[Viewpoint] Ahn’s misperception of big business

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[Viewpoint] Ahn’s misperception of big business

Ahn Cheol-soo seems to be on everyone’s mind. He is the subject of endless praise for having “graciously” passed up a sure win in the Seoul mayoral election. Many say they will cast their votes for Ahn should he run for the presidency, that he is a person to be admired.

I personally experienced the extent of Ahn’s fame two years ago, when I wrote a column that was somewhat critical of him. In the column, I wrote that he was not exactly the “admirable entrepreneur” that many had begun to call him. It was awkward to see him lecture on entrepreneurship, and I do not believe he has lived that fiercely as an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurship requires intense gambling with the stakes of all of one’s capabilities. An entrepreneur is someone who is willing to do anything to advance his innovation and business.

But Ahn stopped halfway and gave up being an entrepreneur without having accomplished much. He has not exercised the type of entrepreneurship about which he lectures. His company has not created many jobs for youth or produced revolutionary innovations like Apple. I thought it strange of him to demand from others what he has failed to do himself.

The column containing those opinions drew a cascade of resentful and reproachful e-mails and online comments. Never in my 20 years of journalism did one of my articles generate such hot responses. Most were not pretty. I think I received my lifetime’s worth of swear words in a single day.

I was generally aware that Ahn had a lot of fans, and my next thought was that such frenzied stardom could be his biggest handicap.

Absolute power that does not tolerate criticism always falls. We have seen a recent example of this phenomenon in former Grand National Party Chairwoman Park Geun-hye and how her hitherto unwavering approval ratings took a beating from a simple slip of the tongue. To a persistent journalist asking about her thoughts on Ahn and his sky-high popularity, she snapped “Are you sick?” The media went crazy reporting on the touchy response from the soft-voiced Park, who rarely loses temper publicly.

Whatever Ahn decides to do is entirely his choice, but I would like to suggest something, especially if he decides to run for political office. I hope he changes his misleadingly dichotomous view that large companies are bad and small ones good. He should stop blaming large companies for supposedly ruining small businesses with predatory and unfair practices or worsening youth unemployment. He should stop brainwashing young minds into believing that our society is a mess because the government is doing a bad job in its supervisory role and is hopelessly unfair because of its abundant tolerance and generosity to the elite.

It is true that small and midsize companies are facing tough times. They are lagging further and further behind their bigger counterparts. And, more generally, there are also problems like wealth polarization and high joblessness among the young.

But what is the cause of these problems? Ahn pinpoints large companies. Large business groups with their sprawling operations have gobbled up market share from smaller companies, he says. Struggling small and midsize companies, as a result, cannot hire.

But large companies cannot be entirely to blame. Small and midsized companies have brought on their own misfortune. First of all, there are far too many of them for our economy to sustain. The ratio of small and midsized companies to our gross domestic product is larger than that ratio in Japan or the U.S. by five to seven times.

Part of the reason we have so many smaller companies is that businesses which cannot survive on their own are being inefficiently sustained, thus endangering the corporate habitat. Many muddle through only on government subsidies or supply contracts with large companies. They hardly have any desire to hone their competitiveness. They are uninterested in developing export markets or in innovating.

Large companies could not have caused all these problems. There are companies which are undaunted by their business scale that innovate and make inroads overseas.

Large companies can be domineering and greedy. But their nature alone is not killing the smaller corporate inhabitants. Ahn is misleading the public when he preaches that large companies are the culprits for our social and economic problems. His opinions would not matter if he remained a less public figure. But he is in the spotlight now. In the fierce global corporate world, one misstep could be fatal. The American economy may survive without Apple or GE, but our economy is not so strong. It cannot afford the demise of a Motorola. Moreover, it is wrong to teach young minds the coward’s way of blaming others.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kim Young-ook
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