[Outlook]Unshackle the invisible hand

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[Outlook]Unshackle the invisible hand

Hardcore leftism of the Marxist-Leninist or Stalinist variety has fallen out of favor since the communist state system proved it was unable to feed its citizens.
In the course of the collapse of the communist system, numerous revisionists emerged. Driven by a changed reality, some revisionists sought to extend their grip on power under the guise of the “new left.” Others were more naive and attempted to stay afloat by jumping ship altogether, performing logic acrobatics on their way down.
The third way, chosen by British, German and Canadian social democrats, is one step further away from the revisionist demagogues of the new left.
Conservatives often call the Korean government of the past decade a “leftist regime.” However, they cannot be regarded as a consistent leftist group, but more as a subgroup of leftism that has adjusted to new realities. Their perspectives on North Korea and redistribution of wealth reveal their left-wing roots.
During the presidential election campaign, various promises and policies are appearing that seem worrisome.
Expanding the public sector, increasing the people’s dependency on government, attacks on social efficiency and lopsided tolerance toward North Korea are potential sources of catastrophe for the state and the future of this nation.
It is surely the basic responsibility of the government to support the disadvantaged members of society. The problem is how to establish the standard and boundaries of such support.
The so-called disadvantaged have individual pride and the capacity to lead a decent life. Accordingly the government must offer help in ways that assist these people to enhance their capacity to live autonomous lives.
If they are encouraged to resort to government support from the beginning, they will not be able to break out from the vicious cycle of dependency. But recently some political groups have talked as if the government should act in ways that will discourage an individual’s will to help himself.
The government has produced social programs from which no career development can be expected, expanded the public budget irresponsibly and prides itself on policies that step beyond the minimum requirements of dignity that those who are in need of help want to preserve.
The numerous interest groups that establish labor unions to demand excessive benefits, numerous institutions and organizations that require governmental support, interest groups that act out of regional or occupational self-interest, groups who rely on the government for their livelihood, and those who want to work less and earn more are the “tax eaters.”
Once somebody falls into any of the above categories they are likely to be trapped in dependency, instead of improving their skills to increase their potential.
Such people then find like-minded folks and muster a significant force in order to demand more from the government and prohibit the progress of reform.
And they ambush the companies that strive to increase productivity and stymie new policy projects in order to protect their benefits.
These people are called the “new-new left.” They exhibited their full potential by driving Argentina into bankruptcy and producing severe social problems in several Western European countries.
In the course of the presidential election the numbers of new left are likely to snowball.
An increasing number of politicians unabashedly argue that if they milk more cash from taxpayers and give it to tax eaters, everybody can become members of a universal middle class.
These utopian theorists are increasing in number. Some have said that communism is a better alternative, since democratic capitalism is bound to fail as populist politicians attract new-new-left supporters.
One of the places where the culture of dependency thrives is North Korea. I have been there a couple of times and from those trips I could tell that most people in North Korea have lost their willingness to work to a critical extent. As long as a system that stifles self-help survives in the North, economic support from South Korea will only aggravate its dependency.
The long history of Korea has shown that the Korean people have survived and prospered without colonizing other countries.
The same history tells us that extending the system of dependency means disaster. Adam Smith’s invisible hand of capitalism doesn’t work if it’s shackled by regulations and constantly filled with handouts from the state.

*The writer is a professor of political science at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Dal-gon
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