[OUTLOOK]Governing outside of reality

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[OUTLOOK]Governing outside of reality

I was invited to the Blue House to attend a meeting of senior editorial writers with President Roh Moo-hyun. I hadn’t been to the presidential mansion in over a decade.
This time, the entry restrictions weren’t so strict. The authoritarian air around the president had also disappeared. The garden was well manicured and the main hall, covered with a red carpet, had the dignity one would expect of a presidential palace. Nevertheless, after the three-hour meeting with the president I walked away with the impression that despite the passage of time, the Blue House was pretty much the same. Some say the Blue House never changes because of its location. Whether dictators or democrats, all presidents wound up removed from the people, something that might be the fault of isolation of the president’s home and office.
There was a big difference in the way the editors and the president perceived reality. Some visitors asked the president not to insist on his proposal to form a coalition government, but to focus on helping the economy recover. The president said the economy was doing well, so he would correct the country’s biggest problem: the political imbalances caused by regionalism. In the meantime, he introduced the Blue House Internet report system, called “e-Jiwon.” The system was created to classify the tasks of state affairs, allowing the president to check up on them from time to time. The presidential secretaries send reports over the Internet, and the president reads them on his computer. As he checks up on state affairs in this fashion, the president said, he knows the economy better than anyone else. Given that he is so well-versed in the economy, he argued, it’s unreasonable to criticize him for neglecting it.
This assertion is an example of the difference between concept and reality. We might say we know about something, but in most cases we know only its concept. But is the knowledge of the concept a true knowledge? Although we know the earth consists of five oceans and six continents, we may not know anything about the tremendous size of the planet. When we say we know China, we know it only from statistics and history, but know nothing about the lives of 1.3 billion Chinese people. The same goes for wars. We say we know of a war when we know its cause, casualties and a general’s strategy. But we don’t know the lives of nameless individuals killed in the war, nor do we know about the ordinary people who led wretched lives during the war.
This may be the limitation of what we call “knowledge.” How earnestly could numbers and statistics tell us the reality of an individual’s economic condition? Can the president say he knows the economy well just because he memorized the statistics?
South Korea’s gross national income increased ― or decreased, depending on the way one thinks ― by exactly 0 percent in the second quarter of this year. A 0-percent growth rate in the gross national income at a time when the economic growth rate is 4 percent means that the people’s income remained the same even though they worked 4 percent more. In other words, their income decreased by 4 percent.
Considering the gap between rich and poor, the livelihood of poor people became much worse than this 4-percent statistic suggests. The combination of zero growth in national income with an increase in rich people’s income means that the growth rate of poor people’s income actually dropped. This simple 0-percent figure contains the sighs of jobless young college graduates, the pain of taxi drivers and the anger of people in their 40s and 50s facing job insecurity. But the president says the economy is doing well after reading reports that say the economy is doing well, and the president is an honorable man.
If he is buried in the Blue House typing away on a computer, the president can hardly understand our reality, even if he knows statistics and concepts. A bigger problem is that reports can be easily distorted. Who would tell the president that the economy is bad?
To know the reality, the president should actively get out and meet people, to see what they see and hear what they hear. While acknowledging that he has fewer chances to meet people, the president blamed the media. He said reporters did not write about things he thought were important but instead wrote about insignificant topics. He complained about how the press didn’t write a single line of news on the importance of the aerospace industry, although he emphasized it at a ceremony to celebrate the production of the first supersonic trainer jet. That same night, he called in opposition lawmakers and proposed the formation of a coalition government, even if he had to shorten his term in office. Which story would a normal press cover? Should the press be blamed, or the president?
The president had so many things to be sorry about. His words were filled with bitterness and regret for people who did not acknowledge him as president, for his impeachment, for the legislature controlled by the opposition, for uncooperative opposition parties and for people who did not believe the seriousness of his remarks about a coalition government. He even hinted at stepping down from his position.
Without hearing words of hope from the president, I returned home after hearing only grudges and complaints, and how he wished to quit his job. It was pitiful to see him complaining while living in an honorable palace that symbolizes the Republic of Korea.
Grudges and regrets also are transmitted as easily as contagious diseases, and so is hatred. I wish the Blue House would not be the origin of such negative feelings in our society. I hope it will be a place that spreads positive values, such as hope for the future, courage and dedication, and gratitude.

* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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