[Viewpoint] The power of knowledge

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[Viewpoint] The power of knowledge

Western society has dominated the world for the last four centuries, not because of military or economic might, but through the power of thought. The revolutionary scientific revelations by Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and Rene Descartes in the 16th and 17th centuries evolved into philosophical awakenings from great thinkers like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, leading to the civilian and industrial revolution in Europe and effecting rationalization in the social and market systems.

European countries like Britain have lost much of their past military and manufacturing fame but nevertheless maintain an international edge in finance, legal and consulting services because of their knowledge power. Regardless of economic size, the West still exercises its clout in running international bodies and setting world security, environment, trade, and monetary and financial order.

The Asian Development Bank in its recent study said Asia will account for 52 percent of the global gross domestic product by 2050. For the first time in three centuries, Asia will account for more than half of the global economy and regain the dominant economic position it held before the Industrial Revolution, the bank said.

Asia will make strides toward the central stage over the next four decades, considering the regional economy currently accounts for 27 percent of the global share.

Of 50 Asian countries, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Thailand and Malaysia are expected to lead the march. The seven economies will account for 90 percent of the regional GDP by 2050 and 45 percent of global output. For the next 40 years, the seven will be credited with 87 percent of the Asian economic growth and 55 percent of global growth.

The bank also said Asian economic powerhouses like Korea and Japan will exercise leadership not only in science and technology innovation to drive the Asian renaissance, but also in transforming the region into an advanced welfare community. But are we qualified to live up to the bank’s expectations?

We have a lot of challenges to work on. We must first of all change our socializing and drinking culture. Our society must grant time and space to read and think and determine individual success based on intelligence and capabilities.

The culture of flocking together underscores that our society functions on connections rather than individual capabilities and intelligence. People zigzag in and out of traffic to show their faces at various celebrations held by their acquaintances as well as alumni and social group meetings.

A society too busy with making and cementing connections has little time and energy left to build and develop the mind. Korean men are some of the world’s biggest alcohol consumers. A country where getting to work with a hangover is commonplace also has the lowest work productivity level among members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

Intellectuals should be the first to raise awareness and lead the campaign to change our bad habits. University professors, researchers, central government workers and those in various other specialized professions must be more strictly evaluated for their work performance. Higher education standards must be upgraded.

What is more urgent than lowering tuition fees is raising the quality of university education. Corporate culture must also change. A promotion should not be determined by one’s drinking ability. The engineering and technology field is already quickly changing in order to compete and survive among global rivals.

The transformation should spill over to the humanities and social sector.

In his article “The Myth of Asia’s Miracle,” economist Paul Krugman argued that Asia’s rapid economic development was based on perspiration rather than inspiration.

But the pace of growth in Asian economies won’t be sustained, as with the Soviet Union and the socialist economic bloc. His theory was often quoted after the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

But few would argue against Asia’s ascension in the global economy. To sustain its newfound status, Asia - including Korea - must be prepared to lead the global economic order. Last year was full of disillusionment and disappointment against our system and order. We must ruminate and act to create a new order in the new year.

The change should start from every one of us in our everyday behavior.

*The author is a professor of economics at Sogang University.

By Cho Yoon-jae
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