[Letter to the editor]Dilemma of participation vs. efficiency

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[Letter to the editor]Dilemma of participation vs. efficiency

The Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is important for South Korea. As important as it is, the mass media and general public were concerned during the process of negotiations because the government had let the public know only the results of each round of negotiations. No one knew exactly what was happening during the FTA negotiations since they occurred in closed rooms. Many voices were raised in regard to this closed-door negotiation, arguing that the negotiations had to be carried out openly under the principles of participatory democracy. Participatory democracy is based on one of the principal democratic values: responsiveness. The public expresses its preferences, translated into the [people’s] general will. Jean Jacques Rousseau, in his “Social Contract,” introduced the necessity of the general will as distinguished from individual will. The government should be informed by the general will and respond to it before making any policy. This is called responsiveness. In this regard, the demand for publicity about the negotiations seems convincing. However, by making public the process of the FTA agreement, the Roh administration would have faced serious problems -- indeed, to some extent chaos.
According to [social choice theorist] John Arrow, the social welfare function that could meet all of the values criteria is impossible to achieve. He explained it as the “impossibility theorem,” where there are four values: democracy as responsiveness, efficiency, non-externality and non-dictatorship. If all of these values are achieved, the most desirable social welfare will be promoted. However, in reality this is not the case. If the government put more weight on responsiveness by making the process known to the public, different interest groups would be [clamoring to be heard], each for their own benefit, because the FTA covers a wide range of economic fields. Trying to meet all of the expectations of social participants obviously leads to lack of efficiency in a decision-making process. Therefore, to maximize efficiency, the FTA negotiation process should be free from, to a degree, interventions by interest groups whose [competing] voices can plausibly risk distorting the government’s policy. Political leaders must have co-optive leadership to persuade the people to believe that the national policy would benefit all of the nation in the long-term.
Some say, however, that a closed-door negotiation entrusted only to government officials may not work very well. As J. Ikenberry said, “just like new wine in an old bottle must be degraded,” the current political system is [out of step with] contemporary society. The bureaucracy argued for by Max Weber has clearly shown this problem in the present political system. Since the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, Fordism or mass production was the pattern of production. In parallel to this, the government, in the process of pursuing efficiency in policy, has organized itself into departments for each sector, which specifically takes charge of state affairs. It was easy for government officials to handle state affairs that were routinized in the age of mass production. While the bureaucratic system has not been changed, the economic system has [evolved]. However, public officials cannot readjust themselves to meet flexible capability standards since they have no authority to coordinate the conflicting interests in any field except their own department. In short, it is not the closed-door negotiation that is not working appropriately; it is the awkward government system that is out of step with contemporary society. In a nutshell, in order to gain a Pareto optimal outcome in the FTA negotiations with the United States, it was necessary to some extent that the process of negotiation be done in a closed room. However, disclosure of the results of diplomatic negotiations is required in a democracy, for without it, there can be no democratic control of foreign policy.
The government [should move] to change its policy system from a rigid to a flexible one, such as a team matrix, which could help advance efficiency. In addition, any political leader should be aware that the constituents vote for the opposing side if he fails in diplomacy. Representative democracy is of no use if the government is swayed back and forth by public opinion, which could deviate into populism in the name of participatory democracy.
Kim Haram, a senior at Myung Duk Foreign Language High School
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