[OUTLOOK]Of presidents and millstones

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[OUTLOOK]Of presidents and millstones

The Korean word “eocheoguni” means the handle of a millstone. Without the handle, the millstone cannot function. Koreans say “There is no eocheoguni” to mean that something is totally absurd.
The symbolic value of the millstone can be found in its dichotomic structure. The upper and lower stones can be a metaphor for top and bottom, for left and right, for governing and opposition parties, for ideal and reality or for the government and corporations. A millstone represents the part of our daily lives in which we cope with the structural friction with balance and harmony.
The handle of the millstone plays the role of transforming the friction’s intrinsic energy into new values. In a sense, “eocheoguni” can be a synonym for the leadership that brings the divided citizens and the nation together, at which point the new energy gushes out.
Some millstones are bigger than others. The size of the millstone determines what size handle you need for it. Something like the government’s “S Project” would be considered a big millstone. An inappropriate handle was chosen for such a major millstone, simply because it was from the Honam region. Naturally, the millstone cannot function properly.
The handle can take various shapes. For the millstone of oil field development, the Ministry of Commerce, Energy and Industry is the perfect handle. Nevertheless, a familiar but inappropriate handle was chosen over the standard one because it had been used before. The results are a derailed Korea National Railroad, and trains frozen in the snow of Siberia.
The government explains that the Haengdamdo development was a civilian project that was not related to the S Project. For such a civilian project, using the handle of the Presidential Committee on Northeast Asian Cooperation Initiative, studded with the golden phoenix symbol of the president, was unnecessary and excessive.
But the more regrettable thing is that the reasons for the Roh Moo-hyun administration’s dysfunctional millstones are not limited to its poor selection of handles. A good millstone has to have a balance between the upper and lower stones, but in the government, we see many millstones with one stone that is disproportionately big ― even some that have only one stone.
Recently, lawmaker Rhee Mok-hee of the Uri Party argued that the “democratic market economy” was the ideological goal Korea should pursue. Such comments are the factors that make the millstone of the Roh Moo-hyun administration a dysfunctional one, with just a single stone.
The “democratic market economy” was the idea the Kim Dae-jung administration imprudently touted in its early days. The word “democratic” suggests equality, and when it is used as a modifier for “market economy,” it contradicts the basis of the free market economy, which is competition. Seeing the logical flaw, the Kim Dae-jung administration replaced the banner of “democratic market economy” with the slogan of “parallel development of the democracy and market economy.” After this correction, no citizen objected to it as a national goal, and it has established itself as the main ideological frame for Korean society.
With no regard for this background, some Uri Party members suddenly called for a return to the “democratic market economy.” They mean to combine the democracy, the lower part of the millstone, and the market economy, the upper part, into one. Such a backward idea would turn our ideological systyem into a dysfunctional, one-part millstone.
Like it or not, the development-driven autocracy of President Park Chung Hee resolved the starvation problem. Standing on the foundation built by the former dictator, the Roh Moo-hyun administration is now working to treat an economic problem that is a stomachache by comparison. But if the upper and lower parts of the millstone are made into one, it will not function at all. Not only will the stomachache go untreated, we might have to go back to the days of starvation.
Lately, Korean society has been like a millstone without a handle. It will return to life only when the upper stone, the lower stone and the handle find the right balance.

* The writer is a professor of finance at Sejong University’s Graduate School of Management. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Yang Bong-jin
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