[OUTLOOK]Strong steps to save economy

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[OUTLOOK]Strong steps to save economy

The government says it is going to concentrate all its efforts on the economy this year. What good news. Yet we have heard this so many times over the years that many people remain doubtful. This brings us then to the question of what is the correct way to concentrate on the economy, and what needs to be done in order to be successful.
First of all, we need a simple and clear goal. Saving the economy should be the first priority of the national policy. All resources and energy need to be devoted to the economy. The reason the economy was failing all this time, despite the government’s word that it was working on it, is that the government was working on so many other things at the same time.
The government was concentrating on the economy, the abolition of the National Security Law, newspaper reform and restructuring private schools, all at the same time. On top of that, the government attempted to transfer the administrative capital, a project that required a great amount of resources.
There were also cases where the government made the economy worse while intending to make it better. Policies designed to prevent real estate speculation and stricter regulations on sex trade were promoted as parts of its social reform agenda. But they resulted in halting real estate transactions and the service industry.
If the decision is made to concentrate everything on the economy, anything contradictory to that decision should be strategically postponed. After all, by trying to do everything at once, the government could end up getting nothing done at all.
When there was an attempt to bring down the price index to a single digit in the beginning of the 1980s, everyone wondered whether it would be possible. However, the government focused only on bringing down the annual price increase to a single digit, and used an emergency policy of freezing the budget, binding the government purchase price of rice and other crops from farmers and holding back the interest rate and wages. It was a very difficult process, but the government succeeded in the end.
In the old days, it was possible to push through government policy with force, but it is more difficult now to ram through a policy singlehandedly, as everything needs to be done democratically.
We need a much more flexible and stronger leadership. The president needs to step forward, presenting the country with a vision and goal, and lead the whole country in that direction. Also, he should give support and authority to the leaders of our society after they have been given specific goals.
The policy of concentrating all efforts on one goal should be launched with vigor so that the people feel that a change is imminent. There will be many obstacles along the way, such as well-meaning theories on good social causes espoused by many fundamentalist ideologists. We need to dominate initiatives in order to implement a pragmatic policy of focusing only on the economy.
For example, when South Korea’s economy was on the brink of rapid growth some 40 years ago, I remember seeing how the former deputy prime minister of finance and economy, Chang Ki-young, successfully built up a favorable atmosphere for high growth by continuously announcing specific and concrete economic measures.
The National Tax Service’s recent decision to relax regulations on businesses’ entertainment expenses was appropriate and timely for stimulating domestic consumption. This can be seen as the beginning of the government’s new campaign to save the economy.
Even though it was a good start, the government took an ambiguous attitude toward lifting the regulations out of fear of public opposition. It would have been more effective if the government had acted confidently instead. If the Fair Trade Commission, the Public Prosecutors Office and the Ministry of Construction and Transportation boldly take action on matters that are helpful in reviving the economy, it would bring about a great rising effect in domestic sectors.
Of course, critics will always exist, but breaking through such negative talk is what makes it a policy that focuses on economic revival. This is a matter of choosing a policy and having the leadership to pursue it.
Lastly, the government’s methods must change. The ones they use now are better suited to academic debates on university campuses, and so they are inappropriate for promoting a policy intended to jump start the economy.
Countless roadmaps, complex and detailed theories, and an attitude that pursues transparency and perfection are too complicated and out of date. A policy is made for the public, so it should be easy and concise. Instead of abstract goals, such as becoming the hub of Northeast Asia or entering the group of advanced economies, the government should create more specific measures that affect citizens directly.
Our situation right now is quite urgent, so we need to move fast. Instead of engaging in lengthy debate after debate, much like in academic seminars, the government should carry out its plan quickly after analyzing the problems, evaluating the costs and benefits and making its own decision on an action plan.
If the government shows a willingness to debate the big issues as soon as they come up, come up with conclusions and take action right away, the public will realize that something has changed and will energetically take part in the efforts to save the economy. Through its actions, the government must instill confidence in the minds of the people.
Right now, many talented people are said to be working on numerous government committees, handling more than 200 roadmaps related to government policies. The campaign to save the economy should start by streamlining such a complex government structure and making the policy -making process simple and concise.

* The writer is the vice chairman of the Samsung Economic Research Institute (SERI). Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Choi Woo-suk

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