[VIEWPOINT]Stop bashing big businessIt’s time for society to respond to Samsung Group’s recent announcement that the group’s chairman, Lee Kun-hee, and his family members will donate 800 billion won ($824 million) of their private assets to society with no conditions attached and the declaration that the group would restructure its organization drastically, including the down-sizing of the group’s restructuring office.
The business conglomerate also announced that it would withdraw legal suits it had filed against the government, such as an appeal to the Constitutional Court to review the constitutionality of the fair trade law. We cannot but see this as a hard decision that was made only after much thought and agony about the anti-Samsung and anti-corporation sentiments of the government and civic organizations.
However, the recent action of Samsung can also be disparaged as “a reluctant white flag raised only after finding itself in a corner.” It can also be celebrated as a victory won by politicians, civic organizations and some media outlets that united as one to put pressure on Samsung from all sides. The level of pressure can also be increased by criticizing that the reform lacks genuineness.
However, we also need to think about what society did whilst Samsung leapt to become a global corporation. Nobody can deny the fact that Samsung played the role of a breakwater for the Korean economy amidst harsh international competition. It is an international corporation that accounts for 17 percent of our gross national production and 20 percent of our total exports.
However, the reality is that this corporation has been bombarded with restraints and criticism rather than acknowledged with praise and encouragement.
It is also true that politicians and some civic organizations have continuously tried to find fault with the group, while they followed the strategy that “the big fish has to be dealt with to call the attention of society.” Their Samsung-bashing has been persistent, brutal and even so cruel as to make the standard of anti-corporation sentiment in Korea that of Samsung-bashing. Some intellectuals even went as far as to advise the group, “It might be better to leave the country.”
If Samsung were a foreign company, it would already have left its country. Many corporations in European countries such as Sweden and Germany have left their home countries to get away from high taxes and strict regulations. Samsung could probably have left Korea, if it made up its mind to do so. In a world of intense international competition to attract business corporations, there is probably not a single nation on this planet that would dislike the idea of Samsung setting up in their country. Samsung would be welcomed as a national guest anywhere.
However, Samsung did not choose this path. An attitude of listening and responding to the voices of society and an attitude of trying to talk with society ― this is what Samsung showed as a corporation that represents Korea. And these are the attitudes that distinguish Samsung from other businesses.
On top of that, the future prospects for the Korean economy are very unstable right now. Development is low and the expansion of the class hovering just above the poverty line as a result of this is serious. The lives of common people are getting harder too. Investments from business corporations are needed more than anything else to overcome these grave economic problems. In this situation, Samsung has taken the difficult first step to begin a dialogue with society. Therefore, the government and civic organizations need to stop looking at Samsung with prejudice and slanted eyes, but rather start responding to the company. The response is simple. All that needs to be done is to create an atmosphere that is systematically good for business.
The government needs to ease regulations. The anachronistic idea of regulating business sizes when they have to compete in the complex global economy needs to be discarded. Classifying business management into good and bad, according to the percentage of shares held by the majority shareholder and his associates, should also be stopped. What are important are accomplishments and results. The market regulates corporations better than the government can.
Civic organizations must stop bashing Samsung and beating up large corporations. They must stop speculating on and criticizing Samsung or big businesses, and make efforts to create a good environment for business. There is also a specific class that needs to respond to Samsung. That is the intellectual class. The intellectuals need to respond by working harder to find a way to overcome anti-Samsung, anti-corporation sentiment in our society and secure a free market economy.
Society’s response to our businesspeople, who are leading a lonely struggle in the arena of global competition, and the results thereof will bring prosperity to the Korean economy for us all.
* The writer is a professor of economics at Kangwon National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Min Kyoung-kuk