[Viewpoint] Chung has delicate balancing act

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[Viewpoint] Chung has delicate balancing act

I have written several times about Chung Un-chan, President Lee Myung-bak’s designate for prime minister. In 2001, I wrote about him for a monthly magazine as one of the intellectuals who represent Korean centrism. And last year, I also wrote in the Monthly JoongAng that Chung was one of 20 intellectuals conducting a major examination of Korean society after the liberation from Japan, a group that includes professors Paik Nak-chung, Choi Jang-jip and Park Se-il.

I would like to stress once again that I have no personal connection with Chung. We studied different fields in different schools.

I have only paid attention to Chung because of the influence that his work and arguments have made on the nation’s intellectual and sociological views. I was interested in him because he was a Keynesian economist, a rare breed in Korea.

As evident from Chung’s self-identification as a “micro-Keynesian” or “Keynesian-reformist,” John Maynard Keynes has influenced Chung’s economics greatly. Keynesian economic programs would adjust profits from capital and labor through employment and welfare policy.

In the postwar era, Keynesian economics brought about the golden age, but lost its power for a time after welfare states faced a crisis in the mid 1970s.

The argument, however, is still powerful, as we can see from the social democracy political parties’ return to the power in the mid 1990s.

Chung’s micro-Keynesian economic views are, of course, far different from the Keynesian economics of Western society. In the Western world, where markets are well developed, Keynesian economics focuses on the government’s intervention to revive the economy by expanding demand when a market fails or an economy slows.

In contrast, micro-Keynesian economics is a program for the government to lead a market to revitalize an economy in a country where markets are not well developed, like Korea.

Based on such views, Chung has evaluated policies of the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, and the assessments always have had two sides.

Chung positively evaluated the Kim administration’s efforts to build a social safety net, but noted that some policies, including certain financial ones, have failed.

Interestingly enough, Chung found the cause of the failure in bureaucracies and conglomerates.

Although the nation reached a consensus on reform during the early days of Kim’s term, bureaucrats and conglomerates rejected it, and reform failed to proceed properly, Chung has argued.

After becoming the Seoul National University president in 2002, Chung refrained from publishing. Even so, he expressed his view on the Korea-U.S. free trade negotiation, one of the most debated issues of the Roh administration.

Chung supported it as part of a larger picture, but had reservations on specifics.

Although it was inevitable to further open up the economy in a time of globalization, the scope and timing of the opening must be adjusted based on the global economic trends and the Korean economy’s capabilities, Chung argued at the time.

I want to stress two things.

First, I feel that the centrist views of Chung complement, rather than overlap, Lee’s centrist pragmatism. While centrist pragmatism seeks to create people-friendly policies, the philosophy is still based on tax cuts, deregulation, privatization, labor flexibility and, most of all, a neo-liberalism that seeks to curtail government.

That’s significantly different than Chung’s centrism, which is based on micro-Keynesian economics.

Second, a prime minister is a public servant and a politician.

While Chung has administrative experience, including his time as the Seoul National University president, politics is still an unfamiliar territory to him. It remains to be seen how he will resolve social conflicts and unite the nation.

Based on Chung’s philosophy, we wonder what resolutions he will present to resolve the Yongsan incident, the non-regular worker issue and the worsening polarization of society.

In other words, Chung’s task is consolidating centrist pragmatism of the centrist-conservatives and the micro-Keynesian economics of the centrist-liberals. How Chung unites the two centrist views into a single centrism and the two nations into one will determine not only his future, but also that of the Lee administration.

When writing about Chung last year, I addressed his passionate love of baseball. As an ardent fan of the sport, Chung once worked as a commentator.

Becoming a head coach of a baseball team is perhaps a dream of all baseball fans. The head coach coordinates a game. He has to manage the tempo of a game and maximize players’ capabilities.

Chung will have to go through a confirmation hearing before officially beginning his job as a prime minister, but the expectations are high for him to successfully play a role as a new head coach.

*The writer is a professor of sociology at Yonsei University.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Ho-ki

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