Opposition must build trust

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Opposition must build trust

I often bumped into John Nash, the American genius mathematician known for his portrayal in the Academy Award-winning “Beautiful Mind”, strolling on the campus when I was studying in the United States in 1970s. I never spoke with him because I was warned he does not like being bothered during his walks. He won a Nobel Prize in economics in 1994 for his work on developing the game theory “Nash equilibrium.” Nash and his wife were killed in a car accident earlier this year while returning home from accepting the Abel Prize, a prestigious award for math.

In 2008, I returned to Princeton University. My family and I were watching an orchestra performance when we noticed Nash sitting in front of us. We exchanged eye greetings and no more. It felt awkward to start a conversation after all these years. He looked much more stable than 30 years ago.

Mainstream economists have preached that individuals’ profit-seeking benefit the broader society. But Nash explained the relationship between challenge and response between two rivals in a non-cooperative situation can draw the best possible solution in a balanced context. The best possible outcome can be achieved by trying to meet the interests of both the individual and society. His game theory has expanded the realm of academic studies and also revolutionized the way of doing business as well as public and foreign policies.

I do not understand the mechanism of politics. I don’t know much about elections or the political party system. But I do know that the primary function of politics is to ensure sustainable development of a community and fair distribution of available resources. Economics is a study committed to investigate and develop ways to improve use of resources, fair distribution, and sustainable progress of the society.

From economics’ view, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy party is perched in the dogma of mainstream economists instead of seeking Nash-style equilibrium. It does not seek a balance between an individual win by gaining a legislative seat and the party’s ultimate goal of obtaining the ruling power through winning the presidential election.There are only fragmented individual interests racing towards individual goal.

From the multiple-term lawmakers to newcomers, no one seems to be interested in the common goal of winning the general and presidential elections. They are entirely engrossed with their own fate, nomination and expanded influence of their faction. Slogans like reform and reinvention are used to pitch the interests of each faction.

Every time it loses an election, the NPAD promised reform and unity and then went back to its internal fight. This is partly due to ingrained blind belief in path dependency and sunk costs. Path dependency refers to the tendency to cling to traditional ways even when they are proven no longer valid and there are better alternatives. Sunk cost effect is a similar common human nature trait to continue investing in something that clearly isn’t working because of the endeavors, time, and money already spent. This often leads to delayed or unwise decision-making or choices.

Since the first liberal President Kim Dae-jung, the veterans of the NPAD have kept to the path they are familiar with. The voters have stayed loyal to the democratic lineage regardless of their frequent name changes because of the sunk costs they have invested in them. As a result, the party has failed to evolve by recruiting new faces and visionaries. They are now sneered at as being worse than the ruling party because they cannot even entertain. Because there is no other viable option for liberal population, the NPAD was been able to keep up their status quo and habitual old ways.

To be more oriented towards the Nash equilibrium, the NPAD must build a new type of trust between the mainstream and minority and the party and its supporters. Without renewed trust, its reforms will only aggravate conflict and skepticism. The NPAD must reinvent itself through new trust-building to restore its rightful role as the opposition party. Without a reliable opposition, the people’s lives cannot improve. A bird must have wings on both sides to fly. Both of the wings must function well. We hope the NPAD will get its act together so that the country’s political engine can work properly.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 17, Page 27

The author is the director of the Korea Institute for Shared Growth and former prime minister.

by Chung Un-chan
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