[Viewpoint] Down with ‘fairness’Consistency guarantees success. Consistency in policies produces achievements. It is one of the characteristics of a great leadership. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who died in 2004. Eastern Europe has recently been focusing on the legacy of Reagan.
Reagan’s achievement is the victory of consistency. He labeled the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and put pressure on Soviet diplomatic and military policies. It was lonely work to keep a hard-line, aggressive policy in the midst of mighty disagreement and strong resistance. Most of the media in the United States disagreed with Reagan and criticized him as a war maniac.
He, however, refined his vision and strengthened his courage. His attitude was persistent and continuous. The fall of the Berlin Wall was the outcome. Reagan ended the Cold War of the 20th century and the Soviet Union fell apart. He was the producer and director of the blockbuster moment of our time.
Consistency overrules chaos. When Reagan began his first presidential term, global affairs were rough. The U.S. economy and its society were in crisis. He reshaped the governing philosophy for the country and redefined the framework of the policy with values of liberal democracy and market economy. He said those ideas would remain unchanged. As time went by, his consistent policies took root. Public servants and the government became capable of breakthroughs in state affairs.
Inconsistency is the Lee Myung-bak administration’s problem. When Lee first became president, the philosophy of his government was pragmatism. He also promoted centrist, working class-friendly policies. That was okay. Last August, however, Lee presented a different vision of making Korea a “fair society.” And problems rose. The identity of his administration and its governance philosophy were disrupted.
Lee’s top priority is reviving the “livelihood economy,” a term for people who live from paycheck to paycheck, but little progress has been made. The livelihood economy will recover when companies invest and wealthy people spend money.
And yet, the fair society slogan distorted policies based on common sense. It pushed the government to do things it really shouldn’t. The flexibility of pragmatism was lost and the illusion of progress became more important than what was actually achieved.
Policies favorable to companies and the rich were abandoned. The business community and the wealth class were berated by public opinions and intimidated. Their money stopped flowing and the hardships of the working class worsened. The idea of “fairness” actually worked against the working class.
The slogan of a fair society also influenced law enforcement in officialdom. Public servants became unreasonably cautious about ethics and transparency. Civil servants chose to eat at government cafeterias, run by conglomerates, to avoid any suspicion that they were getting free meals from people or bribes under the restaurant tables. Mom-and-pop restaurants near government complexes emptied out. The fair society, once again, worked against the working class people.
Fairness is an inflammatory word. It is a moral virtue. It is a goal that needs to be handled with a subtle and careful approach. When it becomes a sledgehammer, things get broken.
That’s why it’s troublesome to make a slogan policy. Although an administration may benefit from redefining its image, that’s a very short-term effect which is soon to end when the society trammels up the consequences of the policy. The Lee Blue House probably didn’t consider the harm that could come from fairness. It probably didn’t consider that a “fair society” campaign would crush the consistency of pragmatism.
To maintain consistency, Reagan communicated. He tried hard to persuade the opposition, while offering confirmation to his supporters about the future of his government. His communication won public trust in the policies of his government.
Communication is not about trying to read public opinion. It is about convincing people to support a leader’s national agenda. At the beginning of his term, Lee’s philosophy of pragmatism was clear-cut. True welfare is creating jobs and easing regulations on companies, he argued. The Blue House, however, failed to convince the public of the wisdom of that policy. So it made a U-turn.
The ruling party has shelved pragmatic welfare plans. Instead, populist pledges such as “half-price” tuition and free school lunch for everyone, even the children of the wealthiest families, were made. Ultimately, the Grand National Party ended up following its rival, the Democratic Party, without any shame.
A government fails when it loses consistency. President Lee must return to his original idea of pragmatism. And the clock is ticking.
*The writer is executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Park Bo-gyoon