Geun-hye-nomics upside downFirst impressions can sometimes be decisive. Solomon Asch, a pioneer in social psychology, demonstrated the effect of first impressions through empirical studies. When you hear that a person who gives a favorable impression is intelligent, you immediately regard the person as smart. But upon hearing similar comments about a person who gives a bad impression, you see the person as cunning. Asch concluded that most people give more weight to their first impressions of a person than to their later ones.
This tendency is also called the “Primacy Effect.” I applied Asch’s idea in a different study. Which of the following lists of economic priorities is more liberal or progressive? Group A lists growth, welfare, distribution, lower tuition fees, and economic justice or democratization. Group B lists economic democratization, lower tuition, distribution, welfare, and growth.
Most would choose B. The lists are actually the same except for their orders. Yet we see Group A and B in different lights. Under Asch’s reasoning, it is because we are influenced by the first or primary word. Now, let us study the economics of President-elect Park Geun-hye.
What impression do we get? Park’s voice and language is that of a conservative. Her campaign’s banner cry was “Let us all live well,” and it was accompanied by a pledge to “expand the middle class to account for 70 percent of the population.” Her slogan is typical conservative rhetoric recycled from the “growth-first-everything-else-later” industrialization days. The latter promise was and is popular among both liberals and conservatives.
They are both important notions and should certainly be pursued. But they are lacking because they are not based on the economic philosophy of the new leader. In addition, they do not fit well with the current of the times. “Let us live well” implies that we are hungry and need to overcome poverty. It’s the kind of slogan that resonated during the days of poverty and propaganda politics.
Today, however, people can endure hunger but not a sense of envy and resentment. They hunger from a diet of envy. If Park ignores that, she cannot accomplish social unity or embrace the other half - the 48 percent of the people who voted for her rival in the December presidential election, candidate Moon Jae-in from the main opposition party.
Park should first adjust the order of her to-do list. She must place economic democratization at the top of the list. She then could use the voice of a liberal and talk in their language to connect with the people on the other side of the ideological spectrum.
She should look back on the campaign trail. The primary issue was economic democratization, or trickle-down economics. It eclipsed other issues, like benefits for non-salaried workers and lowering of college tuitions, on the social media services that reflect liberal opinions.
The biggest problem for smaller enterprises and the self-employed are inequalities in the supposed trickle-down of economic benefits. Park became first among presidents-elects to visit the interest group of small and mid-sized enterprises before the Federation of Korean Industries, which lobbies for large conglomerates.
Park promised that the welfare of smaller companies and tending to their needs will be her top priority. On her advice, the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Business began to compile what kind of changes and needs smaller companies demand most. Of 222 suggestions, 35 were associated with the issue of economic democratization.
Once the order is realigned, Park should pick the right people for the job ahead. Who are best qualified? It should be a person with the best first impression. The best candidate would be Kim Chong-in, who served as the architect of Park’s economic platform, mainly her vision of democratization.
Kim has been a staunch champion of democratization in the economy. There are few who can beat his credentials among liberals as well. Placing him at the helm could immediately impress voters who did not vote for Park. Those doubtful of the president-elect would have their doubts erased upon her choice of the economic team leader. Even if polices are made up of conservative recipes, they could be presented in liberal ways if he is the main chef.
The veteran politician is rough and tough. He did not compromise with either Lee Han-koo - floor leader and expert on economy at the ruling Saenuri Party - or Park. If he goes too far, he could be replaced. He does not have strong roots in the party and therefore is less burdened by conflicting demands or loyalties. No one in the ruling party can better carry out tricky tests and challenges, such as reforming the chaebol, than he. There is no reason not to use him.
But Park is going in the opposite direction. The presidential transition team has not once in press briefings uttered the buzzword “economic democratization” that Park and her party used so repeatedly on the campaign trail. In the new government restructure, she has upgraded the finance minister to the deputy prime minister level, but did not bestow equal power to the welfare minister.
The primary role of the upgraded finance minister will be fostering growth. The transition committee explained that the revival of the deputy prime minister is to help restore the economy’s soundness. Park’s aides also said that economic democratization is losing urgency. The basis of Park’s economic principles must be trusted. She promised to deliver and accomplish economic justice. If she plans to keep the pledge, she must not put it off.
The banner cry “Let’s live well” was rhetoric from the days of her father Park Chung Hee to push the country out of the rubble of war and toward modernization. Her father solved the hunger problem. Now his daughter should fix what people need and long for. Their dual accomplishments would be an honor to the family name and a blessing to the country.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yi Jung-jae