[Viewpoint] The masses have power nowNow that the big party is over, let’s take a look at how the world is turning. The history of the last generation from the end of the 20th century to the beginning of the 21st can be summed up as “the era of globalization.” In addition to the globalization of markets, the ideas and structure of just about every field, including society, information and culture, have become globalized and universalized.
The change in centuries made the people the most important power source in most nations, and existing government systems and international organizations are faced with a trial of history as to whether they can properly respond to the emergence of such mass power.
Therefore, the global financial crisis of the last three years and the importance of the G-20 Summit meetings in its aftermath should be understood in the context of the progress and also the pain of globalization.
There is no denying that the globalization of the market economy has made a great contribution in accelerating rapid growth and drastically reducing poverty all over the globe. However, the criticism that economic growth actually aggravated the gap between classes and nations is also convincing.
The gap between the rich and the poor is growing even in countries maintaining constant growth such as China and India. The gap between the traditional developed world and the developing world is widening, and the gap between the newly emerging economies, called the BRICs, and the poorest countries is growing.
As a whole, we need a more comprehensive diagnosis and prescription beyond market globalization in order to rescue the world from the global imbalance issue.
The globalization of financial capital markets has caused two major economic crises in the last 13 years. The financial crisis of 1997-1999 was ignited in Asia. Ten years later, in 2007, the financial crisis began from Wall Street, the cathedral of capitalism.
The globalization of the market economy turned the entire world into a contagion zone for financial crises. Therefore, it is very fortunate that coordinate actions, such as the G-20 meetings, were taken, and the Seoul summit last week produced some notable achievements.
However, in order to make sure the series of joint responses are successful, individual participating nations are demanded to display solid determination and the ability to execute various policies. The politics of the major nations should be based on a comprehensive understanding of the mutual destiny of the world.
The crisis is an economic one, but the initiatives and execution of the solutions depend on political decisions.
In order to build a structure of solid cooperation in the globalization era, we need to act together on issues beyond the economic crisis, such as the preservation of the environment, response to climate changes and “human security,” or preventing anti-humanitarian acts that undermine basic human rights and communities.
When all nations take preservation of humanity, the environment and community as the ultimate political goal, we will have a future of peace and prosperity for the globe. However, I cannot help but doubt whether the political systems and leaders of many countries can bear this historic challenge. Globalization of information and perception have made the masses an important source of power. Moreover, the expansion of the middle class has increased public opinion’s pressure on the system, making the existing leaders nervous and pressing them to seek political reform.
China is no exception. Democratic systems including the United States, France and Japan are experiencing serious political instability amid economic crises. As the perception grows that the sharing of the burden of an economic slump is unfair, distrust and resistance against the existing political system also grows.
The public demands more aggressive state intervention to help people in trouble while also protesting against that power. The contradictions of the masses have a centrifugal force that negates the centripetal force needed for efficient state operation. The trials of advanced democratic politics are not mere failures of communication but reflect structural shortcomings.
Chaos and instability continue in Korea, as we deny or refuse the basic task of diagnosing the essence of a political crisis, which is just as serious as the economic crisis. Politics is growing ever farther away from a serious discussion on how we will lead the future of a community troubled with the highest suicide rate and the lowest fertility rate.
After the threat of another great depression, countries around the world are working to streamline state systems and strategies.
In short, they have launched a political crusade to change the balance between classes and nations. Korean politicians seem busy fighting with each other over trivial issues. It is about time they start drafting strategies for the future.
*The writer is a former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Lee Hong-koo