[Viewpoint] A ‘democracy effect’ depends on us

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[Viewpoint] A ‘democracy effect’ depends on us

Democracy is worth pursuing for its own sake, though it comes with expectations.

We expect from a democracy such benefits as high-speed economic development and a fairer division of wealth.

However, the effects of democracy we most immediately experience are “loud” - like, for example, the recent flow of incidents including the four rivers restoration project, Sejong City and the conflict between the prosecution and the judiciary.

Is it simply democracy that is loud, and not its economic effects?

The academic world of liberal arts, social studies and natural science reveals the existence of all sorts of “effects”: the bandwagon effect, the butterfly effect, the boomerang effect. But there is no such thing as a defined “democracy effect.” Something can become an “effect” only if the causal relationship appears stable to a certain extent, but the effects of democracy on the economy, society and culture are vague.

The debate on the relationship between democracy and the economy is especially contentious. One view holds that democracy aids economic growth, another that it hinders it. Yet a third says that it is difficult to conclude either is true.

According to Robert Barro, a professor of economics at Harvard, there is a low correlation between economic growth and democracy. In other words, economic growth can be slow or rapid under either a democracy or a dictatorship.

Such diverse opinions arise because everyone has their own definition of democracy and economic growth.

While there are studies based on statistical analysis, the statistics are gathered from just over 100 countries. Therefore, the relationship between democracy and economic growth in Korea is a problem we must solve ourselves.

Koreans’ expectations were high for the start of a civilian government through the democratic process, the first change of administration between the government and opposition parties and the second change in administration.

But none of these resulted in immediate good fortune.

Disappointed people say, “It was better when we were not a democracy,” in pubs, taxis and on the Internet. Hostility against democratization and democracy is expressed today, too. Even strong opinions that military education centers should be established nationwide are heard.

But we should bear in mind that the United Kingdom’s government changed parties 14 times in the 20th century, and the United States switched nine times. Korea has had such transfers of power only twice since the beginning of legitimate democratic rule in 1993.

Democracy is hard. In the words of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, “A democracy is the most difficult kind of government to operate. It represents the last flowering, really, of the human experience.”

Korean democracy needs more time to bloom.

Before “democracy skepticism” spreads any further in Korea, democracy needs to be qualitatively developed. Along with Chile and Taiwan, Korea has seen the positive effects of authoritarianism on economic growth - but that connection has been cut. Chile and Taiwan ended up taking the democratic road, too. There is no turning back.

If we are to pursue democracy, we cannot go forward with the legacy from the age of authoritarian rapid development. Yet the tradition of a strong country and government should be maintained.

The academic claim that Korea’s rapid development was possible not because of authoritarianism but because of its strong culture and government is more persuasive. In a democratic age, democracy itself makes a culture and government strong.

Democracy is a system that makes possible the realization of creativity through “creative destruction.” Democracy itself is a subject of creative destruction.

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Democracy is not a static thing. It is an everlasting march.” So how will this march of democracy contribute to Korea?

Korea, the country that attained industrialization and democratization in the shortest time ever, has the potential to prove the “democracy effect.” We can show that democracy makes a second economic leap possible.

*The writer is an editor of the JoongAng Sunday.


By Kim Whan-yung
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