[Outlook]One person at a timeWe can feel hope and high expectations growing across the country these days. People feel secure, expecting things to go well. They exchange pleasant words when they meet. It is like the morning after snow has fallen and everything seems fresh.
The feeling is not because people support a certain political party or political figure. It is not about for whom they cast their votes. Simply, the country is becoming energized.
People must have been even happier when Korea won its independence after decades of rule by the Japanese, but older generations did not succeed in converting their good mood into what was good for the country. That was not because of some fault on the part of the people.
Rather, it was due to international circumstances and the country’s elite. As a result of the wasted opportunity, we went through years of hardship. It took Koreans a full 20 years to start the process of industrialization. We should be careful not to waste the expectations and hope that we feel this time. Everybody in Korea is paying attention to the president-elect. People talk as if everything depends on him. This places too large a burden on his shoulders. He confessed that he felt happy for a short moment after being elected and now he is only worried.
This is understandable because everyone talks about how much better things will be as long as the new president does his job well. But the economy is not solely dependent on the president.
If the president is to work the way he wants, he must be given more power, and thus the government must become bigger. But the people want the government to be small. They want autonomy and they want regulations to be lifted. This is an oxymoron.
The economy cannot be improved by one person. The government must be small but energetic, and the market must be liberal but not to an extreme extent.
When the news that Lee Myung-bak was elected was delivered, the son of a family living in southern Seoul applauded and said that now they could afford to renovate their apartment. A customer at a beauty salon said she would be furious if the new president does not cut taxes.
Of course, unreasonable taxation should be reversed and old apartments must be rehabbed. But Lee was not elected so apartment owners could make huge profits, or to cut taxes for people who own multiple homes or to help the owners of conglomerates make more money and pass their privileges on to their offspring. To lift regulations does not mean this, but people seem to think the president-elect has a secret that will instantly restore the economy.
Throughout history, the economy has not been restored by a single person. For an economy to improve, other issues must be fixed first. England had a golden age, the Victorian era, in the 19th century. English trading ships circled the world.
It built an empire on which the sun never set. Before building such a booming economy, intellectuals in England carried out a movement called the Reformation of Manners for the entire people. Based on this movement, England established a law to free slaves in 1833.
In the early Victorian age, society was sincere and there was discipline. English traders were said to be the most honest in the world.
The United States, which came from England, also had Puritan ethics as the basis of its capitalistic economy. Businessmen did not pursue interests to satisfy their indulgences and surround themselves with luxuries. They were diligent, honest and disciplined. In the early 20th century, the United States became an economic superpower thanks to its businessmen, who believed in capitalism but led temperate lives.
For Korea’s economy to be restored, the people must change first. But that takes time and it is also very hard, so people decided what was really needed were good economic policies. But if the people do not change, new policies alone cannot make society a better place.
Changes in leaders will be the answer because leaders create policies. If the rich, intellectuals and the powerful set an example for the weak, common people, society will change.
Ahead of the general election in April, fights over political party nominations seem to have already begun. Parties’ nominations have nothing to do with people’s lives. Those who have staged campaigns, such as the new right movement, are also seeking power. That proves that our leaders have not changed at all. This is wrong.
On the morning of the first day of the new year, we should ask ourselves what we can do for the country.
We should stop looking to the president-elect and instead look at ourselves.
*The writer is the vice publisher and chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk