[VIEWPOINT]Treat public power with care

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[VIEWPOINT]Treat public power with care

“Public power is a particular power. Since excessive exercise or abuse of public power delivers a fatal and serious damage to the public, exercise of public power should be controlled so that it can be exercised in a cool and calm manner in any situation. Therefore, the responsibility of public power should be treated particularly seriously, unlike that of the power of the general public . . . I pledge herewith I will thoroughly prepare to prevent the repetition of this incident.” That is what the president said in his statement to apologize for the death of farmers following a demonstration late last year.
On Jan. 7, parents of riot police officers held a rally to appeal for peaceful demonstrations. However, labor circles and farmers’ groups take the position of justifying violent demonstrations as an earnest grassroots’ struggle to keep their rights to survive. Because of that position, unfortunate incidents related to violent demonstrations will continue, despite the president’s pledge. The president’s statement and the government policy include no fundamental measures for eliminating violent demonstrations.
During the military dictatorship, I had already presented an economics theory on demonstrations. Now, by arguing another theory on demonstrations befitting a democratic government, I’d like to examine closely a fundamental method to prevent violent demonstrations.
The gist of the article I wrote in 1988 under the title of “The Economics of Tear Gas” was as follows: “Demonstration is an everyday act of shopping for those people who want to consume democracy. To prevent this daily shopping, the government, a tear gas ‘wholesaler,’ is ‘dumping’ tear gas on ‘consumers’ through the riot police, a ‘retailer.’ Thinking this is an ‘unfair act’ and an ‘unequal exchange,’ the consumers retaliated with stones and Molotov cocktails. Tear gas is exchanged for money between producers and wholesalers, but it is bartered for stones and fire bombs between retailers and consumers. To abolish this primitive barter, the public’s basic right to the ‘freedom of peaceful rally and demonstration’ should be guaranteed.”
The freedom of peaceful demonstration has now been secured. The Kim Dae-jung administration declared it would not use tear gas on protesters. That promise has been kept. Therefore, tear gas and the “economics of tear gas” have disappeared. What appeared instead were iron pipes (and square bars and bamboo spears), and it seems these should be explained by the “economics of iron pipes.”
To have a peaceful demonstration, iron pipes are not required. But if the demonstration remains peaceful, the world does not pay much attention to it and the response is lukewarm. A violent demonstration should be held to demonstrate the urgency to advocate the right to survive and to increase people’s response. The more violent the demonstration becomes, the more attention the demonstrators get and the more they eventually gain. The leadership of a rally and some agitators prepare iron pipes in advance with such a strategy in mind.
Unless demonstrators have iron pipes, the riot police has no reason to have shields and clubs. In a chicken and egg discussion, tear gas came first during the military administrations, but the iron pipe comes first at the present time. During the military governments, peaceful demonstrations had to be guaranteed for the tear gas to be removed but today, when peaceful demonstrations are ensured, iron pipes should be done away with.
How should we get rid of the iron pipes? We should form a climate in which the demonstrators’ strategy is unacceptable. The fundamental method of eliminating violent demonstrations is to make it clear that violent demonstrations will not be tolerated from now on and that nothing can be gained through them, then to push ahead as declared. The president should have included such a declaration in the statement he issued to apologize to the people.
Violent demonstrations are illegal acts that reject democracy. Those responsible for the death of the farmers are the people who led the violent demonstrations and the government that allowed the demonstrations. The same people are responsible for letting many others get hurt in the violent demonstrations and threatening their rights of survival. The present administration is treating too lightly its public power and responsibility to keep the rule of law that should be treated particularly seriously, unlike the responsibility of the general public.

* The writer is a professor of economics at Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Ahn Kookshin
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