[Viewpoint]Nation seeks crisis leadership

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[Viewpoint]Nation seeks crisis leadership

On my way to work a few days ago, I listened to President Lee Myung-bak’s radio address. “Every day, I worry what bad news will break out today,” the president said. It’s true that nothing feels good these days. Business professionals are struggling to survive, and the people are feeling uneasy as their lives worsen day by day.

Finance has controlled industries, but its legend is falling apart. Everyone is looking for a way to survive. Worse, the crisis has just begun, and its end appears to be far away.

China, which has earned the nickname “the engine of the world economy,” is no exception. The sweet dream of the successful Beijing Olympics faded quickly, and now stock prices are hitting rock bottom day after day. The real estate market is frozen.

“Buy one house and get one free,” some advertisements beckon.

The social gap continues to widen, and the unemployment rate shows no sign of improvement. The imbalance in energy supply and demand has worsened and society is grappling with such fundamental social issues as melamine-contaminated toxic food and deadly mine accidents. The country also saw a series of protests. On top of that, the economic crisis spawned by the U.S. financial meltdown has hit home.

A new joint Internet survey makes an important point. The poll asked, “Why does a small incident become a big incident?” According to the poll, 73.5 percent said a small incident grows serious because the rule of law is weak and because authorities do not hear the voice of the people. They also said that vestiges of rule by man, not by law, still remain.

Those polled said the leaders have failed to handle the situation correctly because they did not work with deliberation and supervision was slack. They said leaders were unrealistic.

There is an old Chinese saying: “What makes one tired is not a high mountain located far away, but sand in one’s shoes.” Accordingly, the survey outcome showed that without realistic and effective policies, public trust will inevitably fall.

Perhaps that’s why the Chinese leadership held the third plenary session of the 17th Communist Party of China’s Central Committee and developed major reform plans. The discussion was focused on rural economy, the global economic crisis and disciplined inspections.

In its recently published 2008 white paper on diplomacy, China expressed concerns about a possible economic crisis. It anticipated shrinking consumption and slower export growth after the Olympics Games, and has doubled efforts to restore domestic consumption. China also decided on a massive land reform measure to allow farmers to trade their rights to land, a major change to strengthen the country’s economy.

As soon as the financial crisis started, the country set up a special committee headed by the vice prime minister to tackle the issue with specific plans. In addition, China tried to improve discipline. To this end, anyone found responsible in the melamine debacle is being purged, no matter how high up. The measures are meant to tighten discipline among public officials.

The opinion survey and China’s countermeasures show an important point to Korea. Until now, laws were applied inconsistently and the people’s voice not heard effectively. Words came before actions. Disgraceful personnel appointments continue and policies are not prioritized based on reality. The country is still governed by men, not by law, and moral hazard is deeper than ever.

Furthermore, whenever an incident happens, initial countermeasures almost always fail, worsening the situation. The latest global financial crisis revealed the country’s poor handling of matters, such as late timing of policies, and failure to coordinate policies among ministries. Even “oral hazard” was revealed.

That is why the public wonders what we can learn from the conservatives, and whether the conservatives really have the capabilities to tackle the situation.

The president said, “Trust is the most important factor for overcoming this hardship.” It is natural to expect that the people’s capabilities and wisdom must be pooled to overcome the crisis. And yet, the president’s radio speech failed to deliver the sentiment, unlike the “fireside chats” by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression.

This is because the government shows no hopeful message to the people, who are suffering real economic hardship.

The leaders must change their evaluation yardstick, which is extremely generous and lenient on themselves, while extremely harsh and strict to others.

Beautiful autumn hues are at their peak around the nation. Leaves gave their energy to the tree’s roots and trunk in preparation for the winter and are preparing to fall to the ground. That is why autumn colors are so beautiful and why leaves symbolize selflessness and restraint.

From here on, we will have to begin a long march to find a way out of this crisis.

*The writer is a professor at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hee-ok
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