Building a new year of trust
The Year of the Sheep is coming to an end. Looking back on the year, we often have more to regret than be grateful for. But personally, my work for shared growth and efforts to highlight the accomplishments or Dr. Frank William Schofield has been worthwhile.
Next year will mark the centennial of Dr. Schofield’s arrival in Korea. Upon experiencing the Japanese occupation and independence movement, he said the people and country that did not have the strength to determine their own destiny was hopeless.
On the 70th anniversary of the liberation, is Korea ready to resolve challenges of the times on its own? These challenges may vary depending on domestic and international circumstances. Sometimes, reinforcement of military strength can be a national task, and in another period, realization of a system and institution such as a capitalist market economy and liberal democracy, and reinforcement of economic and diplomatic power could be the goal. However, the history of rise and fall teaches us the basic requirement for a country, the integration of members of the community.
The basis of a harmonious community is the trust between the leader and the people. According to Confucius, the three most important elements of national administration were food, military power and trust. Among them, people’s trust in the leader was the most crucial. When people don’t trust the leader, a country could not exist. The trust on the leader comes from the leader’s integrity.
However, President Park Geun-hye, the administration and the ruling party have been making contradictory arguments that disappoint the people. On December 10, Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy Choi Kyung-hwan reassured Koreans by saying, “Some say the economy is slow, but what people actually feel is not that bad. There is no possibility of crisis.” But the president and the Saenuri Party insist that Korean economy is in “a serious crisis” next year and we need to prepare “emergency measures.”
At least one side is lying or has a very wrong view. Unlike what Choi said, the Korean economy certainly has risky elements, yet not so serious as to mention state emergency. It is far from a crisis that requires the president to bypass the division of powers and pressure the National Assembly speaker to handle the bills the president wants to pass. Deceiving the citizens for party interests will not only undermine confidence in the administration, but also put the country in grave danger in the end. A leader must be truthful to the citizens.
Along with honesty, another factor that contributes to the trust of the people for the leader is the sense of responsibility. The symbol of a leader’s responsibility was the sign on U.S. President Harry Truman’s desk, “The Buck Stops Here.” He is known for never dodging or transferring duties and responsibilities of a president. As a result, he is always named one of the most respected presidents in America. The sense of responsibility of the chief executive is the basic requirement to win trust, respect and support from the citizens. But in Korean politics, it is hard to find anyone, both in ruling and opposition parties willing to take responsibility. It is truly regrettable.
An honest and responsible leader is trusted by the people, and when the trust is accompanied by the goodness to help the socially disadvantaged, true unity of the community can be attained. The goodness is the compassion that Mencius advocated and what Adam Smith described as an impartial spectator. We need goodness to resolve inequality. Excessive polarization of society undermines social justice, deprives a sense of belonging and hurts the overall stability. As of 2013, the top 1 percent of Korea owns 26 percent of the total assets while the bottom half has mere 1.9 percent.
Korea is experiencing serious inequality. While structural inequality should be resolved through the laws and system, it begins with the compassion and goodness to help those in need and understand their pains. The goodness of the members of the community can begin with the examples set by the elites. When leaders are caring and sympathetic to the underprivileged, the people will follow. On the rich-gets-richer phenomenon in the 1960s, Dr. Schofield lamented that the rich Koreans have little consideration for the poor. Even when situations are aggravated, the wealthy and powerful people still lack consideration for the weak. We need to work on creating and spreading the culture of shared growth.
We must get ready to decide our future on our own and prevent a crisis like the annexation by Japan 105 years ago or the International Monetary Fund bailout in 1998 that restricted autonomy of our economic policies. In the Year of Monkey, let’s pray for our society filled with trust, honesty, responsibility and goodness of heart.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 19, Page 31
*The author, a former prime minister, is the director of the Korea Institute of Shared Growth.
by Chung Un-chan