[Outlook]A general in the Blue House

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[Outlook]A general in the Blue House

Army scouts go deep into enemy territory and gather information. A general’s duty is to integrate information, create strategies and give his soldiers orders.
In the Lee Myung-bak administration, however, the president is making forays into the field, as do his ministers, chief of staff and other high officials. All of them are working as scouts. The president can visit a conventional marketplace and check the prices of food because it is in the early stage of his term. Nevertheless, when a government minister goes to a construction site and presidential aides and high officials go to mega-sized retailers to check consumer prices, it seems disorganized. Low-level civil servants should be out in the field. If generals go to the front line and patrol the situation, who makes the judgments and draws up blueprints for the future economy? During World War II, a colonel at the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet cracked Japanese codes and learned that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was imminent. But it turned out that the information came after a Japanese fleet had already approached Hawaii and dispatched 350 air force fighters.
As if testing the new administration’s capacity to restore the economy, negative economic factors are emerging to welcome the president to office. A surge in grain prices has ignited agflation and increased raw materials costs have caused an emergency in the industrial sector. Ready-mix concrete, iron rebar and hot coils are all hard to get. The prices of naphtha shot up, severely damaging the plastics industry. On top of this, a current account deficit and financial insecurity is pushing Korea’s economy to the edge of a cliff.
But, when the president complains about a lamppost, other government officials search for the lamppost and remove it. When the president talks about consumer prices, government officials hurriedly make a to-do list with the usual items ― lower taxes on oil purchases, control hoarding and regulate fees in public services. This doesn’t match the reputation of the new government, which is expected to demonstrate economic expertise.
The news that 3 million Koreans are unemployed doesn’t seem to shock people, probably because everybody is preoccupied with party nominations for the legislative elections. As the new administration deregulates, controls consumer prices and cuts taxes, businesses will likely improve and the number of unemployed might decrease a little bit. But how much will such measures improve investment and employment in the long term? Because short-term measures are being implemented without a comprehensive blueprint, the effects will dissipate amid market resistance.
The people hope that the Lee administration will present great economic policies that raise the growth rate and the country’s competitiveness. They will be disappointed if the new administration comes up with the same old measures and says that because oil prices went above $100 per barrel, people should drive only six days a week or save energy.
There is a good lesson for us. In France in the 1960s, Charles de Gaulle made a decision to close a vicious circle which often occurs in countries with few natural resources. After consulting with renowned economists, he found that the only way for France to survive was to become a leading country in the energy and transportation industry. TGV, French-made airplanes, Total France and nuclear energy were developed in this context. Based on this future-oriented policy, France achieved $20,000 national per capita income and has enjoyed the status of a high-tech country.
In Korea, the heavy chemical industry has become the country’s major driver for 30 years starting from the 1970s. The Lee administration ambitiously announced that it would pursue advancement. If this is the case, what is the framework? Does it include everything from information technology, nanotechnology, bio-technology, culture, aviation, space, medicine and science? Or, does it mean becoming a financial hub or a leading country in the energy industry? This is what a general must think about seriously with top experts. Seoul has more scientists per 1,000 citizens than many other cities. But Korea nonetheless fell helpless in the face of a financial crisis 10 years ago. This is because individuals are intelligent but the group IQ is low. A top general must predict the future, establish strategies, prioritize issues and focus on the urgent ones. The administration declared the year 2008 the beginning of new advancement.
The general must leave the patrolling job to lower civil servants and instead present a blueprint for making his claims come true. If the people think the new administration missed its chance, the dream of becoming an advanced country will disappear.

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

by Song Ho-keun
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