Time to speak from the heart“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we get our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest,” said Adam Smith. The pioneer of political economy believed humans were born selfish, and it was this self-interest, self-centered, rational and autonomous nature that drove an economy and society in material progress. Social scientists began to challenge the Enlightenment thinking in that century. It did not explain all the altruistic economic behaviors and phenomena. If everything is motivated by selfishness, what makes humans altruistic? Economist Jeremy Rifkin attributed it to empathy. We have the so-called mirror or empathy genes, allowing human beings to feel and put things as if the situation were one’s own. He maintains that only promotion of empathic consciousness stemming from sincerity can save human civilization in today’s complexities, challenges and conflicts.
The practice of altruism also can solve our society’s biggest political conundrum ? reform in the government employees’ pension plan. If Rifkin were to advise, he would say speak to the empathy of the public. But does the leader of the state have the ability to draw on such empathy?
So far we have not seen a trace of sincerity from the president. President Park Geun-hye, while presiding over a cabinet meeting a few days ago, raised her voice in addressing the topic. While letting out a big sigh, she called the government employees’ pension scheme a time bomb and pile of debt thrown into the laps of the future generation. She was not wrong. Yet her words were empty. It was as if she were reading a text. The problem with her rhetoric is that there is no evidence of sincerity.
I do not believe the president is incapable of being sincere. When she headed the main opposition Grand National Party - today’s ruling Saenuri Party - she suffered a knife attack while campaigning for a party candidate in Seoul. The first word she spoke as soon as she woke up after surgery on her cheek was, “How about Daejon?” She was asking about campaign progress in Daejon. Her devotion to the campaign was what led to the Grand National Party’s landslide victory against the ruling Uri Party. Yu Jeong-bok, who had been her chief secretary, then recalled it was a miracle made by 80 seconds of sincerity.
I am no believer in miracles, but I hope for another miracle. I do not wish it to last just 80 seconds this time. I hope for an entirely new president who comes out of her highly protected presidential palace and meets the press and people. Instead of talking as if reading from a prepared text, we want to hear her talk candidly with a heart. Her image might be ruined if she were to debate the reform plan with government employees and others on TV. But at least she could move the people.
She should not be afraid of talking in public. People already know she is not an eloquent speaker. They all recall how she was publicly ridiculed by far-left candidate Lee Jung-hee during a TV debate among presidential candidates. Park was not able to counterattack. She pitifully bit her lips. She looked - and must have felt - stupid. But what was surprising was that her humbleness was what moved the conservative audience instead of the rude display by the left-leaning candidate. It is not going too far to say the display of simplicity won her the presidency.
Simple courage and sincerity could be more helpful than ever now. We need not relentlessly emphasize the significance of government employees’ pension reform. Reform in the labor market is hopeless now. Few remember the president’s declarations on the creative economy and deregulation reform. If government employees’ pension reform is also derailed, the Park Geun-hye government would score zero on its reform pledges. The president will turn lame duck even though she still has half of her term in office remaining. The economy will lose steam altogether and regress. The Park Geun-hye administration will go down in history as Korea’s most unaccomplished and impotent government. This would be tragic for the president individually, as well as for the Korean people. The president should know the time has come for her to step up. She turned down a compromise deal on reforming the government employees’ pension scheme reached between the ruling and opposition parties. She could not have shot it down without a plan. I sincerely hope for another miracle. I want her to hear from her “How about the government employees’ pension?” with the same desperation and concern she had nine years ago.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 14, Page 34
*The author is an editorial writer for JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yi Jung-jae