[VIEWPOINT]New minister must battle radicalsUnder the Roh Moo-hyun administration, three people ― Kim Jin-pyo, Lee Hun-jai and Han Duck-soo ― have so far served as deputy prime ministers of economy and finance. Including Kwon O-kyu, who is designated as the new economic deputy prime minister, all four are former elite economic bureaucrats who served at the Finance Ministry or on the Economic Planning Board.
They are economic technocrats who have made their own contributions to the development of today’s Korean economy. They started their careers as public servants when the nation’s per capita income was less than $1,000.
When Mr. Han was appointed as deputy prime minister of economy and finance in March 2005, people expected that the radical and ideology-oriented economic policy that the present administration was then pursuing would turn more professional and pragmatic.
Mr. Han is retiring without satisfying those expectations. Some say that the government party suffered from a landslide defeat in the local elections in May because of economic problems and that Mr. Han is being blamed for the defeat.
However, not many think that the outgoing Mr. Han is responsible for the economic policy failures of the present administration.
The economic policies of the current administration went wrong as a result of the radical and prejudiced policies that the administration has been pursuing since its early days.
Since Kim Jin-pyo, the only role of the economic deputy prime minister has been to try to keep the ideological core radical forces of the administration from ruining the economy and easing the shock that’s inflicted.
However capable a deputy prime minister of economy and finance may be, he cannot even express his ideas, not to mention coordinate the policies of different government branches, if his economic philosophy does not match the core members of the administration.
That was the tragedy of previous economic deputy prime ministers in the Roh Moo-hyun administration.
Kwon O-kyu, the Blue House policy chief, who is designated as the new economic deputy prime minister, is another former career economic bureaucrat.
Even if he has the trust of the president and understands his political philosophy well, he does not seem, judging from his career and words and deeds in the past, to be a radical reformer like other core members of the administration.
Therefore, many people pin their hopes on Mr. Kwon’s appointment, hoping it will bring stability and professionalism to the economic policy, as it did 16 months ago when Mr. Han was appointed.
As was the case with his predecessors, however, he also faces the task of overcoming the invisible barrier that lies between him and the core members of this government.
The government says there will be no change in the basic economic policy despite the appointment of a new economic deputy prime minister.
In ordinary times, economic policy should not change whenever there is a reshuffling of economic ministers.
But it is different this time, because the local elections in May proved that the philosophy of the administration and that of the people is different.
It means that our economy will continue to languish in the future as it has in the past three and a half years, as the current administration insists on maintaining the basis of its present economic policy.
If the new economic deputy prime minister has a sense of duty, he must change the basic economic policy. If necessary, he should have talks with the core radical forces of the administration and persuade them to follow the public opinion.
We don’t know yet whether the new economic deputy premier will collide, make harmony with or collude with the core radicals of the administration.
It will never be easy to play the role of the leader of the economic team under the present administration, which is nearing the end of its term with the lowest-ever approval rating.
Mr. Kwon, the economic deputy premier designate, may know, through his long experience in government, why economic problems broke out toward the end of the administrations under former Presidents Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung.
As the end of the term of Roh Moo-hyun administration approaches, there is a strong possibility that its authority will be weakened, the effect of its economic policy will diminish and its economic policy will be swayed by its political strategy.
I sincerely hope the new economic deputy prime minister will learn from trial and error, and from the setbacks experienced by his predecessors under this administration and the last economic deputy premiers of the previous administrations.
* The writer is a professor of economics at Hongik University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Jong-seok
More in Columns
Room for alignment
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin