[Viewpoint]Lee’s leaky bucketPaul Krugman, a professor of economics at Princeton University and op-ed columnist at the New York Times, said that the U.S. economy was in the “Age of Diminished Expectations” in the 1990s. It was a sarcastic twist to the gloomy economic reality America was facing at that time. Nothing was going right back then and there was no hope for the future. Americans, who felt they had nothing to rely on, gradually gave up hope and had started resigning themselves to their fate.
The Korean economy in July 2008 is at the same stage. Not only the economy, but the whole of Korean society gives off the impression that we have entered an Age of Diminished Expectations. In fact, “diminished expectations” may well be too generous an evaluation of the Korean economy, considering that expectations have not diminished gradually over a long span of time, but more recently have suddenly been blown away and disappeared into thin air.
The Lee Myung-bak government, which was launched amidst great expectations from the whole nation, has done an amazing job of betraying the hopes people placed in it less than four months after its launch. The credibility of the government has crashed to rock bottom due to the confusion created by the U.S. beef import issue, and the government’s ineptitude has been revealed by economic policy guidelines that were not based on reality.
There is an old saying that a bucket that leaks at home does not hold water outside of the house, either.
The pragmatic diplomacy of the Lee Myung-bak administration was boycotted by North Korea and was shunned by the four big powers in the region. The North’s strategy of promoting dialogue with Washington while giving the South the cold shoulder has made Lee’s effort to rebuild the traditional South Korea-U.S. alliance look ridiculous. The results of the summit diplomacy Seoul promoted with China and Japan also turned out nothing tangible, especially considering the dispute now over the Dokdo islets. Now, the Lee Myung-bak administration is left isolated after losing support from both inside and outside of the country.
In retrospect, the joke that the Lee Myung-bak government took an electric pole from the street in celebration after winning the presidential election, but then immediately began an internal power struggle over ownership of the pole, was not entirely a laughing matter.
The internal fighting that started when they were preparing for the transfer of power from the previous government went on continuously and resulted in careless personnel appointments. And this laxmanagement gave birth to an incompetent government.
When he won the presidential election, President Lee should have abandoned the raft he used to cross the river. He must have been grateful for the raft when he was crossing the election’s tricky waters. However, after making the crossing, he should have changed to a swift horse. If such a horse were not available, he should have taken the raft apart and built a wooden cart. But he did not do so.
Stubbornly, he started to climb the mountain pulling the raft behind him. For both those pulling the raft in the front and those being dragged behind, it was an equally difficult journey to make. The mountain pass was full of rocks and puddles that obstructed their passage and the rope tied to the raft was wearing thin. They quickly became exhausted from their efforts, which were of no use on the mountain.
Although a few logs on the raft were replaced, that did not change it into a cart. When they looked at the path ahead, it was getting even steeper and tougher. How would they manage to make their way deep into the mountain dragging a broken raft?
So let’s give up. Let’s give up hope that the government can do something for us. When our expectations are high, the disappointment is felt more keenly. If we have low expectations, we won’t be disappointed. Therefore, let’s forget about our expectations of the government.
Let us instead look for a way to survive on our own. Even if prices surge in the future, there is no use laying the blame on the government. We must endure economic hardship by tightening our belts.
There is no use going out on the street wearing headbands to protest against the government for not raising wages, to demand lower oil prices, to complain about bad business or to evade university entrance exams. Even if people stage such rallies, there is nothing much the government can do for them. The solution is to find a way on our own.
There is no knowing when the present government will wake up and decide to switch over to a cart after acknowledging that they cannot climb a mountain with a raft.
As they stubbornly keep pulling the raft, however, there is not much to do than look on from the sidelines. But they cannot insist on carrying the raft forever. Some day, it will break into pieces. After it breaks, there will be nothing left for them to hold on to.
This switch is not something that can be made to happen by the will or determination of one person. When things have gone that far, they will abandon their raft and call someone who is riding a cart. But one must wonder whether President Lee knows whom to call.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jong-soo
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