[OUTLOOK]Roh can’t boost economy aloneAnyone who watched the New Year’s press conference may have felt that President Roh Moo-hyun had changed. His eloquent speech that flowed like running water was no longer the same as before. At every question, he stammered, and the speed of his speech slowed down. He became prudent.
It was good to see him behave unlike himself. He said that his thinking had not changed but that didn’t mean his policy had to be the same.
He seemed to admit that Roh Moo-hyun the individual and Roh Moo-hyun the president shouldn’t and can’t be the same. Could he have finally felt the weight of the presidency?
Just as his attitude became more prudent, so did his words during the press conference. He said he would put all energy into the economy, and his views on relations with North Korea and the United States were more realistic. Now that the president said he would focus all his efforts on the economy, will it begin to recover this year? Sad to say, it is easier for those in power to destroy the economy rather than help it recover. This is because the role of the government has limitations. Therefore, as long as we watch with our hands folded, saying, “Now that you said you would put all your efforts into the economy, do it yourself, Mr. President!” the economy cannot recover.
Whether the president has changed or is pretending to have changed, it doesn’t matter. Change is change. However, the forces that had supported the president may not welcome the new Mr. Roh, possibly reproaching him for giving up on his drastic reform plans in only two years.
There are people who should respond to this change in Mr. Roh ― those who have strength to save the economy.
Insolvent credit holders and poor common people who can barely support themselves have no ability to save the economy, however hard they might try. The money spent last year on golfing in Southeast Asia, sending children abroad for study, receiving medical treatment at foreign hospitals was 17 trillion won ($16 billion). This is what the haves spent.
If this money had been spent in Korea, last year’s growth rate would have been 1.7 percentage points higher. Employment would have increased by that much too.
The more the haves go abroad, saying Korea’s education is terrible and Korea’s hospitals are antiquated, the worse our domestic condition will become.
These people may say, “Since I have money, I can emigrate.” But if their own country becomes a third- or fourth-rate nation, will they be treated well in their new homes?
In the Netherlands, where the land is below sea level, all citizens take care of the sea banks and drainage facilities together. If the banks collapse and the water floods the country, both the rich and the poor will be ruined together. This fosters a sense of community.
To rescue the economy, those who are well off should be willing to spend. They should have a heart for taxi drivers: “Because taxi drivers are having difficulties, let’s take a taxi.” They should have a heart for caddies: “Let’s go to golf courses at home for the caddies’ livelihood, even if domestic golf courses are a little more expensive than those abroad.” After seeing so many young people depressed because of unemployment, more business people should think, “Let’s hire more people even if our businesses are having difficulties.”
Thrift is a virtue. When all people are spending freely, we should be thrifty, but when all are having problems and refraining from spending, we should spend, thinking, “I, who have enough to spend, will take the lead in spending.” This is the heart that takes the community into consideration. For the sake of the entire community, we should be able to refrain from seeking only our own interests. With such an attitude, the economy will begin to revive.
For the economy to grow, there should be no fighting. Trees on the windy mountaintop are twisted and dwarfed. Fighting the wind, they have no strength left for growth. Instead, their roots go deeper. Likewise, pummeled by fighting for the past two years, our economy has had no time to grow.
Even so, the past two years were not spent in vain. Such confrontation gave us opportunities to change our way of thinking. Let’s comfort ourselves in that although we could not grow, our roots became healthier. We need the heart to accept the changed reality. Now is the time for all to step back from fighting.
The past two years and the next three years are not President Roh’s responsibility alone. They are five years entrusted to all of us.
If we think, “Let’s help him retire with achievements in the remaining three years,” won’t he be changed? There will be no hope if we wait and watch him make mistakes, like a grumpy mother-in-law who closely watches a daughter-in-law she hates, and if we suspect that he has changed in words only. If he makes a mistake while carrying out his duties, it’s not too late to criticize him then.
On the other hand, President Roh should persuade the people around him. He should no longer be entangled with ideologists and hard-liners who are used to only squabbling. The response from Uri Party members is not favorable. Mr. Roh should have the courage to isolate himself from them even if they made him president.
* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk