[Viewpoint] A team captain for the economy

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[Viewpoint] A team captain for the economy

In a sports game, the role of team captain is crucial. The captain is a representative of the team, and his role, on the surface, is limited to participating in the draw to decide which team will play first or interacting with game officials regarding interpretations of the rules. In reality, however, the role of a captain is far more than that.

A captain is the commander of the team on the battlefield. While the head coach is responsible for picking the players and creating a strategy, the captain’s leadership often decides the outcome on the ground. The captain is responsible for encouraging players in the middle of the game; he or she is also responsible for teamwork, supporting the players during training. The captain is also a mediator between the head coach and the players.

Because the role is crucial, it is not a job for just anyone. The captain must be completely trusted by the head coach. Excellent capabilities are a must, as well as experience and good character to gain the other players’ respect and trust.

It is hard, however, to find a captain who has all those qualities. It is an honor to be the captain of the team, but it is also a burden, requiring hard work. Therefore, many experienced players often turn down the offer. Unless one is determined to make both mental and physical sacrifices, it is hard to be the captain.

The group of senior economic policy officials is often called the “economic team” of the administration. While several ministries deal with economic policies, their jobs are closely linked and they must get along harmoniously to keep the nation’s economy running. Therefore, it is appropriate to call them a team, just like in a sports game.

President Lee Myung-bak recently created a captain position for his economic team and appointed Yoon Jin-sik, senior secretary for economic affairs, to double as the chief secretary for policy development and coordination. The senior secretary post is a vice-minister level job, while the chief secretary post is a minister-level position.

Until now, the Lee administration’s economic team had no captain. In the past, the deputy prime minister for the economy performed the role, but that position was scrapped under the Roh Moo-hyun administration and the captain post disappeared.

The minister of planning and finance, who was in charge of taxes and budget, was often called the head of the economic team, but he did not officially have that status. It was, therefore, hard to coordinate differences among ministries. Not only economic ministries, but also the Labor Ministry and the Health and Welfare Ministry sometimes spoke in conflicting ways, but there was no way to resolve the differences.

And not all deputy prime ministers for the economy played the role of captain. Some senior secretaries to the president for the economy, such as Kim Hak-ryeol during the Park Chung Hee administration and Kim Jae-ik under the Chun Doo Hwan Blue House, played the role of captain while there was still a deputy prime minister. Depending on how much the president trusted them, different officials played the role of the captain.

President Lee, since the early days of his administration, has not recognized the role of captain of his economic team. Perhaps Lee thought there was no need for a captain, because he himself knows the economy so well. Lee was the head coach and captain for economic policies, and ministers and senior secretaries only had to follow his directives.

It appears that Lee has now become aware of the need for a captain. It is inefficient for a head coach to double as captain. President Lee made clear that Yoon will be the captain by restructuring the senior secretariat so that education, welfare and labor senior secretaries will all report to him.

Yoon has many qualities that make him a good fit for the job of the captain. It will be even more desirable for Yoon, as captain, to not only follow the head coach’s directives and lead the players, but also give recommendations and advice to the head coach.

The head coach should trust the captain and allow him to run the game in normal times. It is also necessary to clearly define what the role of the senior advisor for economic affairs, the coach of the team, will be. If the head coach, coach and captain all give conflicting orders to the players, they’re unlikely to win.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jong-soo
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