[OUTLOOK]Halting our competitive slide

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[OUTLOOK]Halting our competitive slide

Over the last hundred years, Korea has gone through drastic changes.
One hundred years ago, some Koreans migrated to Hawaii or Mexico to find jobs and they were treated badly wherever they went.
Fifty years ago, the Korean economy was one of the weakest in the world, with our per capita income less than $60.
At that time, democracy seemed impossible in this country, and one foreign newspaper ran a headline that said expecting democracy in Korea was like looking for roses in a garbage can.
But where are we now, only 50 years later?
Last year, our economy was ranked 10th in the world, with our gross domestic product worth $793 billion, higher than that of Russia or India.
Korean democracy is now regarded as one of the most developed in Asia. These are amazing achievements.
Strangely, however, some people have been saying recently that our modern history is shameful.
Some even say that the Republic of Korea should not have been established.
Those who say these things are not those who are underprivileged under the current regime. It is those who have been blessed and granted good status who say such words. That is hard to understand.
How did we manage to build such a successful country?
It was because we chose democratic regime when we gained independence from Japan and established our sovereign government and the Republic of Korea.
Then what is the reason that North Korea has become hopeless and near collapse?
That is because Pyongyang chose socialism that has failed all over the world.
They regarded freedom and competition as wrong and focused on equality and uniformity.
The problem is that some leaders of this country do not believe in freedom, competition, growth and prosperity, which have contributed to our current advancement.
Instead they put too much emphasis on equality and the distribution side of the economy.
This is why our national competitiveness has been severely weakened within a brief period recently.
Our country is a small one, with scarce natural resources but a comparatively large population. Our economy is heavily dependent on exports.
Without strong competitiveness, we will have no choice but to become a poor country like North Korea.
Korea’s competitiveness is ranked 38th in the world, down from 29th last year, according to a report on national competitiveness released May 10 by the Institute for Management Development of Lausanne, Switzerland.
This concerns us deeply. In this report, China has jumped to 19th place from 31st last year, and India is 29th, up from 39th last year.
To name a few other Asian countries, Hong Kong is the 2nd highest, Singapore 3rd, Japan 17th and Taiwan 18th.
Only South Korea has fallen down nine places to become 39th. Why is this?
The reason is three-fold, according to the same report.
The first reason is inefficient measures by the government. The second is lowered efficiency of business management. The third is hard-line workers’ unions that use extreme measures to solve problems.
The government is holding the economy back, instead of helping it become more competitive, and businesses have done badly in terms of transparency and ethics.
Our labor-management relations, which are ranked the lowest among 61 countries, have also been weakening our national competitiveness.
How can we then solve these problems?
What can we do to overcome this situation?
Singapore’s former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, offered two solutions at the Inchon Memorial Lecture, held in Seoul.
First, he said, the government should take the lead and companies should put all their efforts into making the nation more competitive.
Secondly, businessmen should do their best to invent new technologies so that rival countries cannot catch up easily.
When managing the country, the government should put a priority on enhancing competitiveness.
It should support businessmen so they can focus on doing business well.
Lastly, it needs to accept the following advice from Singapore’s former prime minister:
“In Korea, workers’ unions and the police fight as in the movie ‘Star Wars.’ South Koreans should not waste their energy this way but instead use it to compete with other countries.”

* The writer is a pastor of Durae Church and the chairman of the New Right Union.

by Kim Jin-hong
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