[FORUM]A case for thinking before actingAfter the armistice agreement ended the Korean War 50 years ago, Korea was gripped by severe inflation. The government coped with the problem by selecting capable people as presidential aides for economic affairs, but former President Syngman Rhee was discontent with their poor performance.
After worrying about prices for a while, a good idea struck him. He realized that prices rose because the country’s mint had issued too much money. The president remembered a rumor that money was being issued and transported in trucks every day and felt it was the wrong policy.
Without consulting anyone, the president immediately took action. By mobilizing military policemen, he sealed off the printers at the Korea Minting and Security Printing Corporation.
There could be no disagreement with the logic that prices rise when too much money is issued. But when a country stops issuing money to control prices, it paralyzes the economy and causes social confusion and disturbances. It causes people to overreact and take measures that go far beyond what are needed to fix the problem.
Astonished, the governor of the Bank of Korea belatedly met the president and pointed out these problems and persuaded him that inflation should be controlled through several measures. The printers were unseal-ed, but the incident remained a famous episode in monetary policy.
When President Roh Moo-hyun released his “statement to the people” written by himself regarding Japan’s distorted history textbooks and the Dokdo problem, many of the people expressed a consensus on its content and logic.
But many people questioned the manner in which the president directly came forward to address the problems. Some were concerned about its adverse effects, recalling the case of former President Syngman Rhee.
The Blue House explained that the statement was not written impromptu by the president alone but was the result of five rounds of meetings with the foreign minister and the Blue House staff. But if the president had prepared a memo in person from the first round of the meetings and if his strong will had been contained in the memo, it would have been difficult for ministers to object to it.
If political leaders of South Korea and Japan speak whatever they want to say without filtering and the people emotionally act in response to that, economic and cultural exchanges between the two countries are bound to shrink. The deepening emotional chasm as a consequence will be a big obstacle to long-term development in Northeast Asia.
With Japan’s approval of the controversial history textbooks, the on-going emotional confrontation between the two countries may increase, but I think we should settle the problem. To do so, scholars, experts and the media rather than politicians and civic groups from the two countries, should take the lead in the matter. Political leaders of the two countries should refrain from making remarks and behave prudently after listening to the opinions of these expert groups.
The phrase scholars take as a golden rule in studying economic matters is “a cool head and a warm heart.” It means balancing logic and emotion. The entangled diplomatic problem should be solved in this way too. Although anguished hearts and shouts have dominated the situation up until now, we should from now on analyze our national interests cool-headedly and deal with the problem from various angles.
I’d like to suggest reflecting on the advice from the late American columnist Anne Landers. She calmed readers who resented other people’s absurd arguments or insulting words and deeds with this advice: “Before going out to fight, write a letter to the nasty person. And then, read the letter again the next day.” According to her, when they read the letter again, most readers admitted that they were emotionally upset when they wrote it and simply tore it up.
* The writer is the dean of the Graduate School of Business Administration at Myongji University and an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Ro Sung-tae