[Viewpoint]Fires of unrest

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[Viewpoint]Fires of unrest

The candlelight vigils protesting the resumption of U.S. beef imports reached a new peak Tuesday night. The Lee Myung-bak administration has hoisted a white flag, making its incompetence public.

Only three months after its launch, the entire cabinet and the Blue House secretariat stepped down. It is an unprecedented disgrace for the nation.

What comes next is a real problem. In the candlelight in plazas near Cheonggye Stream and Seoul City Hall, we see glimpses of the economic disease of stagnation. We see the economy sinking with a government that has lost the public’s confidence.

At the very moment of demonstrations, many are struggling to make ends meet. Skyrocketing oil prices and inflation, more dangerous than mad cow disease, are becoming difficult to bear.

When people lose hope for the future and fall into despair, the streets will be filled with torches, not candlelight. Reviving the economy is no longer a slogan ? it has become a must.

This must seem unlucky to those in power. The Lee administration came to power because of a pledge to revive the economy, and the economy actually collapsed only three months after its launch.

The Lee administration made an ambitious promise, dubbed the “747” plan, to attain annual 7 percent growth, to increase the national per capita income to $40,000 and to make the nation’s economy the seventh-largest in the world. That plan, however, faded a long time ago.

Oil prices are skyrocketing, and the global economy is worsening. Prices of goods in Korea are rising uncontrollably, and jobs for young people are disappearing.

Some may think this is unfair. What can we do about skyrocketing international oil prices? How can a small country like Korea revive the sinking world economy by itself? The strong winds outside its gates are about to blow out the small lamp in this cottage.

We, however, must ask ourselves if we can really blame others for our current economic hardship. We must ask ourselves if this government’s policies have given us faith that things will get better in the future even though the situation is difficult now.

The Lee administration’s late responses and incompetence, which were revealed during this beef crisis, have been the same for its economic policy.

Because it is shortsighted, its measures, although labeled as urgent, are always belated. In an effort to keep the “747” pledge, the government persistently sought to achieve 7 percent growth, and then adjusted the aim to 6 percent.

Now, it confesses that the economy is getting worse.

Obsessed with growth, the government encouraged a weaker won and rate cuts. As prices went up, the government quietly turned to stabilization.

International oil prices are skyrocketing, but the government repeatedly said the increase is temporary and that prices would drop soon. Belatedly, it announced measures to offset high oil prices.

Using this approach, it has neither time to review what it has done, nor the wisdom to foresee what will occur in the future.

In a place where forest fires are a high risk, flammable materials are removed through the forest, creating a firebreak. Sprinkling water on a fire will not stop it. It is likely that the entire forest will burn down. A firebreak gives those fighting the fire room to maneuver, whether they are using fire extinguishers or starting a back fire.

Today, there are several fires burning that threaten the nation. The candlelight vigils to protest U.S. beef imports are only one. A strike by unionized truckers and a general walkout by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions are planned, and when economic hardships grow worse, more candlelight vigils will dominate the streets.

By continuing to chase these fires, the government will never be able to put them out.

It is time to create a firebreak, and for the Lee administration, principles and communication can provide an effective firebreak.

When economic times are difficult, the government must tell the people the truth and seek the nation’s understanding. The reality does not change when it is sugar-coated.

Right now, Korea’s economy is facing the risk of stagflation, marred by slow growth and inflation. There is one way out: endure the situation based on stabilizing prices.

It will undeniably be painful. However, this period of pain must be used as an opportunity to nurture growth potential through tax cuts and regulation reform.

The people must believe their pain will not be in vain.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jong-soo
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