[Viewpoint]Lacking confidence in LeeAn acquaintance of mine who runs a construction company in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, sent me an e-mail after reading my column in the JoongAng Ilbo last week.
It was an angry message, to say the least. He said, “The housing market these days is not just dead. It is in a state of panic.”
He said the construction market, whether it be new apartment buildings or expensive housing units, was frozen into an Arctic state, and that countless companies were shutting down because of bankruptcy or lack of business prospects.
He sharply criticized the part of the column in which I wrote that “the economy is not completely dead yet” based on the fact that summer resorts were bustling with holiday visitors. He claimed that my comment was the result of ignorance about the country’s economic reality.
He said the main reason for the bad economy was the Lee Myung-bak administration.
He said people have lost the motivation to do anything, as the expectations they had for the new government have been betrayed.
He also said that people in the construction sector or who run other successful businesses have no confidence in the Lee administration’s policies which give them no motivation to continue their businesses. The majority of them, he wrote, are skeptical.
“From now on, whatever project the Lee administration promises to carry out, I’m going to wait and see whether it really does anything, and then make my own decision on what to do.”
What he meant was that the people are holding on to any spare money they might have because they have lost the appetite to do business.
He said next to the loss of confidence in the president, worsening economic conditions, such as the international economic slowdown and rising oil prices, were nothing.
The people can overcome bad economic conditions if they have the will to do so.
But if the government is unable to provide the people with good faith, the economy cannot revive itself, no matter how good the economic conditions are.
If key economic players do not trust the government, even the most persuasive policy will be of no use.
He added that the cold shoulder the people have turned against the government is frightening. In such an atmosphere, there is no reason to expect businesses to increase investments.
He also had something to say against the passage in my column that read, “Let’s raise the hope for an economic recovery by exerting a spirit of entrepreneurship.”
He was of the opinion that Korean people are genetically prone to be strong in a crisis and that they have always come together to show extraordinary power in difficult times. But, he said, they do not have such feelings nowadays.
Actually, I have nothing to say to refute his point. The title of the column I wrote on Jan. 23, one month before the inauguration of the Lee administration, was “Recovery of the ‘Can-Do’ spirit.”
I wrote that we could look forward to a positive change, although the economic conditions both in and outside of the country weren’t that good, because the Lee administration was going to lead a positive new wave.
Only six months after the administration was launched, however, the comments coming from the economic front are, “This government is not doing anything right, has no will to try and does not even appear to know what it’s doing.” They leave me with nothing to say.
The actions of the Lee administration since the rallies against the resumption of U.S. beef imports deserve such comments.
The government has proclaimed itself to be market and corporate friendly, but has not shown a single tangible accomplishment. It has presented a plan for the reform of public companies, but it was only a plan for the sake of a plan since it was afraid of labor union protests.
It has not even laid a finger on the issue of easing regulations in the metropolitan area due to fears of opposition from rural regions.
It also has not yet made its position clear on real estate tax revisions or plans for revitalizing housing construction, because it is studying public opinion to see if anyone will be displeased
Frankly, there is no reason for the administration not to present an effective economic solution, if it has any convictions about its economic policies.
Looking back, I doubt the present government had any conviction or confidence from the beginning. It has no philosophy or vision on how to lead the national economy.
The pragmatism the Lee administration stands for is not a philosophy or a vision. It is just a methodology.
The “747” economic plan, or achieving a seven percent economic growth rate for four consecutive years to make Korea the seventh-largest economy in the world, is wishful thinking, not a national goal.
The grand canal plan was not adopted as a government policy, it was just a project.
This is probably the reason why the government has lost its driving force and had to withdraw from all sides as soon as economic conditions deteriorated and its approval ratings hit the skids.
Our problem is that the reality will not get any better even if we get disappointed with or angry at the Lee administration. We still have to pin our hopes on it, because the people have to live on, even if they can expect nothing from their government.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jong-soo