[OUTLOOK]Concrete policies are requiredAs soon as she seized power in 1979, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher put into practice an ideology she had long prepared. That was the policy alternative that she had honed at a party policy research institute along with the conservative theorist Kate Joseph, who followed the theories of American economist Milton Friedman. Ms. Thatcher revised labor laws eight times and relentlessly sold public corporations. Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan also reformed tax systems three times and strengthened welfare requirements. He staked the fate of the country on the information and technology and financial industries, according to the remedy of the National Competitiveness Committee. His policy was effective. At that time the two countries were passing the phase of a $15,000 per capita national income, as Korea is today.
Conservatism is not an alternative in this age. Listening to President Roh Moo-hyun’s New Year address, I recalled Mr. Reagan and Ms. Thatcher, who strived to reform all alone, and the European countries that, in the 1980s, plowed through violent waves, for I envied them their precise and excellent ability to govern. Whether theirs was a leftist or rightist government, they had the best theorists of the times. The governments were filled with the capability and will to carry out their policies. It was no time to hesitate. Failure in administration meant losing power and ruining the nation’s fate. Their prepared parties produced a prepared future by using prepared policies. Thanks to the reform politics of a decade, most European countries in the late 1980s could go far beyond the goal of $20,000 per capita national income.
President Roh’s New Year’s address was open and frank. However, what Korean society thirsts for is not the president’s frank confession or a reconfirmation of social issues. If those issues had not been urgent, would a liberal government have come into power? His address that pointed out the ills of Korean society item by item was, regrettably, like a reference book for students preparing for the college entrance examination. Although the present administration’s “small achievements” should be acknowledged, if it has been discussing the topic for the past three years, does that mean the “participatory government” has been a government that has just touched on the topic of conversation?
When a government raises issues, concrete policies are required as solutions. It was through raising such issues that the governing party was born and that the weight of policies shifted toward welfare and distribution. I would like to know, then, given such favorable conditions for coming up with policies, just what the current government has added to the Kim Dae-jung administration’s achievements in public welfare. All of the “accomplishments” that President Roh boasted about cast dark shadows over certain sectors of our society. Except for retired government officials, there are very few seniors benefiting from the government pension. How could the government expect the birthrate to increase when the financial incentive for more babies is just 200,000 won? Release from the pressure of covering private education cost is but a dream and the burden of supporting aged parents has not eased. And the social safety net? Well, the poverty rate is up and so is youth unemployment. At this juncture, I wonder if Uri Party’s lawmakers, who neglect pensions law, or the policy experts who think increasing tax is the only way to go, have any more excuses left.
No matter who the interviewing professor is, a student who only lists problems will not get a good grade from that professor. Instead, if that student were to say not all problems could be solved, then a generous grade would be likely to be awarded. For example, if the president’s most pressing concerns are expanding service industries, eliminating discrimination against irregular workers and improving the pension and welfare systems, then it has to be noted that no developed nation has ever solved such a wide range of problems all at once. Because each of these issues deals with growth, distribution and welfare, they collide with one another. If all irregular jobs were to become full-time work, then it would adversely affect the service industries. If taxes were to rise to help finance the welfare system, then it would disrupt the national economy and increase the demand for irregular jobs. This is the so-called “trilemma” that has troubled a lot of nations around the globe. At the very least, there has got to be some sort of mention of how the government will try to move past this trilemma. The president’s questions only suggest directions, but do not present concrete policies. The only consolation may be that even the government that only seems to raise issues has managed to put the economy back on track.
* The writer is professor of sociology at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Song Ho-keun