[Outlook]Caring as policy

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[Outlook]Caring as policy

There are different types of and depths to New Year’s wishes. Years ago, an actress shouted, “I wish that you will all become rich!,” in a commercial for a credit card company. The slogan became widely used by people making New Year’s wishes. Koreans now start new years by setting a goal of wealth.
Traditionally, people said, “I wish blessings for you,” which included blessings of money and success, but that was not as explicit as the new invocation. When using the old form, people also wish for non-material happiness, such as health, well-being, peace and comfort. This makes it a deeper and more thoughtful wish.
The new administration’s slogan calls for the era of the people’s success, as symbolized by a $40,000 national per capita income. This gives us hope, but we can’t be sure how thoughtful it is.
President-elect Lee Myung-bak and his transition team talk about pragmatism and reforms to increase efficiency, but it sounds like they will encourage companies and push workers harder. It is difficult to imagine anything beyond that.
This doesn’t seem much different from the neo-liberalism we’ve grown accustomed to since the financial crisis. The neo-liberal logic asserts that investment is to be made only in areas that create profit, irrespective of people’s feelings.
Guided by these values, the government takes no interest in child-care services, education or the welfare of senior citizens.
Assistance to those with limited physical mobility, the underprivileged and the environment are also ignored because they do not produce profits. In short, people are on their own.
Efficiency is something that we should pursue, but at the same time, we need to be careful about how we achieve it. If we ignore every value but one and pursue it to the exclusion of others, efficiency increases for the moment. This is the easiest way to increase efficiency.
Since the foreign exchange crisis, many companies have hired more irregular workers in the name of efficiency and have not paid attention to the value of labor and people’s right to happiness.
Therefore, if the next administration does not combine efficiency with efforts to improve people’s lives on other levels as well, this barren environment will remain the same.
We hope that the new administration will motivate companies to do better and make sure that they have a strong sense of responsibility for society and moral values.
Two recent disasters ― the oil spill from the Hebei Spirit and the fire in the refrigerated warehouse in Icheon ― were results of loosened safety regulations. Safety regulations have been eased so as to mitigate regulations on companies.
Everybody feels agitated and sad to see living creatures and people dying in the oil spill and fire. We need a leader who does more than compensate and punish. A leader should listen to the pain of the people whose lives were ruined in the blink of an eye and take action to better their situations.
A baseless promise to revitalize the economy by building a waterway can’t fill the emptiness we feel because the quality of our lives does not meet our ideal.
We need a government that takes care of people’s feelings. The new administration must remember that people will no longer just wait and see what the government tells us to do.
The new administration can’t mobilize the people and regulate and control them in the name of efficiency or pragmatism. The demand for individuality, for a balance between life and work and for democratic communication has been increasing in our society. In the face of this, the government must be moderate and humble.
People already worry about how the promise to make the country rich will be kept and if doing this will mean sacrificing other important values, such as social justice, quality of life, tolerance and caring for the underprivileged.
People’s concerns about the new administration are as big as their expectations for it. They lament that their lives are hard when they feel poorer than they actually are. But at the same time, they feel this way in part because they do not feel happy despite economic opulence.
The quality of life is about how we manage other important values that we can’t achieve by pursuing efficiency.
Too much emphasis on economic growth might move our society backward if there is no adequate consideration for the weak.
It is not that we need to choose between pursuing economic opulence and taking care of each other. The two must be carried out at the same time.

*The writer is a professor of sociology at Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Hyun-mi
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