[Viewpoint] An envy of the world, rightfully so

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[Viewpoint] An envy of the world, rightfully so

“Other Ph.D. students cared about being right. This guy cared about finding the right answers,” said Laurence J. Kotlikoff, an economics professor at Boston University, about Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.

Pinera has become an international star for showing great leadership during the rescue of the 33 miners.

The Boston University professor is also a notable scholar who came into the spotlight with his diagnosis of the U.S. economy in August.

“The U.S. is bankrupt, and we don’t even know it,” he said.

Kotlikoff and Pinera both earned doctorates in economics from Harvard in 1976 and were close friends and friendly rivals.

Pinera’s prompt policy decisions and effective input of all available domestic and international resources during the mine crisis has given him a reputation as the textbook writer on crisis management.

The successful management of the mine crisis has boosted Pinera’s approval rating by about 10 percent, to 56 percent.

However, the bliss over Pinera means trouble for other countries.

There even were attempts to undermine the Chilean president’s accomplishments. For example, Omer Dincer, Turkey’s minister of labor, said on Wednesday that the operation to rescue the miners, trapped for 69 days, took too long, largely because of the design of the mine operation.

Many media members and bloggers around the world are now attacking politicians and leaders in their own countries by referring to Pinera and the Chilean mine saga.

Some accidents that occurred many years ago are now again under scrutiny. The Pasta de Conchos mine disaster in Mexico on Feb. 19, 2006, left 65 miners dead. The Mexican Mine Workers Union issued a statement last week criticizing the Mexican government for the Pasta de Conchos disaster. It said that the Chilean government’s rescue efforts were a “moral condemnation” of the brutal “antisocial conduct” of the Mexican government and industry.

Russian bloggers recalled the loss of the Kursk submarine in 2000. All 118 crew members died in the disaster. When asked what happened to the Kursk, then-Russian President Vladimir Putin simply replied: “It sank.” His indifferent attitude infuriated the public.

American citizens and the media are criticizing President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush for their responses to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and Hurricane Katrina, respectively. The two disasters resulted in a sharp drop in approval ratings for both presidents, Bush by 10 percent and Obama by 7 percent. Obama claims to have accomplished 70 percent of his election promises, but the Chilean mine saga’s crisis management is opening the issue again.

In the United States, 34 miners died in 2009. In the same year, 2,631 mine workers died in 1,616 accidents in China. Mine-related casualties in China decreased in 2009 by 18 percent compared to 2008.

On Oct. 16, interestingly, Chinese authorities announced guidelines requiring one executive to go down with miners when working in a shaft. The Chinese people are expressing frustration and anger by comparing Chinese leaders to the Chilean president.

Today, we rate our own leader by comparing him to the leaders of other countries. This trend provides politicians and leaders with an opportunity to learn from one another.

What can we learn from Chile? Chile has been known to practice pragmatic centrism, in both leftist and rightist administrations.

We can learn from Pinera’s pragmatism to prioritize “finding the right answer” over “being right” in resolving many of our own issues.

The Chilean mine disaster attracted attention from around the world and even the North Korean media covered the story. It has also reminded us that an average of 12,000 miners die in accidents every year around the globe.

In addition, the Chilean incident makes us aware of safety concerns in North Korean mines, with an estimated 7,000 trillion won ($6.21 trillion) worth of mineral resources.

In the South, there are 5,396 mines, including 4,996 mineral mines and 400 coal mines.

Before worrying about the situation in North Korea, we have a more urgent concern. Korea is still not a member of the Safety and Health in Mines Convention.

*The writer is an editor of the JoongAng Sunday.

By Kim Whan-yung
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