[FORUM]Too much help is a bad thingAt last, the economy seems to be thawing. Consumer indices give some reason for optimism and investment conditions are supposedly getting better. Many feel that these recent changes were spurred by the government’s announcement that it would concentrate on the economy this year and that the efforts on part of the government and politicians should be reinforced.
However, leaning too much to one side can also be a problem. The economy has only recently started to recover, but high oil prices, the strengthening value of the Korean won, rising interest rates in the United States and the North Korean nuclear issue are some of the many worries we have.
That is why there is a general consensus that we need to concentrate wholly on the economy for the time being.
On the other hand, if the government interferes too much in the economy, it could bring about undesirable side effects. Overt government interference might even hinder the economic recovery or distort it in an unexpected way.
This dilemma reminds me of a joke: A woman in Seoul loses her way and ends up wandering into a dangerous neighborhood. Five young men approach her and offer to take her to where they insist is a safe place. How can the woman get out of the situation? She can toss them a basketball. With the men immersed in a game of hoops, she can go about her way without calling unnecessary attention to herself.
The woman in the story resembles our economy and the young men, our government. It is great that every government agency and politician is stepping forward to try to save the economy, but they must keep in mind that too much attention can actually be a burden to the economy.
The reason the economy and the social atmosphere have gotten better in the past two months is that the government has been more prudent in its announcements and policy changes it makes and hasn’t really intervened in the economy itself.
Now, however, politicians and government officials are flocking around the economy, eager to lend their help. Anyhow, we have to save the economy from this situation.
As alluded to in the joke, the solution is tossing them a ball called “government reform.” The government and the governing party are big fans of reform, so we can distract them with reform issues so that they can let go of the economy.
The object of reform, of course, would be the government and the party themselves. The politicians must establish clean political practices and reform the system to reduce political conflicts. The government agencies should examine themselves to see if they are performing their duties effectively and whether they are properly serving the public.
The idealistic policies and stopgap measures that the government has been implementing until now have left many regulations that bind businesses, so deregulation should be a reform issue to which the government needs to pay particular attention.
On the issue of state-owned businesses, the government also needs to provide practical reform measures such as privatization. The government also needs to redouble its efforts if it doesn’t want to hear the criticism that reform in the public sector is proceeding at the slowest pace.
Concentrating on the economy does not mean that supervisory government agencies should neglect their duties. These agencies should, however, try to change any irrational systems or customs that threaten or inconvenience businesses.
These little efforts on the part of the government could go a long way in helping businesses. Our economy has the potential to stand on its own feet if we only clear away the confusion and atmosphere of fear from its surroundings. There is no need for the government and politicians to offer to lead the economy by the hand or by the arm.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Roh Sung-tae