[OUTLOOK]Rebirth possible via destructionThere is a story that when an eagle reaches around 40, it needs to make a life-or-death decision: whether to go through a major change to survive up to another 30 years, or to remain as it is and die after just one more year. When the bird is at that age, its beak begins to bend toward its chest and its talons also bend inward, so it cannot hunt any more. It is then time to make up its mind.
If the bird wants to live several decades more, it needs to go through a painful change. It first clashes its beak against a rock to break it off. When a new beak regrows, the bird uses it to pull out its old talons. After a while, new talons grow too. With a new beak and talons, the eagle is as reborn.
What caused the former Soviet Union’s defeat in its competition with the United States? The United States had the power of “constructive destruction,” among other reasons. The Soviet Union once seemed to be on its way to prosperity: The former communist country had made it possible for each family to own an apartment and planned to allow each household to own a car. The country even had its own vehicle maker.
The problem was, however, that the cars produced in the ’70s were more or less the same as those from the 1950s. With about the same resources, one country made cars at the cutting edge of technology, while the other produced 20-year-old models. Who would win such a competition?
Similar problems appeared in almost all industries. The Soviet Union produced the world’s worst-quality shirts, despite using cotton from Uzbekistan of world―renowned quality.
Competition makes constructive destruction unavoidable. To survive in competition, one should destroy old systems, no matter how hard that is.
We cry out for change without much consideration of painful procedures. A change, however, is not something anybody can bring about at anytime. It is especially hard when one is economically self-sufficient. Ordinary people are satisfied once they achieve economic stability. Sometimes this attitude is seen as desirable for a person. People might wonder, “What is the point of pulling out one’s own toenails just to live longer, like an eagle does?”
But it is a different story for a company or a country. When a company says, “This is enough,” it’s the turning point at which the company starts to go backward. It is the same for a country. When a country just escapes from poverty and its people earn just enough money to be comfortable, citizens start to lose their motivation to work and society’s discipline is relaxed. From this moment, the country is headed for a fall.
For an individual, this is about one’s own life but it is a more serious problem for a country. In the past, when a country lost a war, all its people were conscripted as slaves. That was the history of the world.
South Korea was recently ranked as the country that sent the most students to the United States to study. There are more South Korean students studying in the United States than Chinese, Indian or Japanese. China and India have 20 times the populations of Korea, and Japan has an economy 10 times larger.
Although these students can become precious resources for the development of our country, this statistic also illustrates the current situation of our education system. Because our schooling is not good enough for global competition, parents pay big money to send their children abroad, whether or not they can afford it.
A new law has been enacted to call lawyers who passed the U.S. bar examination, not lawyers, but American law consultants. This is a trick devised by Korean lawyers to retain their privileges by excluding lawyers specializing in foreign law. How can we thus expect our education system or legal service to compete on the global stage?
Now we’ve come to a point from which it is impossible to develop further should we not destroy our old systems, even though they ensured an okay life. Destroying our own systems is as hard as pulling out our toenails. Why should we bother to enter an unknown area and leave our safety zone? We worry whether we would fall to the bottom, rather than prosper. Some people argue, in this regard, that a free trade agreement with the United States will make us its 51st state or economic colony.
I believe, however, that a free trade agreement will give us the power of “constructive destruction.” We can destroy our “okay” systems by opening ourselves to the world’s most efficient and competitive country. We can be reborn through this painful destruction. In the 1998 financial crisis, we were destroyed by outside forces. But now, by our own resolve, we can destroy ourselves in a constructive way to achieve a greater goal, just like a brave eagle would do.
* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk