should address with sincere concern. What policies are needed to raise business competitiveness and labor productivity? Should the keynote of the South Korea-U.S. relations be changed? What measures should be taken to solve the problem of a sharp population drop within 20 years? What will we do when the working population decreases greatly and schools have to close their doors? These problems are what politicians should be worried about.
There is one thing that politicians, particularly of the governing party, must do before they show us these changes. It must make efforts to understand that the shutters of politics are closed over the hearts of the people.
Healing the wounds of the people’s hearts is never an easy job. Political tricks do not work here. Politics that bears in mind measures for the party’s next convention and preparations for the next elections will only make the shutters on the people’s hearts close more firmly.
I would be happy to see politicians boldly throwing away self-righteousness, arrogance, tricks and tactics and declare that they are aware of the shutters on the people’s hearts.

* The writer, a former minister of state affairs, is an advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Kim Dong-ik

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