[Outlook]Tempering pragmatism

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[Outlook]Tempering pragmatism

The inaugural address by President Lee Myung-bak marks the beginning of a national effort to make Korea a truly advanced country.
It was enthusiastic and stirring. Lee’s appeal to move Korea toward an era of pragmatism, going beyond being a nation dominated by its ideals, aroused widespread national sympathy.
The president also unveiled plans to make pragmatism deeply rooted in the basic principles of running the country.
He wants to help Korea cope with the growing demands of a globalized era and set the nation free from the fetters of ideological conventions. It is an epoch-making approach that will meet the needs of the times.
However, I am afraid that people may undervalue the theoretical bases that serve as the cornerstone for implementing national development strategies, now that the attitude of “pragmatism is everything” seems to have taken hold.
It is true that a wealth of theories and ideologies can be an obstacle to becoming an advanced country. The sheer number of professors participating in a national administration does not always guarantee that the government will make intelligent decisions.
So how can we achieve our shared mission of becoming an advanced country?
At first glance, the answer seems quite obvious, but after careful consideration, we realize that it is not so easy. Aside from the general principles that apply to a whole stream of development throughout history, we need to make a diagnosis for the development phase of our specific nation and prescribe appropriate development strategies. We should base our actions on advanced theories.
Modern political history shows that, almost invariably, all nations faced development challenges when they tried to answer the following question: How can economic policy strike a balance between growth and distribution? It also shows that a nation’s political system and leadership are crucial when determining success or failure in national development.
To answer this question, an equation can be applied that comprises of three variables: growth, distribution and the institutions that carry these out.
But we cannot solve the problem by simply substituting a mathematical formula. We need to seek an acceptable solution based on highly developed theories that take a nation’s phase of development, leadership characteristics and system into account.
To find an answer to the question, the Lee government should strike a balance between finding a new growth engine and fairer distribution of wealth.
What we are striving to achieve is a new experiment. Therefore, it will be almost impossible to imitate or benchmark another nation. Against this backdrop, we must work together to establish a sound theoretical foundation that reflects Korea’s unique qualities.
The blueprint is not the manifestation of a closed nationalism, but a creative effort that can incorporate the efforts of the Korean people. It is our sincere hope that it will attract attention from the global community as well.
Reflecting on the past, we achieved industrialization and democratization quickly. We headed into what we thought was becoming an advanced country as if we were floating on air. However, we had to pay the consequences of our careless attitude.
After undergoing the financial crisis of 1997, we realized that moving forward rashly can lead to a much bigger national tragedy.
As the president pointed out, the world is getting too far ahead of us. There are some social signs at which we need to take a closer look. National competitiveness is falling, middle-class people lead difficult lives and social conflicts are seriously affecting society.
The law-abiding spirit is being rocked.
As we all know, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Korea. However, the prospects for national unification seem obscure.
In this regard, we need to answer another question ― how can we incorporate the incalculable cost of reunification into the nation’s long-term development path?
The president said he will take bold steps to bolster new and epoch-making development strategies. To serve the triple purposes of growth, distribution and democracy, it is important to encourage people to actively engage in his plan, draw a new road map and present a theoretical foundation.
It is my sincere expectation that the new government will take an earnest attitude and make every effort to gather information and take lessons from the past.

*The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hong-koo
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