[TODAY]Whither Korea’s New Right?“Necessitous men are not free men.” I would like to remind those who have started the New Right movement of what U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his State of the Union address in 1944. Having overcome the unprecedented economic depression of the 1930s with the New Deal programs, Mr. Roosevelt said that the true freedom of an individual could not exist without economic stability and independence. As he emphasized the importance of economic stability, he proposed to Congress five social and economic programs thought to be essential for the happy lives of Americans once World War II was over. It was the Economic Bill of Rights.
Among the three major conservative groups in Korea ― the New Right Union, the New Right Network and the movement to upgrade Korea to an advanced country ― the first two organizations promote liberalism as the foremost policy goal. The core of liberalism is to guarantee the liberty, creativity and competition of individuals as much as possible. Naturally, the intervention of the state and society over the lives of individuals and business activities needs to be minimal.
When liberalism shifts toward the right, neoliberalism is born. It advocates competition and market principles as the utmost value. In the 1980s, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone were neoliberals. Today, U.S. President George W. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi act as the standard bearers of neoliberalism.
The philosophy of neoliberalism can be simplified as “Grow big to be respected.” Neoliberals say that the state and society do not need to pay the enormous welfare expenses to take care of those who have lost in the competition of the free market. Liberalism is different from neoliberalism. In the early ’60s, the liberal U.S. government under President John F. Kennedy promoted a relatively comprehensive social welfare program. Lyndon B. Johnson, who inherited the legacy of Mr. Kennedy, succeeded in creating the laws of the “Great Society,” guaranteeing civil rights for blacks and providing medical benefits and minimum living expenses to the poverty-ridden class.
How about the New Right of Korea? It does not have clear lines yet. The New Right Union advocates community liberalism. In order for a community to be established and operate properly, there should be no friction among its members. The biggest cause of friction is always the financial gap. Even if we have a general understanding and consensus on abstract ideas, economic differences can hinder the birth of a community or shake an already established community. In that sense, the New Right Union seems to prioritize consideration for the weak and the losers within the frame of the market economy in its policy program.
The New Right Network emphasizes strengthening liberal democracy and the market economy. We cannot judge from the expression “market economy” whether the group is closer to neoliberalism or identifies more with the “third way” of Tony Blair’s Labor Party and the Neue Mitte of Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democratic Party. Even the 386 generation’s government, which is shaking the nation as if it is trying to reform everything that exists, advocates a market economy.
So, hopefully, the New Right Network will propose a more specific agenda about labor-management relations and the losers in the competition. The agenda of the movement to upgrade Korea to be an advanced country is interesting and ambiguous. The group stands by pragmatic approaches rather than liberalism. Is pragmatism itself the goal of the movement? The 386 generation leftists nominally say they wish to maintain a market economy. However, the actual policies sound as if they are saying we can somewhat compromise prosperity as long as everyone is equal. They prioritize distribution over growth. We will have nothing to share if the economy does not grow, but they are bravely demanding that those who are successful, prosperous and getting ahead slow down and step down.
It is clear what Korean society expects from the New Right today. The coordinate is the center, left of neoliberalism and right of the 386 generation leftists. I would like to recommend the New Right study how U.S. President Bill Clinton was successfully reelected in 1996 with centrist social and economic policy pledges, despite the sex scandal. The middle road is the way to go.
* The writer is an adviser and senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie