[Viewpoint]Slow downEverything has its own unique tempo. Sometimes pressing business turns up; sometimes there are no rush jobs. Of course, the order of things says the most urgent thing should be done first. However, these days, the work being conducted by the presidential transition team is hampering our judgment about what is urgent.
They seem to be pushing ahead with the Grand Canal project, what they call the country’s greatest construction project ― big enough to pave a new way forward for the nation. I don’t know why they are in such a hurry, especially because it is a controversial issue. As the controversy grew, President-elect Lee Myung-bak took a step back. On Jan. 9, he told Lee Kyung-soon, the chairwoman of the presidential transition team, “I won’t hold back on any effort to drive forward with this project, but I will follow every procedure. Therefore, we can wait to break ground until one year after my inauguration.” Above all, Lee’s team seems to regard the idea that the construction project is an established fact. Still, it is too soon to break ground on a massive construction project that will cost more than 10 trillion won ($10 billion).
The transition team seems deeply addicted to the memory of the success of Cheonggye Stream. They might say the projects would be similar, because they are both waterways. They maintain the Grand Canal would be much easier to build than Cheonggye Stream. According to them, all we have to do is repair three old bridges ― one section of the Jamsoogyo Bridge and two old bridges around Yangpyeong County. If that is what they are saying, I think they are making fools of the people.
The excessive speed and greed of the transition team can also be seen in their attempts to rescue people who have credit card debt, who have not paid back their loans in a timely manner. To do so, Lee’s team said they would use the national tax, the public fund. However, the cost to bail out the 7.2 million people on the blacklist of financial institutions would be more than 10 trillion won. The transition team even raised the issue of forgiving debts and erasing bad credit ratings. The news that they even want to rescue people who borrowed money from loan sharks stuck me dumb. Even the Roh administration, a quack leftist group, would never do such a foolish thing.
It is no exaggeration to say the United States owes its huge success to a well-established financial system, despite its short 200-year history. Ever since the 1997 financial crisis, capital from the United States has been buying Korea’s companies and banks at a dumping price.
The starting point for Korea’s financial industry, which is far behind other industries such as semiconductors, shipbuilding and steel, is the establishment of a nationwide credit order. However, the new government is stirring up this natural order. A person is responsible for managing his/her own credit. The government has nothing to do with it. However, the transition team is contributing to destroying the financial order.
Of course, I understand the logic. They believe rescuing the isolated classes without any financial power will boost the national economy. However, the results will only be temporary. In similar cases in the past, people who lived in agricultural and fishing villages had their debts forgiven. Yet, it did not improve the situation at all.
Driven by avarice, they are trying to lower the price of cell phone service. Two weeks ago, the transition team said, “We publicly pledge to reduce the cost of cell phone communications by 20 percent before the new government is inaugurated.”
The question is, “How?” At first, the transition team said the government should take the lead on this matter. After critics said it was not right for the government to interfere in the pricing policies of private companies, they changed their stance again.
They said at the market power ― such as more competition and deregulation ― will lower the cost. However, the transition team has ordered the Ministry of Information and Communication to devise concrete price reduction measures designed for people. The words of transition team member Choi Kyung-hwan, a leader of the second economic division of the transition team, have not been consistent.
The communication sector is ridiculing the team’s ignorance, saying, “Is this the so-called Lee Myung-bak market economy?”
The transition team is also giving confusing signals to the Monetary Policy Committee and the Bank of Korea, which both have the authority to decide market interest rates. The team is ordering them to achieve two difficult goals: stabilize prices and invigorate the national economy. However, no one in the world can catch two rabbits at the same time. They may bring about desirable measures. However, there is no point in making such expectations. History teaches us that even if there is a long-anticipated result, in the long run, it’s only temporary.
A young man may buy the fancy sports car that he has long desired, then see how fast he can drive. The transition team should shrug off such a temptation.
*The writer is the senior business editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Shim Sang-bok