[FORUM]Economy rests upon two men

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[FORUM]Economy rests upon two men

At the beginning of each new year, everybody expresses hope and good wishes to one another and tries to find something good about the past. This is also what led me to write this column.
Many people are suffering and nervous about their future because of the bad economy. Some even say that it is even more difficult now than when we had to depend on the help of the International Monetary Fund to overcome the financial crisis of 1997-98.
But there was another time when the people of our country were in agony and had to tremble under economic burdens. In 1980, the Korean economy experienced negative growth for the first time since the country began implementing a well-planned economic development policy in the 1960s. The domestic political crisis brought about by the assassination of President Park Chung Hee happened to overlap with the second oil shock and a lean harvest.
At the time, I was studying at a university in Boston. Oddly enough, the future deputy prime minister of economy and finance, Lee Hun-jai, and the future Blue House policy planning chief, Lee Joung-woo, were also studying economics in Boston at that time. I was fortunate enough to socialize with and closely observe two talented people at the same time.
I often met with each of them separately, but I do not think I ever had the chance to meet both of them at the same time. Whether it was because of the differences in their careers, ages or their different levels of drinking capacity, I recall that they did not socialize with each other much back then. I regret that I didn’t arrange more occasions for the two of them to get together.
Deputy Prime Minister Lee was and still is a man with a reputation for being talented and clever in many ways, and as there are so many well-known and well-circulated stories, there seems no need to mention them here.
In contrast, policy planning chief Lee was like a hidden pearl in that he was a true scholar whose talents were revealed if you got to know him better. Many people were drawn to his personality because he studied in depth, yet was always gentle, modest and honest. (To tell the truth, the reason I started to have a good impression of them was that neither of the two men was an eloquent speaker.)
Even though such talented people as these two are overseeing the economy, our economy made poor progress last year and the psychology of an economic crisis is spreading fast. Although our economy grew nearly 5 percent, this was mainly due to exports, which had nothing to do with policy intentions. If it were not for exports, we could have gone down to zero growth.
So who is responsible for the bad economy? The political world has a fair share of the responsibility, but those in charge of economic policy are mainly responsible.
One thing we especially need to focus on is the rumors of discord between the economic deputy prime minister and the Blue House policy planning chief. The rumor is being blown up so much that people believe that the government is getting its wires crossed, and that amplifies the uncertainty regarding the economy. It is a cause for concern because, even though the economic deputy prime minister and the policy planning chief of the Blue House have denied the rumors, the public believes them to be true.
In the Roh administration, career bureaucrats co-exist with scholars from the “386 generation” and refor-mists, so conflicts and disputes are bound to surface from time to time, and nobody can blame them for that. This is acceptable in the process of drafting a policy.
However, once a decision is made on the direction of a policy, the administration should speak with one voice. Especially when the economy is bad and the economic players react sensitively to small things, the administration must act as a unified body.
I think the fact that there were no negotiations between the two people who represent the two major camps of economic policy is something that should be reflected upon. One thing that needs to be acknowledged and corrected quickly is the tendency of those under the influence of these two people to criticize and slander their opposition, completely disregarding the opposition’s skill, experience or morality.
The economy is still poor right now, and things are looking dim for the immediate future, but I see reasons to hope too. The president has expressed his intention to concentrate on reviving the economy this year. If Lee Hun-jai and Lee Joung-woo come together as one to assist the president, the results could be great.
I look forward to seeing these two people, who studied and worried about their country while they were abroad during tough times, cooperating with one another to revive the economy, ultimately saving their personal reputations and contributing to the development of our country.

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Roh Sung-tae

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