Keep the economy afloatMidterm local elections are over and it has been nearly two months since the Sewol ferry sinking. The country must shake out of its funk to stop the economy from also sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The economy has been dented by a collective pall over the nation after the tragedy. According to the Bank of Korea, real gross national income grew just 0.5 percent in the first quarter from the previous quarter, the lowest quarterly growth in two years. External factors are turning increasingly unfavorable too. The scope of U.S. tapering in its quantitative easing program is hard to decipher and China’s real estate market is showing ominous signs of a bubble bursting. Korean companies are losing competitiveness against Japanese rivals as the yen weakens, while the Korean won rises.
Despair and anger alone cannot resolve such a crisis. In fact, they will only make it worse. There is another crisis in the making from a prolonged economic slowdown. The government must protect its people not only from safety hazards, but economic dangers as well. A country faces a calamity if its young people are deprived of jobs and small businesses become insecure about their futures. The government must calmly and thoroughly proceed with its investigation into the causes of the ferry sinking and implement countermeasures to tighten our safety infrastructure. It also has to tend to the urgent matter of reviving the economy.
To place the economy back on the path of recovery, all the uncertainties must be removed. A new, qualified prime minister must take the helm to retool leadership in economic affairs. At the same time, consistency in economic policy must be ensured. The government announced a three-year plan to boost innovation through reforms in the public-sector and sweeping deregulation. Many are concerned there could be a shift in the direction of strengthening regulations amid criticism of laxity in oversight that led to the ferry sinking. President Park Geun-hye reiterated that the three-year plan will be pursued.
The role of the legislature has become more important than ever. The balanced vote in last week’s local elections underscores the public’s desire for bipartisanship, cooperation and better governance. Lawmakers must put aside differences for the common goals of investigating the Sewol sinking and reviewing legislation that affects our lives every day. They must demonstrate maturity in confirmation hearings and government reorganization plans. Everyone must do their part to keep the economy from sinking.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 7, Page 26