[Outlook]Opportunities in crisis
With the world economy facing one of the greatest challenges it has ever seen, our difficulties are being dramatically exacerbated. The people are suffering due to growing job loss and rapidly decreasing income. Next year’s economic prospects do not look very bright either. Thus, a tacit understanding has taken root in the minds of the people that the conventional way of running the country is inappropriate for helping us to recover.
This crisis cannot be overcome with the basic values of diligence and patriotism. The nation is forming a consensus that the country’s survival and sustainable development can’t be guaranteed without a dramatic change in our thinking.
As we marked the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Korea this year, we celebrated the successful achievement of our twin goals - industrialization and democratization. However, this economic turmoil brought about an abrupt halt to the festivities.
At this juncture, we realize the need to look dispassionately at reality. Unless we strive to further promote the simultaneous development of the economy and our politics in a way that develops new understanding and insight, we will remain trapped in the past. Without a new perspective, we will be unable to become a competitive nation with a vision.
Amid the global crisis, we are encountering an unprecedented opportunity to make our nation into a truly developed state, and to leave behind the misunderstandings and disruptions caused by anachronistic ideological conflicts.
First and foremost, we have to recognize that the chronic ideological conflicts of the past are no longer effective in facilitating the nation’s industrialization or economic development.
The turmoil has clearly shown us that it is no longer meaningful to continue our debate on whether the government or the market should lead the nation’s economy. The governments of developed capitalist countries were the first to offer solutions to sluggish economies in crisis by aggressively intervening in the markets. This marked the end of an era when the markets and governments had different roles to play.
We need to correct the confusion the Korean government has created in the public understanding of the government’s role in the economy by underlining the importance of deregulation and the autonomy of the market. The government’s strong leadership obviously played a pivotal role in realizing industrialization in the past. Therefore, as Korea enters a new phase of its history, if we can offer our best solutions on how to coordinate the government’s leadership and the market’s creativity, we will greatly contribute to the prosperity of not only the economy of Korea, but also to that of the world.
Second, it is high time we put an end to time-consuming debates and conflicts over whether or not we should put a priority on growth or fair distribution. We must develop a new integration model specially designed for Korea’s unique nature. No one will deny that unless we attain a considerable level of growth, we will fail to meet the demands of the people and will be inevitably outstripped in a global race.
We must find ways to bridge the widening gap between the rich and poor and at the same time enhance and guarantee the level of the people’s welfare.
Fortunately, we have ample opportunity to find the best way to integrate growth and distribution, as our political culture includes a social democratic element that works toward our goal of realizing mutual prosperity.
In a word, Korea is a comparatively mature society in terms of national consensus and reaching a compromise. With the aim of becoming an advanced country in mind, Koreans are firmly committed to preventing a wide gap from opening up between rich and poor. However, in order to achieve our goal, we must strive to stop ideological conflicts and prevent extreme political forces from gaining power.
The policies we establish in developing our democracy are of great importance. However, it is more urgent to find a way to democratically develop Korea’s decision-making processes. In particular, we must quickly reach a national consensus on minority groups’ degree of veto power in light of constitutional debates.
How deeply can Korean politics realize the core principle of democracy ?? majority rule that guarantees the rights of minority groups? If the legacy of the authoritarian era remains, we will inevitably return to the past, when the will of the powerful surpassed the law.
The nation now needs a national consensus in making a series of important choices. That’s why some say that this is not only an economic crisis, but a social and political one as well.
The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Hong-koo