[Viewpoint]Help regions to be independentLately, I feel that the biggest obstacles that keep Korea from making the leap to becoming a developed country are the dominance of populism and a lack of understanding about the best ways for social development. The politicians who are concerned about their popularity are likely to propose policies and projects that cater to short-term political interests rather than long-term national interests. This lack of understanding leads to backward ideologies and policies.
The balanced development plan of the self-titled “participatory government” might be the biggest populist policy since the liberation of the country. The promise to relocate the capital must have been widely approved by the political interests of certain factions. Nevertheless, the plan was likely to result in a waste of great resources, inconvenience the citizens and undermine the country’s competitiveness. The relocation of various public agencies and the construction of innovative towns were pursued to soothe other regions that were upset. Chances are, such policies will result in financial waste, regional discord, inefficient operations and inconveniences to both the staff and citizens.
The balanced development policy of the Roh Moo-hyun administration originates from the idea that everything is overly concentrated in the capital region while other areas stagnate. Thus, the administration believes, the imbalance should be corrected by controlling centralization in the capital region and by supporting regions that are falling behind.
However, the sense that a problem exists is based on a misunderstanding of urbanization and regional development. The capacity of the capital region, or another metropolitan region, can change, but when properly maintained, we can enjoy more benefits from density. The trend of a global and information-oriented society increasingly emphasizes the importance of broader, more dense metropolitan cities. On the contrary, helping the backward regions too much is highly likely to have the unexpected and unwanted effect of encouraging poor people to stay in the poor regions.
A well-planned development policy should work to encourage people and resources to relocate to areas that are more productive, rather than the other way around.
Economic development based on the free movement of humans and materials tends to enhance regional balance in terms of per-capita income and standards of living.
The administration’s policy of “development through balance” might sound plausible, but in fact, it is a backward policy that neglects the principles of social development.
Economic development theory, changes in the structure of industry, population movements and the patterns of the formation of cities tell us that “balance through development” is the proper and healthy way.
It is time to reorganize the populist and backward balanced development policy of the participatory government.
Above all, the construction of an administrative-oriented city, which will result in the division of the capital, must be stopped at once.
Creating a college town in a secure site could be one alternative. If the town can attract branches of foreign universities as well as domestic ones, it will greatly help local development.
We should suspend, for now, the relocation of public agencies and construction of innovative cities. The experiences of other countries such as Japan suggest that the construction of artificially innovative towns will not work to create a self-sustaining city. Instead, it only wastes enormous budget resources and increases the nation’s debt.
The capital region should be able to compete with world-class metropolitan cities.
Local regions need to develop individual characteristics. The central government should break its pattern of distributing resources and applying regulations. It should then convert to a system in which it supports regional autonomous development.
In order to establish such a system, authorities in the areas of finance, regulation, planning, education and pubic security should be transferred to local governments.
The participatory government still seems to favor the first-phase balanced development plan, although has been causing a lot of confusion.
During this presidential election year, the government has proposed a second-phase plan it is ready to promote.
It might be futile to ask the administration to reform the existing balanced development policy. However, the mission of intellectuals and the media, historically, has been to advocate certain social development theories and tell citizens about the evils of populism. Preventing a backward balanced-development policy and setting forth autonomous regional development is the best way for the country to make the leap to becoming a developed nation.
*The writer is a professor of economics at Sookmyung University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Shin Do-cheol