[Outlook]Honoring Sim Hun’s dreamIn daily life, we forget about our country most of the time. We think about it when we travel abroad, watch international sports matches or hang flags on national holidays. On the morning of March 1, the anniversary of the Independence Movement of March 1, 1919, a radio program aired a poem by Sim Hun. In the poem, “When That Day Comes,” the patriotic poet who lived in the early 20th century said he would be happy to die only after his country had gained its independence.
Unfortunately, he died from illness before he could see what he longed for to become reality.
Even though globalization is the current trend, the world operates in a unit of state. People say products and services cross borders of countries, but people still stay within the boundaries. People are valued differently depending on which country they live in.
They do the same labor, but the wages differ depending on where they work. For the same job, wages in the United States are above what someone receives in India. Americans are paid more because they were born in a wealthy country.
Park Yoon-shik, who teaches international business at the George Washington University, is a successful Korean-American in the United States. As the founder of a forum of other Koreans who have succeeded there, he is working hard for his fatherland. But he says he feels very sad when he visits Korea. In the United States, jobs are abundant enough for youths to choose what suits them best. If a person has earned a degree from a graduate school with a good reputation, they can earn $100,000 annually. “American young people earn that much money not mainly because they are smart. Korean students are just as smart or even smarter. The only difference is that American students happened to have been born in the right country.”
This illustrates how a country functions for individuals. If a country is a first-rate one, its people naturally become first-rate people. When you travel in first class you are pampered. It doesn’t matter whether you’re smart or not. As long as you have the ticket, you are treated as a first-class passenger with a spacious seat, fine meals and gifts.
You can recall third-class seats on a local train that stops at every station. People fight for a little bit of space, and if a person is well dressed, other passengers stare from the corners of their eyes. Even if a person is smart and competent, he is still a third-class passenger if he is aboard the third-class car.
There are many criteria for a first-rate country, such as democracy and culture. But the absolute criterion is its economy. The incumbent administration has announced numerous economic goals, but the economy has worsened. Our economy is in bad shape not because we do not have blueprints or goals. It’s because of a misunderstanding about how the economy works. We have to fix this; otherwise we cannot become a first-rate country.
First, we need to look to the outside world. We should not fight over seats in a narrow and confined third-class compartment. Instead, we should look to the first-class seats.
We should stop the debate as to which is more important ― growth or fair distribution of wealth. We cannot become a top-class country without growth. Even the world’s leading countries still pursue growth. U.S. Senator John McCain, who is running in the primary of the Republican Party, says that in wartime, the ultimate goal is victory; while in peacetime, it’s growth. We should not avoid competition. Competition only enhances creativity and effectiveness.
If members of a society avoid competition and build castles for the sake of their own interests, the economy loses vitality.
Private enterprises should be at the core of the economy. If the government leads the economy, the country cannot become a top-class one. Entrepreneurship and creativity create wealth. We should open our doors to the outside world. No country has become an advanced one through protectionism.
Edward Prescott, the 2004 Nobel Prize laureate in economics, said opening doors is the only way to let entrepreneurs display their talent fully; otherwise they will use all their talent to protect what they already have.
The train of the world is running. Some countries have taken first-class seats. Will Korea be pushed from second-class seats to third?
The United States is the most competitive and effective country among those in first class. If Korea was seated next to it, Koreans could visit the United States more easily and learn from it faster.
That is why a free trade agreement with Washington is important. We have a duty to make our country, the one that Mr. Sim desperately wished to have, a first-rate one.
*The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk