[Viewpoint] A virtuoso government

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[Viewpoint] A virtuoso government

In music, harmony is a combination of sounds that is pleasing to the ear. Among its functions, harmony adds depth and feeling to a piece of music. In our daily lives, communication plays the same role harmony plays in music. Through communication, different people can live harmoniously while the differences add depth to our lives.

The policy priorities of the Lee Myung-bak administration during the second half of his term should focus on communication and harmony. Because the government’s ability to communicate has been questioned many times in the past, there should be no argument about this goal.

Yet communication is not an easy task, particularly in Korea where ideological conflicts and splits created by regional and school ties run deep.

Still, no matter how hard the task may be, the government must not give up, because communication is the key to an administration’s success. There are three kinds of communication that the government must succeed with.

First, there is communication with the people. For an artist to create a true classic, he or she must communicate with the people. For a government to create a truly great policy, it must do the same.

To do that, it must provide information in advance and listen to other’s criticisms. That will eventually build up trust, and the policy will improve. There must be a test bed to reflect the people’s wisdom in policy making.

The four major rivers restoration project has become controversial, and conspiracy theories still spread about the Cheonan’s sinking, primarily because the government failed to communicate with the people.

No matter how important communication is, however, the government should not use its bully pulpit to satisfy the selfish demands of interest groups. That will be nothing more than demagoguery that would bring about the ultimate death of the common good. For the government to prevent such a tragedy, it must have firm belief in its actions.

The Lee Myung-bak administration’s touted middle-of-the-road philosophy does not tend toward the center of the traditional political spectrum. It is a third path with consistent values. Only with a solid philosophy can the government turn down unacceptable demands and figure out what should be eradicated.

The Korean people thirst for leaders who are able to perceive what all have in common, and who can create consensus. Recently, Harvard professor Michael Sandel’s book, “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?” has become a best seller, showing how much Koreans lack common values.

Communication within the government is another key to successful governance. A capable government system has the ability to coordinate, and this ability comes from communication.

Of course, proper communication within the government is a difficult task as ministries are often captives of their own interests, and the organizational culture of a government is often held hostage by hierarchical power.

In fact, in any government, there are the power elites who think they are the “owners” of the administration. To have proper communication within the government, such people must be made to focus on serving the people, not their own interests. If they are not, their heavy-handedness will silence the rank-and-file officials and those not tied to power, and coordination will just disappear. Meanwhile, only orders and directives will prevail. Then, problems within the government will just lie dormant.

When political power elites continue to show a heavy-handed attitude, career civil servants will lose their passion. Public servants, deprived of pride, will never satisfy the people.

The third task is promoting communication online. Today, Korea’s online and offline worlds are disconnected. While the offline world is built by experts, the online world is created by bloggers who are not professionals. The online world is dominated by the cult of the amateur, just as New York University’s Clay Shirky has argued. This means that the growth and spread of unprofessional opinions are possible in the online world.

Yet a capable democracy requires high-quality debate. Without such debate, a democracy will disintegrate into nothing more than popular politics. Unless debate in the online world improves in quality, debate in the offline world won’t see any improvement either.

That’s why the government must enter the online world. It must become a power blogger. It may feel hurt by debate, but it is better than remaining silent.

Only when the government has the capability to communicate in the online world will the N-generation pay attention to what the administration says. While it complains about the spread of wrong information on the Cheonan sinking online, the government is incapable of having an online debate to convince others of its view. How can we say that the government is trying to communicate?

There is an old saying that the soft, humble person will win over the world. The newly appointed presidential chief of staff reportedly has the motto “Treat others warmly, treat oneself sternly.” He must not forget this motto to achieve communication and harmony and set forth principles.

*The writer is a professor of management science at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

By Lee Hong-kyu
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