[VIEWPOINT]Dreaming piggishly in the new yearThis year is said to be the year of the “golden pig,” which comes around every 600 years. And this year marks the 10th anniversary of the foreign exchange crisis of 1997 as well. And, as the results of the presidential election are expected at the end of the year as they were in 1997, we feel even more uneasy and anxious as the new year begins. We need to make a resolution that the Korean economy will have smooth sailing as soon as the new year begins.
However, the more the time passes by since the democratization movement in 1987 and the launching of the civilian government in 1993, the more we see nostalgia for the days of military authoritarianism.
This cannot simply be overcome by the reform movements of civic groups.
The reason is because the minds of the people and history itself normally flow in step with the sufficiency or insufficiency of the economy.
The people’s collective memory tends to beautify the past because it is selective and forgetful. Nevertheless, nostalgia for the past is just another name for the complaints of the present.
What differences do the people see between the past and the present?
First, the authoritarian government had, in order to buy the hearts of the people, succeeded in delivering the nation from absolute poverty by working hard to develop the economy, but today’s civilian government has concentrated its efforts on enlightening the people politically by making people feel as though they’d been deprived.
Second, in the past, we held hands with an enemy country, such as Japan, and introduced funds claimed as indemnity for the past damages and looked abroad to secure the capital, technology and markets of advanced countries, but the civilian government did not hesitate to criticize our traditional allies emphasizing the so-called self-reliance.
Third, compared to the previous governments which did not reveal conflicting opinions within the government in order to prevent conflicts between departments, the current government lacks the ability to coordinate policies. Therefore, it fails to make a comprehensive and coordinated voice. Moreover, as there are many special committees on top of legitimate government branches, the voices of non-professionals are dominant in the government.
This is only a caricature of the present situation, but pondering it in a reverse way will lead us to consider what the ideal government should look like in the new year.
The reason the economy’s growth engine is stalling and the growth rate is falling below the potential growth rate is not because of external factors, such as the lack of resources in Korea and the fall of the dollar, but rather are mostly due to internal factors.
The financial structure of companies has largely improved in the past decade, but we still need to work more on adjusting the structures in terms of governance and transparency.
Our companies now possess a few international brands, but we should make more efforts in research and development, producing more mechanical parts made in Korea and global outsourcing.
An area that is showing signs of decline since the foreign exchange crisis is the labor market.
However, the current government has a final wild card that could allow it to be evaluated in a positive light, and that is the success in the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement. That card could reverse the many mistakes it has made until now and make things better. I hope the government uses this card well.
The government has only talked without actually doing anything and even changed its own words many times, except for constantly saying, “We will not boost economy artificially.” However, with the presidential elections ahead at the end of the year, pork-barrel projects will begin lining up and the early execution of government budget will soon start.
Growth is expected to be slower in the first half of the year than the second, which can be a positive, but there is also the chance to create an “economic cycle” for political purposes, which would create problems for the economy of the next administration.
There are predictions of a sharp rise in oil prices and the continuous fall of the dollar in the midst of international economic recession in the new year. However, we are a people that overcame the foreign exchange crisis in 1997, as well as big and small crises in our history. How can there be a crisis that we cannot overcome when we all agree to keep our can-do spirit together.
*The writer is a professor emeritus at Sogang University.
by Kim Byung-joo