Revamping national governance
In the 70 years since its liberation, Korea has achieved dramatic success, but toxins abound that could result in our downfall. No country has seen the kind of success that Korea has earned among the former colonies that gained independence following World War II.
Korea is the only country that has become an aid giver among aid receivers, attaining condensed modernization bordering revolution. Koreans today and in the future will take pride in our unprecedented industrialization, income expansion, national strength, democratization and the spread of the Korean Wave.
However, the shadow of success stretches long and dark. People are distrustful and reluctant to have children. Materialism prevails. It is an undeniable reality in Korea.
The birth rate, social confidence and trust in politicians and the government are the lowest among comparable nations, and the suicide rate, abortion rate, perjury, calumny and fraud rates are the highest.
The income gap is growing most rapidly among the members in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Despite having the 13th-largest economy, the poverty rate among the elderly is the highest. As we confront these naked truths, many have begun to wonder whether all this success was worth it.
While Korea succeeded in modernization, the dignity, discord and way of operation are not enough to attain further advancement. Korea is driven by an immediate election and lacks future strategy, long-term vision and consistent administration. People are crazy about education while the education system fails to teach citizenship, responsibility, a sense of service and creativity. Politicians do not take responsibility and focus on protecting their privileges and interests.
The Sewol ferry disaster and the Sung Wan-jong payoff scandal were not caused by a few individuals. They were created by Korean society. They are the fruits of the deeply and inherent corruption in the system. Unless this changes, it will be hard to change the distorted behaviors of a few and keep the community from becoming divided.
Today, Korea knows what needs to be done but still fails to correct itself. Many of us worry about society and have ideas for reform, but these never mature into organized forces. The combination of a defense mechanism for the privileged, the breach of promise from state powers, growing distrust and differences, chaos of values and social classes leads Korean society onto a path of division and stagnation. While citizens and the media expressed frustration and anger over the Sewol ferry disaster, not much has changed over the past year. Understanding the comprehensive crisis of the nation and the execution of reform must begin from reorganizing the management structure of the state.
However, discussion for reform should not be solely left to the National Assembly. The Assembly is also included among the objects of state management reform. While constitutional amendments need to be passed by the National Assembly, leaving the task to parliament would only result in the reinforced authority of the legislature. The National Assembly currently has formidable authority, but individual lawmakers are not kept accountable for state administration. Reinforced authority of the Assembly would make politics even more irresponsible.
Instead, constitutional amendments that enhance the authority and term of the president and the executive branch would be more appropriate. Only then, can the state authority handle and reform the strengthened and concentrated market authority.
We may want to consider a plan to have two houses in the assembly and have the upper house focus on the future of the nation and a long-term development plan, rather than immediate interests.
The upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom is the House of Lords, where members hold seats for life. They are experts in their own field. The U.S. Congress is also bicameral, with the upper house being the Senate. Congressmen in the House of Representatives serve two years and each represent portions of the population in their home states, while each state is represented by two senators, who serve six-year terms. Senators address the national administration with a long-term perspective.
Constitutional revision should not be postponed and lose priority to economic recovery. It is something that must be done to save the nation. The Constitution and the management structure of the state are the backbone of the country. When citizens accomplish this task through ample discussion and sufficient verification, we will be left with a nation that we can proudly hand off to the next generation.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff JoongAng Ilbo, May 2, Page 27
*The author is an economics professor at Sogang University.
by Cho Yoon-jae