[Outlook]Lessons from history

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[Outlook]Lessons from history

President Roh Moo-hyun’s participatory government caused people to say, “This is not what I expected,” too many times.
Early in his presidency, Roh denounced Korea as a “country where fence-sitters rise to power” and “disgrace history.” From his perspective, people with vested rights were regarded as traitors. He lobbed tax-bombs to the people in an attempt to punish them and keep Gangnam real estate prices low.
If he were a leader who wanted to pursue a successful market economy and build a national consensus, he should have emphasized the following priorities.
“Every person in Korea has helped the country go from being a country ruined by war to being the world’s 12th-largest economy in three decades. I extend my respect for the great achievements and prosperity achieved by earlier leaders from the bottom of my heart. However, we need to pay more attention to the poverty-stricken, who are being pushed farther outside of our society than ever before.
“I call upon you to enthusiastically pay more taxes, with the view of building a new world where poor people can live happily. For its part, the government will strive to make Korea one of the most business- and customer-friendly countries in the world.”
On the contrary, the Roh administration made one mistake after another. Some of them are as follows: the president’s degraded words and actions; capital relocation; monolithic rules on the public education system and the three-nos education policy, and a real estate tax system designed to crack down on both possession and transfer taxes.
The list goes on. Roh was also behind four wrong-minded reform efforts, including a media reform that the court decided was against the constitution; press room lockouts; unprincipled and irresponsible appointments disguised by systematic recruiting; a groundless North Korea policy; reckless self-defense and big government.
Additionally, Roh made light of the Constitution and ignored the nation’s laws. He degraded the country’s tradition and authority. He incited confrontations and disunion between the haves and have-nots and discouraged people’s entrepreneurial spirit.
These are the major reasons that conservatives, who were dissatisfied with Roh, won a landslide victory in the 17th presidential election.
Who imagined five years ago that Roh and his entourage would be judged so miserably?
President-elect Lee Myung-bak should learn from Roh’s mistakes and practice modesty and self-discipline. The incoming government will yield tangible results if it can modify the failed policies left behind by the incumbent administration.
It should also take the initiative in tackling the following two issues if it wants to boldly step toward being a really successful government.
First, the government should actively work to clear up national suspicions surrounding the “Lee Myung-bak independent counsel.”
It is not proper for the Grand National Party to try to avoid the investigation, reasoning that the people supported it in the election. That is an arrogant attitude, rather than one of a servant. The new government should become a sincere servant to the whole nation, not only to the 31 percent of voters who supported it.
I urge the GNP to be faithful to principles, to be honest and to be consistent. These qualities will lay the foundation of pragmatic conservatism.
The second issue that Lee must be aware of is a desire to attain speedy results to prove that he really is the “economy-oriented president.” Some policies that benefit the economy pay off in the short term while more time is needed for others to produce results.
If Lee’s government only pursues the sweets that can be realized in the short term, the economy will fail in the long term.
For example, Lee’s policy of building a canal across the Korean Peninsula has the potential to become a long-term headache. Even though the president-elect advocates all the benefits that will follow construction, the project will only benefit the public in the short term.
It is similar to the capital relocation project designed by the Roh administration in that it is not one that will take Korea forward in the 21st century.
Lee should not be consumed with self-righteousness. It’s better for him to abandon the canal project.
He should resolve the two abovementioned problems early in his administration by following the laws of nature.
If he doesn’t, the Lee administration will likely end up building another government that will make people say, “This is not what I expected.”

*The writer is a professor of economics at Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Ahn Kook-shin

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