Betting on a three-year plan

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Betting on a three-year plan


Kim Jong-soo

The 1970s and 1980s have made a comeback and are being referenced in film, fashion and music. If retro is in for our pop artists, when it shuffles onto the political stage, it comes off as a bit awkward, embarrassing and just plain outdated. In her New Year’s address, President Park Geun-hye unveiled a three-year plan to reshape the economy. The name was borrowed, or “tweaked” in the current parlance, from the five-year plans of her father’s days, the 18-year rule of Park Chung Hee in the 1970s and 1980s. Instead of “development” as an objective, this plan’s goal was engraved with the epithet “innovation.” But for anyone with a decent memory, it was clearly nothing more than recycled material from President Kim Young-sam and his New Economy Five-Year Plan.

Moreover, the idea of an economic “plan” came out of the blue. The so-called plan looked suspiciously like it was hastily plumped up in time for the New Year’s address. After the president announced the plan, Hyun Oh-seok, deputy prime minister for the economy, said the government will unveil detailed steps for its implementation by the end of February. It sounded like the government had been given unwelcome homework. The term was set at three years instead of the usual five because, presumably, President Park was already going into the second year of her term.

The main goals of the plan were normalization of the abnormal - referring to public-sector reform - fostering a so-called creative economy and perking up domestic demand. The government said all three must be achieved to fix the structural and chronic weaknesses of the Korean economy, which robs it of growth potential. The goals and direction sounded plausible enough.

But the three elements don’t fit very well in a single package. They do not correspond or correlate with one another to accomplish one effective purpose. Public-sector reform and a more creative economy have been promised by the new government from its first year. Boosting the domestic economy is no different from the government’s commitments since the latter half of last year. What we see in the plan is repackaged or reworded policies of the past, or existing ones started up with new names.

Still, people are happy to hear a president’s commitment to the economy. After stumbling through its first year, the Park government finally focused on the economy and ways to boost growth. Another sign of progress is that it laid out specific numerical targets: 4 percent potential growth, a 70 percent overall employment rate and per capita national income of $40,000. Some sneered that the targets were recycled and scaled down from the Lee Myung-bak administration, which promised 7 percent growth, a national income of $40,000 and the seventh-largest economy in the world. But as the president said herself, “We need specific numerical targets to lay out what the government aims for to bring happiness to people’s lives.” She was right to work toward boosting economic growth.

Goals such as public-sector reform to reboot and reshape the economy, however, were all attempted by past governments in vain. The public, nevertheless, pinned hope on Park’s plan because the president is known for her commitment to her promises. Public-sector reforms have been stalled or stopped by union protests. But judging from the unwavering stance the government demonstrated during the longest-ever public rail workers’ strike, this president might succeed in silencing such opposition.

Past governments also pledged deregulation to expand and deepen the domestic market, but they failed to follow through. Without will and drive from the leadership, liberalization cannot succeed. Park said she will personally chair the cabinet meeting on deregulation and reform. If the president is at the helm, that could make the difference.

The incumbent government could accomplish more than past administrations if it reforms public corporations and agencies, and eases regulations to expand the domestic market. The means won’t matter if the end is accomplished. So what if the initial planning and design were sloppy? If the government has its focus straight and drives forward unwaveringly, that should be enough. What the people want to see is action and results. It took a year for this government to get its act together. Let’s hope it pulls its plan off.

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

By Kim Jong-soo

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