[Outlook]Give me freedom and fairnessThis year we will elect a new president. The whole country is already busy guessing the result, though the actual voting will not take place for another nine months. This intense interest has been generated by people who believe that the fate of our country depends upon the result of the next presidential election.
Nevertheless, what is important at the moment is a careful consideration of what will make a difference to Korea’s future and what will not.
The most important principle is to determine the raison d’etre of our existence as a country. In establishing this we must also secure a peaceful life for the people. In other words, our society and our nation must exist to provide for the well-being of our citizens.
If a country cannot achieve these simple goals then its very existence will be challenged. We don’t need to mention the painful revolutions we have experienced throughout history. We will experience them again if we fail to define our purpose.
To live as a nation in peaceful well-being, the freedom and equality of our citizens should be guaranteed through social and economic justice. In modern society, the freedom of individual members must be an inalienable right because anything else is inconsistent with the essence of humanity. Not to mention the history of the world, Korea’s own modern history is full of the blood, sweat and tears of so many freedom fighters who sought to achieve a democratic political order in the midst of authoritarian regimes.
In 1775 Patrick Henry said, famously, “Give me freedom or give me death,” and that remains true today.
Economic and social equality are very important elements in achieving the kind of political and social freedom Henry had in mind. The unequal distribution of wealth that has been a sideeffect of extreme laissez-faire economic policies has required state intervention to protect the weak members of our society.
The severe social conflict derived from economic inequalities has had a detrimental impact on society’s search for stability and, in extreme cases, it has disrupted the peace of the whole community, without which no democracy can prosper.
Thus, in order to achieve a peaceful society, a well-organized harmony between freedom and social justice is a prerequisite.
The problem is the differences in the results that flow from the unfettered activities of people who possess a variety of capabilities. If we try to disregard the variety of human talent or equalize it with artificial efforts, a detrimental restriction and suppression of freedom must follow ,and that is not desirable. Establishing a harmonization of those two value systems has been the cause of some agony for all democracies.
Korea is no exception. During the last four years, under the Roh administration, this issue has been central.
Skyrocketing housing prices, excessive regulations to cope with price hikes, the so-called “tax-bomb” and extreme tuition fees have all been vivid examples of disruptive policies.
What these issues show us is that we can’t afford to give up freedom in order to achieve a fair distribution of income, unless we forget about Korea’s competitiveness. And social justice is not something we can throw away just to protect the freedom of a few wealthy individuals.
The happy medium that will accommodate the indispensible values of freedom and fairness can be found through earnest and ceaseless discussion, but at present many are clinging to the presidential election in the hope it will resolve the tension between these two vital goals. Our experience suggests the outcome is more likely to be disappointing.
We can avoid that if we hold all presidential candidates to a high standard. They must explain, in detail, how we can have fairness and freedom. Those who cannot are not worth voting for. Those who can should be elected. They may not deliver but at least they will have provided us with some answers.
*The writer is a professor of public law at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Hyung-sung