Limits to politics, political science

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Limits to politics, political science

The New Year started amid a sense of anxiety, which was likely caused by broad disappointment in the country’s poor - or paralyzed - politics. There may be various reasons for this, but politicians, particularly political leaders, must be held accountable.

Whether it is a matter of the economy, society, environment or culture, the primary cause and resolution for an issue must be found in politics, and this means that lawmakers’ responsibilities are heavier than ever.

Politics is a living organism, and accurately diagnosing its condition and properly treating it is the job of political scientists - like Aristotle and Mencius, part of the classic tradition.

But captivated by excessive confidence in their abilities, or by primitive misunderstanding that being pushy rather than using sophisticated theories is the best plan in politics, political leaders often ignore scholarly lessons.

Politics and political science, therefore, weaken side by side because of an insufficient understanding of the primary gap between academic theory and actual reality.

Scholarly research, particularly in the democratic era, is meticulous and specific in its prognoses, but it is often also too ambiguous, too costly or comes with too many side effects for politicians to actually implement them.

In Korea, the presidential election pledge promising “economic democratization,” which heavily contributed to the outcome, is a classic example of an ambiguous policy presented without proper feasibility reviews.

Because it was needed at the time, the ruling and opposition candidates both touted this policy goal, though it became more effective for Park Geun-hye, the conservative ruling party candidate, because it livened up her progressive image and allowed her to hold a relatively dominant position.

It is, however, unclear how meticulously scholars have thought about a specific plan to achieve economic democratization.

Government officials reached the conclusion shortly after President Park’s inauguration that the situation at home and abroad was too unstable to push forward such an economic agenda.

A dramatic episode in France that unfolded earlier this year is another example that demonstrates that academic theories cannot always relate to the actual state of affairs.

It was noteworthy that economist Thomas Piketty, the author of “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” who has consistently criticized wealth and income inequality, turned down the Legion D’Honneur - France’s highest distinction.

During the 2012 presidential election, Piketty supported Francois Hollande, then the candidate for the French Socialist party, because they shared the view that the most urgent problem of the 21st century, particularly for France, was inequality.

But when President Hollande later announced that he would not push forward a 75 percent super-tax on annual income over 1 million euros ($1.2 million), Piketty’s disappointment was obvious, and he subsequently rejected the national order.

We must pay attention to the fact that although the two agreed to resolve wealth inequality, Piketty’s scholarly opinion and Hollande’s judgment as president came into conflict. This is the difference between theory and reality.

Because running a country is a comprehensive art, policy must be selected comprehensively based on various factors in addition to economic inequality.

As previously stated, the leaders of state affairs, like Hollande, need a prescription that has gone through the most reasonable calculation based on comprehensive perspective, rather than a separate one for each and every sector.

In a democratic country, obtaining majority support is a precondition for making comprehensive judgment. Without earning power based on public support, a leader cannot implement a policy effectively.

Hollande recorded his lowest approval rating ever, even though he had a politically golden opportunity right in front of him.

The terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris prompted an increase in French patriotism, and Hollande emerged at the center of it.

And yet, the challenge to create a community full of brotherly love from a multicultural, multi-religious society, in addition to realizing freedom and equality, remains as France moves forward.

Its ordeal, in which it was forced to embrace the limit of politics and political science, is a lesson to us all.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 26, Page 31

The author is the former prime minister and an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hong-koo

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