[OUTLOOK]Fighting over wealth is futileThe wishes for the new year are focused on the economy. Even the New Year special supplements of newspapers are focusing on how to revive the economy.
Several solutions are being prescribed. The doctor’s prescription is important if we are to cure the disease. But most of all, the attitude of the patient is crucial. The fate of our economy will depend on our attitude.
The source of all kinds of conflict is the desire to have more than what others have. Fights break out when one tries to get more money, power and prestige than others have. The reason people want more is because they feel like they don’t have enough.
Fighting happens because people want more of what’s limited. All these problems, such as labor-management relations and strife among social classes, rise from the fact that everyone wants more of what’s limited.
The same goes for the economy. The fighting will never stop once we start thinking that there is not enough wealth or goods to go around. If the size of the pie is limited, people cannot help thinking, “If that person gets that much, I’ll only get this much.”
That is why the justice of distribution is supported by many people. The most extreme idea is communism, and the solution is taking away from those who have to give to those who have not. However, the minute one takes away from those who have, society becomes poorer and poorer. The minute the government takes away from the haves becomes the minute wealth starts to decline.
A conqueror becomes rich the minute he or she attacks a neighboring country and plunders it. However, this wealth does not last long. No one has become rich forever on loot. It is the same with society.
If the government wants to continue rich, it must keep on taking. Yet if it keeps taking, soon there will be nothing to take anymore. This is where the paradox of distribution lies.
However, if we co-exist without taking from one another, we could continue to increase our wealth. If we understand that wealth is not limited but something we can continue creating, we would not have to fight over it. If everyone thinks this way, our wealth will increase without limit. Instead of taking from others, everyone gives so that everyone receives from one another what one needs. This is what we call a market, production or trade. Such co-existence is what makes us richer and richer.
Think back just one or two centuries ago. Could we have imagined such an affluent world as today’s? If wealth had been limited and people had to take from one another, we would not enjoy the prosperity we do today.
This is the biggest reason our economy is in such difficulty right now. We have all the right conditions for the economy to grow, yet we have been unable to keep up with the average global growth rate over the last two years. “People’s anxiety over the future must be dissolved” and “Let the rich spend like the rich” have become popular chants because those who lead this government act as if our wealth is limited to what we have right now and that this wealth should be doled out equally. What’s worse, they consider this as justice and believe that it is a holy mission they have to accomplish.
Yet wealth really is not limited. Wealth and money can be increased without limit through the market. This is the secret of the market. Of course, we need to apply certain restrictions on the rich. If human greed is allowed to go unchecked, the market itself would not exist, or rather, the market would become plundering grounds for the rich. It is one of the many functions of the government to make sure that this does not happen.
Material wealth is not the only valuable thing in the world. The reason we have started to go in the wrong direction after this administration came into power is that those in power have exaggerated the rich-poor issue, as if it is everything in the world. Beneath the trends of hating the rich, bashing the Gangnam district and elite schools, there lies the psychology of loathing the rich people.
Those who fought for independence from the Japanese colonial rule did not do it to become rich. Yet those in power link even this history with the rich-poor gap: “The families of those who fought for independence are poor for three generations and those who cooperated with the Japanese are rich for three generations.” There are many valuable things in the world other than money. An artist can pursue beauty even if he or she is poor. A teacher leads a meaningful life of educating the next generation even if he or she lives humbly. Everyone pursues different values and every value is equally important. Not everyone fights for money or material goods.
This is what we call diversity. Diversity is closely related to the secret of the market. How bleak would the world be if everyone pursued the same things? Yet because all people pursue their individual values, they don’t need to fight. All they need to do is work to maximize their own values. When these values are united through the market or the community, we can create wealth in unlimited amounts.
If we are to save our economy, we must change our attitude first. Once we realize the secret of diversity and the market, the economy will revive by itself.
* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk