[Viewpoint] Is Korea ready for the next big step?

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[Viewpoint] Is Korea ready for the next big step?

The Republic of Korea has earnest dreams. It dreams of becoming an advanced nation and opening an era of peace on the Korean Peninsula. Peace requires the North’s response as well as the support of neighboring nations, so it is not necessarily just up to us. However, the dream of becoming an advanced nation is completely our responsibility.

Foreigners will never understand Koreans’ desire to build an advanced nation. We did everything to follow through in all we excel in, from technology and management to advanced systems and even to soccer. In order to cast off the sense of being defeated due to inferiority ? the remnants of the colonial era ? and the feeling of misery from the war, Koreans have endured the jeering of the world and clenched their teeth to come this far.

We have achieved industrialization and democratization. Others admire the achievements, calling them a miracle, but they do not know how much blood and tears we have shed to come to reach this point.

It feels like we are almost there. “Advancement” has become everyone’s slogan. The Lee Myung-bak administration’s national agenda is “advancement.” And suddenly, a crossroads has emerged as we have almost reached the destination. Will we be able to find the right path?

Are more than $30,000 per capita income and the 10th-largest economy around the world enough for Korea to be called an advanced nation? Or is Korea an advanced nation when its sports and culture are recognized by the world? Of course, all these factors are important. However, though quantitative growth is necessary for an advanced nation, it alone is insufficient.

Advancement requires qualitative growth as well. The former and current presidents have correctly said as much. In his address for the 49th anniversary of the April 19 democratization movement, President Lee Myung-bak said, “Advancement can never go hand in hand with corruption and irregularities.”

In his inaugural address, then President Roh Moo-hyun said, “The era of accepting cheating and privilege must end.”

They both were right. But if advancement were only to be achieved through words, we would be living in an advanced nation today.

Our way to industrialization was eased somewhat because we were building new privileges from ashes. There was no established group that fought development. Democratization, however, was relatively painful because those with established power, acquired during the era of industrialization, did fight the changes.

Advancement from this point will be far more difficult, because groups with vested rights are everywhere. Politicians, academics, businesses, media, labor unions, the education community, the bureaucracy, legal professionals and the religious community all fight the changes in order to protect their own turf. Both conservatives and liberals resist. Those with privileges reject reform.

While ideological convictions and other convincing justifications are behind their resistance, one thing is certain. No one wants to suffer a loss. So they have built a high fence behind which they justify their rights.

In the eyes of ordinary people, who really do not have any vested interests, their resistance is nothing more than a desire for privilege.

For the nation’s advancement, they have to give up their established positions, no matter how small. Will this be possible? The answer is why Korea’s advancement is so difficult.

Irregularities and privilege do not disappear just by making verbal promises. We must build a system of fairness that actually works. Establishing a practice forming a single queue was not achieved through a political campaign. A small machine resolved the problem.

At banks, hospitals, movie theaters and restaurants, people get a numbered ticket and wait their turn. That is a functioning system. It is providing a fair opportunity, giving no special treatment to anyone. Thus, no one complains.

The system is also great because it is possible to forecast how long your wait will be. When it is possible to make a prediction, then you can make plans. You can use the toilet while waiting for your turn, or you can run a quick errand. That is the true advancement. Through laws and systems, we can increase fairness and prediction, thus securing the “trust” of everyone.

There is, however, a major concern: While everyone is waiting for their turn with a numbered ticket, someone may make an unreasonable demand to jump in front of the line. The trust will collapse in a split second.

We may all be such a person. While we are verbally demanding fairness, we are probably looking for an opportunity to unjustly get ahead.

Advancement will not automatically come just because we have established a system. The key is mature public awareness of not demanding special treatment. Are we ready for it? In the answer rests the real reason why advancement is difficult.

*The writer is a political consultant and the chief executive officer of Minn Consulting.

by Park Sung-min
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