[Viewpoint]Advice to a new president

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[Viewpoint]Advice to a new president

President-elect Lee Myung-bak will take office in one week. We Koreans hope he will become a competent president and help all the people live in peace and prosperity without having to worry too much about their livelihood.
For the past five years, we have seen that when the president does something wrong, all of the people suffer even though they all understand the president can’t make everything perfect.
Being elected president is something close to a miracle, but becoming a good president is even more difficult.
Korea has had nine presidents so far. How many of them were good presidents?
To become a good president, Lee will have to try to take his time before making decisions, open his mind and listen to other people, particularly those whose opinions are different from his own.
The leaders of our country tend to talk for a long time without letting others speak.
Many professors are notorious for this tendency, but I hope people understand this is an occupational disease.
So those professors who are hired to serve in the government should be very careful.
The habit of talking at length seems to worsen as a person’s position becomes higher.
It seems to reach its peak when a person rises to the presidency. Korea’s former presidents have proven to be like that.
As a result, they have become self-righteous and uncompromising, so the people have had to suffer.
When a professor goes about a lengthy lecture without giving others a chance to speak, only 50 students in the class have to suffer. However, if a president does the same, all 50 million Koreans suffer.
One attraction of liberalism is that it considers human flaws the starting point for all debates and discussions.
Humans are often called superior creatures. However, people ― including myself ― have many flaws and weak points.
We lack the information, skills to process information and ethics, so we repeat the same mistakes everyday.
In short, humans are pathetic beings.
Despite these limitations, humans have developed academia and society to this extent because, as John Stuart Mill said, we can fix wrongs through discussion and criticism.
The president must tolerate criticism to become a good president.
In a democratic society, it is mainly the role of opposition parties and the media to criticize the powerful.
In this respect, the new administration faces more danger than the incumbent government.
The opposition parties, especially the main one, have significantly lost support. They are expected to become a minority party after the April general elections.
Major dailies severely criticize President Roh Moo-hyun, but they are extremely friendly toward President-elect Lee, as if boasting of special relations with the incoming president.
Television broadcasters are unlikely to change their long custom of favoring the government. The media’s friendliness will be sweet in the short term to the new president, but will become poisonous in the long term.
Thus, it is necessary and important to have a powerful opposition party and for media outlets to be fair and just.
It is even better to hire wise people who have integrity as presidential aides to prevent imprudent policies from taking effect.
The costs to fix such policies will then decrease significantly.
In Korea, the president and the chairmen of jaebeol have many smart, flexible advisers around them, but it seems they do not have wise people of integrity as close aides.
They seem to believe that the higher a person rises, the wiser that person gets, without exception.
In ancient society, great kings always had men of integrity as high officials.
Wei Zheng was the prime minister to Emperor Taizong of China’s Tang Dynasty. Taizong is regarded as one of the great emperors in China’s history, for thousands of years.
Wei Zheng was known to often stand up against Emperor Taizong in front of other officials.
Once, Taizong became mad at this old official and said he wouldn’t stand for it any longer, so the empress had to stop the emperor.
In the Joseon Dynasty of Korea, there were direct channels to make appeals or deliver opinions to the king. As these channels were blocked later, the Joseon Dynasty started to wane.
Even if fair and good opinions are made, they are useless if they are not heard.
A person in a high position must not be stubborn and instead must have an open mind and listen to other people.
One can find out an answer to almost everything if he takes his time, forgets prejudices and thinks seriously about the matter.
The new president should spend less time at official events and more time thinking and having discussions.
Most importantly, the new president should not be unbending and stubborn.
It will be great if the president has a flexible mindset and attitude, and if his ministers and presidential senior secretaries are men of integrity.

*The writer is a co-representative of the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice and a professor in economics at the University of Seoul. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Keun-sik

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