Two sides of the same coinPresident-elect Park Geun-hye has nominated Hyun Oh-seok, president of the Korea Development Institute, for finance minister and deputy prime minister for economy under her new administration. An avid proponent of growth, Hyun has repeatedly prioritized economic advancement over “economic democratization.” That bodes ill for the Park administration’s future as it could signal a critical reversal of her campaign pledge to realize economic fairness.
First of all, we welcome Park’s decision to pursue growth-oriented policies. The economy is expected to register an unprecedented low growth of 2 percent following last year. If our economic engine for growth loses steam, we cannot create new jobs or fund the ever-growing demand for welfare. The Hyundai Research Institute forecast that Korea can achieve a per capita income of $40,000 by as late as 2032 if our potential growth staggers at 1 to 2 percent.
Hyun fits the job as economy chief. Given his four-year career as head of the government think tank, he does not have to waste time studying our economic challenges and solutions, but that doesn’t mean that his new economic team should devote itself to economic growth only. In the absence of a deputy prime minister for social welfare, he should oversee not only economic but welfare policies as well. The so-called economic democratization, reconstruction of the middle class and easing of the economic polarization were the hottest issues of the last presidential election. So he must take care of those tasks as well.
Meanwhile, conglomerates seem to breathe a sigh of relief out of expectations that Hyun will not embark on stiff regulations on them. It remains to be seen as the seat of chairman of the Fair Trade Commission - a primary agency for corporate regulations - is yet to be filled. But the consensus is that strong government regulations on chaebol seem unlikely.
Obsession with numeric growth as in the past must also be avoided. The purpose of growth is to make a bigger economic pie for fairer distribution. Hyun’s economic team must not forget that growth for the sake of growth only deepens social polarization. His communication with Chin Young, a nominee for health and welfare minister, is crucial as welfare and growth are two sides of the same coin. Lee Hun-jai, former deputy prime minister for economy under the Roh Moo-hyun administration, had trouble pushing ahead with economic policies due to friction with then Welfare Minister Kim Keun-tae. Hyun must learn lessons from the conflict.