[OUTLOOK]The self-assured words of Roh

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[OUTLOOK]The self-assured words of Roh

The more you spend time in a certain job, the more likely it is that you’ll get better at it, even if that job is being the president of a country. For example, Park Chung Hee became good at being president because he had been in the position for 18 years.
Of course, there’s a period of trial and error in the beginning. Chun Doo Hwan did what Kim Jae-ik, then-senior presidential secretary for economic affairs, told him to do at first. But later on, Mr. Chun issued orders to the economy-related ministers as if he were their teacher. At that point, no one under him could say a word because the president was acting as if he were the top economic specialist.
So what about President Roh Moo-hyun? I think that perhaps he is the fastest to learn. He is surrounded by economic advisers, but there’s been a persistent rumor that they are unable to say much because they are afraid they will get on Mr. Roh’s wrong side.
When I watched a meeting the president had with the chief editors of the press, which was broadcast on cable TV recently, I found myself gasping, “It really is true.” We are in a continuous economic slump and the government’s real estate policies are failing, but far from being driven into the corner, President Roh was toying with the audience with his fluid speech that runs in all directions. No matter how bad the problem might be, after it passed through the president’s lips, it seemed as if it were polished into something that might actually work.
The president quoted appropriate exemplary cases and used his characteristic metaphors, making it appear as if he had clear insights into the problems of the Korean economy and their solutions. His attitude was, “Ask me anything.” He did not present himself as a president who was agonizing over the economy, but rather as one who was self-confident and self-assured. On top of that, he showed some frankness here and there, which made his words sound even more persuasive. He called the labor and management policy a “painful failure,” and did not hesitate to speak bluntly that he didn’t want to lower the corporation tax by 2 percent. The president and the chief editors talked a lot, but in general the discussion consisted of extravagant lectures and short questions.
Mr. Roh’s main point is that there are some problems in the current administration’s economic policy, but everything is going well in terms of larger frame of the overall economy. The president was basically asking the press not to criticize him and instead write about his policies in a favorable way.
He stressed one more time that the reason for the delay in the economic revival, which he had promised, was not his fault but was the fault of the Kim Dae-jung administration, which encouraged people to increase their credit card spending, which in turn led to massive debt defaults.
The president proclaimed once again his strong will to tackle real estate speculation, the largest pending issue. He said he would carry out a double-edged attack on the issue using both the property tax and transfer tax. He also said without hesitation that real estate speculation could not be left to the invisible forces of the market.
“Does my policy seem a little aggressive?” he asked. Then he answered himself: “It is because we are dealing with these problems as if it were a war since they are such important, core problems.”
He emphasized that he had his own philosophy and strategy that could not be changed, and explained that they were returning to the “basics and normalization.” And then he openly defended his “parachute appointments” of heads of public enterprises, which have become an issue recently.
When things go this far, it is easy to sense the way the economy will flow during the remainder of the president’s term. No matter what price we may pay later, we will probably have to push ahead, according to the will of the president, with the transfer of the administrative capital and numerous balanced development plans that have started all over the nation.
Because no one dares to go against the will of the president, the government will continue to stress discipline instead of creating an atmosphere inductive to free-flowing corporate investment. And no matter who becomes the head of the economic team, business corporations have to keep in mind that the president is at the helm of the economic policies.
The sight of our sure and confident president on television the other day did not make me feel secure at all. My anxiety over our economy has grown even bigger. I thought to myself, who would dare to risk his own position to contradict the president?
How can policy consultations and free discussions take place among government ministries when the president has just ordered to hunt down real estate speculators without mercy? When the president says, “What is wrong with the government’s right to launch tax investigations if corporations have nothing to hide,” how could a minister actually talk back to the president, telling him, “Actually that is not the case ...?”
Despite the sure economic theories held by our president, what shall we to do since our economy is actually in bad shape? This is when what people call “economic psychology” comes in. It means that people blame the press for making things look worse than they actually are.
We had heard about this repeatedly when we were still under the authoritarian governments, so it is ironic that we are hearing this again during this era of participatory government.
I am sure that the president emphasized a healthy relationship of tension between the government and the press, but why is it that the relationship has to suddenly change into one of intimate cooperation?

* The writer is the CEO of JoongAng Ilbo News Magazine. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Chang-kyu
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