[Viewpoint]Pulling together in hard times

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[Viewpoint]Pulling together in hard times

We were prepared for a loss, but the shock is harsher than expected. The Bank of Korea announced that fourth-quarter GDP growth was minus 3.4 percent compared to the same period the previous year. The Korea Development Institute has predicted minus 2.6 percent growth in the first half and 0.7 percent growth for all of 2009.

As production and inventory circulations are limited internally, the economy shows clear signs of stagnation. As a natural consequence, the number of new jobs was in the minus category as well in December 2008. We don’t even need to discuss further statistics. In short, the economy is still shrinking. At a moment like this, I am reminded of courtesy and a sense of honor.

The Lunar New Year holiday weekend is just around the corner. It is one of the few opportunities to get together with the ones we care for and share love. But so many of us feel pressured this holiday season. Unfortunately, we know from experience that we are more reluctant to celebrate when life is harsh.

It is only proper for sons and daughters to prepare a small gift when visiting parents and possibly give some allowance money for the Lunar New Year. It is also a courtesy to help prepare the New Year’s feast, making dumplings and grilling pancakes, even if your shoulders are tight and the smell of oil makes you queasy.

However, this courtesy is even more valuable when paired with a sense of honor. It is out of a sense of honor that we offer gifts, allowance money and efforts to make food. It is honorable to put down the cards and drinks and ask if there is anything we can do to help.

When the economy is sluggish and household finances are tight, you are likely to feel stingy. Naturally, you will be more sensitive about what others say and be upset by comments that you could normally laugh off.

Whether it is parents and children, husband and wife or in-laws, people have to be careful not to unintentionally offend others. When times are harsh, the love of family means more than ever. What makes the love deeper is courtesy and a sense of honor.

Instead of being critical of one another, we need to be nice and understand the positions of others as well. If you blame the incompetence of your spouse and complain to your parents, you will only make the split wider.

These days, Hyundai Motors’ labor union is determined to go on strike. Of course, the company is responsible for failing to keep an agreement to implement a system of two consecutive shifts. However, as we all know, the automobile industry is in jeopardy worldwide, and demanding the change despite the new development is not courteous to the rest of the society, even if a strike is a strategic negotiation tactic.

A very crucial difference between the latest financial crisis compared and the one 11 years ago is that people now emphasize sharing jobs and working in unison. The question is how to implement job sharing, and labor unions at conglomerates are in the middle of the discussion. As the unions hold tightly to their interests, unprotected irregular workers and smaller subcontractors will come under extra pressure. In order to improve the treatment of irregular workers, unions must swallow a certain amount of loss out of courtesy and a sense of honor to society.

Public corporations are equally shameless as they are reluctant to carry out reform in an attempt to keep their jobs. They know too well that privatization-driven reform begins with the idea to reduce the evil of monopolies, to enhance efficiency and to seek new business opportunities and growth engines, but they are hindering the reform because it would cost a few jobs. Such an attempt is impolite to other citizens who wish for public sector reform.

A few days ago, a new economic team was named. The lineup suggests the Blue House tried to listen to public opinion. If the early cabinet seemed like shameless choices inspired by complacent decisions and distribution of power, at least the latest appointments reflect a courtesy to the citizens and the market by prioritizing trust over personal obligations.

Therefore, it is proper for the opposition party, which demanded the old economic team step down and is positive about the new one, to proceed with the hearing process in a timely manner. It should also cooperate to handle supplementary bills related to the economy. If the opposition party wants to use the opportunity to push for ideological bills or appointments of other positions, it is self-contradictory and shameless.

Regardless of the party, the National Assembly is expected to continue the cooperation it has shown in passing the budget as a courtesy to citizens.

Because we need speedy decisions, early execution of the budget as well as supplementary budget planning are inevitable. And the National Assembly is obliged to oversee and seek accountability for expenses as representatives of the taxpayers.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park Tae-wook
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