[OUTLOOK]Many ups and downs in 2006

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[OUTLOOK]Many ups and downs in 2006

What a year. Sometimes laughing, other times sobbing, we observed that the Earth still rotates on its axis through it all.
In 2006 we witnessed tax woes. But on the plus side, we have made gradual progress, such as reaching the $300 billion level for exports, and nearly 5 percent gross economic growth. It is true, however, that there were certain things we could have done better. The most remarkable of all the regrets this year we may call the skyrocketing three and the plummeting three.
First, housing prices soared. Housing prices had increased a lot during the time when the construction business in the Middle East in the 1970s was at a high level and also around the time of the Olympic Games in 1988. But at that time, the increase was offset by the increase in income. This time, however, the government circulated more currency in the market and its policies, intended to control housing prices, have been clumsy enough to induce bubbles in the housing market. Skyrocketing housing prices and deeply polarizing income levels may leave a profound scar. The side effects after the bubble collapses are going to be heavy as well.
A second skyrocketing source of anxiety is tax. Some of the taxation, including the real estate tax, has been so abruptly escalated that it has created an excessive burden. It is also aggravating that government expenditure does not seem to have any point. But one would hope the increased taxation would increase the awareness of taxpayers, which would contribute to making democracy solid.
Third, anxiety and concerns for the future have been part of the 2006 story. Aside from the nuclear test of North Korea, we were also alarmed by the uncertainties of security and by the government system in general. More profoundly, we faced worries about the nation, which alarmed people and thankfully some of them took an action.
The first of the plummeting three regrets is authority. Although authoritarianism is bad, authority should exist to render the state’s honor and order. As far as destroying icons, we have shattered authority of all kinds, venerable as well as despicable ones, and brought down the hierarchy of society.
Of course, sometimes we caused it ourselves. Fleeting remarks and acts of bitter behavior have played their role in this collapse: sadly, the authority not only of the president, but also of the Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, prime minister, minister, and fair trade committee have not been spared blasphemy. Much time and cost should be paid back to restore the lessened authority.
Second, the ethics of public officials have tumbled. It is their honor to receive remuneration from the people, but is also their yoke to bear responsibility as well as authority.
The recent Lone Star case, in which the then head of Korea Exchange Bank colluded with the related director to sell a sound bank, represents how far the morale of public officials has sunk. Yet, like father like son, those who sold the bank are much the same as those who supervised it and those who probed it. The revealed details of sales are far too unclear to be convincing.
To make both ends meet, the supervising authority that failed to stop the failure should have taken responsibility for its deficiency; otherwise, it has to explain what they think it is that corresponds to fact. The highest authority does not pay for its name when it is being publicly criticized by its own staff. More government officials are likely to firmly lie down on their bellies only to blink their eyes.
Third, the public character of the government budget has been much neglected. Rumor has it that the one who first finds the money owns it when it comes to government budget. Has this government, since its being founded, ever been able to allocate money as it wants? Yet some people appear to believe they can simply resort to levying tax or withdrawing loans.
Claiming reforms of government on the one hand, they expand institutions and employment in government on the other hand. So-called reformers of market failure do not hesitate to engender the bigger failure of government. The government debt has increased tremendously as a result of multiplied expenditure.
Since the three skyrocketing and three plummeting sources of worry maintain causal relationships between them, some being closely related to and others conflicting with each other, they cannot be redressed by one-shot therapy. Instead, real reform should target breaking the causal links between the expressed symptoms.
Now that it is hard to expect, however, I would rather hope at the end of the year that so-called amendment would at least not aggravate the situation.


*The writer is a columnist for the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Choi Woo-suk

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