Evaluating our lawmakers
In January, Korean companies announce promotion lists. Employees await the results with half worry and half anticipation, wondering if they will be promoted and what their evaluations will be. An organization with a reasonable system of evaluation and compensation has a bright future. Members will work hard to enhance the gains of the entire organization to get good marks in the evaluation. The fate of the organization depends on the validity of the evaluation.
In fact, everyone is being evaluated. Restaurants are being evaluated every day by customers. If a restaurant serves subpar food on a particular day, the customers who visited that day will not return. Students are evaluated through midterm and final examinations. Professional baseball players are evaluated every year. Based on the individual performance and contribution to the team, a player can receive a higher salary or get an opportunity to play in the major leagues. We all live in a system of evaluation every day, every quarter and every year.
While citizens are under constant evaluation, there is an organization that seems to be different. It is the National Assembly. In politics, the evaluation comes in the form of elections. Members of the National Assembly swear that they “shall give preference to national interest and shall perform their duties according to the dictates of their conscience.” However, it seems that the evaluation criteria are not whether they worked for the national interest or not. Even lawmakers who pursued “private interests” of a specific group, region or a handful of interested parties often get re-elected without shame. In reality, there is no disadvantage in elections for a Korean politician not to work for the national interest.
The voters are fundamentally accountable for this slack evaluation. When regional airports and local festivals result in chronic deficits, populist policies waste budgets and legislation exerts an adverse influence on the economy, voters don’t ask the politicians accountable through the election. Instead, some vote for certain politicians who went against the interests for re-election if they or their regions benefited. Some even vote for the candidate with family, educational or regional ties or someone with whom they had shaken hands.
Voters then criticize the assemblymen when politics go wrong. They like to say the lawmakers should devote themselves to the country. But is it possible? According to the public choice theory championed by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Buchanan, politicians and government officials make policies that align with their own interests just like individual citizens. Clergymen, journalists, politicians and businessmen all put their own interests over public interests. The key is to create a solid evaluation system so that personal interests coincide with national interest. When voters send signals that they will only vote for politicians who work for the national interest, the politicians will pursue their personal interest of election, or re-election, by working for the national interest.
In fact, voters in developed countries such as the United States evaluate politicians based on their performance. Through the manifesto movement of policy-oriented competition, voters have the opportunity to learn and discuss policy information. The voters only allow re-election of politicians who have worked for the national interest. Politicians seeking re-election have to follow the will of voters to work for the country.
The year 2016 is the year of the general election that comes every four years. Unlike people who are evaluated every day, quarter and year, the National Assembly gets four years for evaluation. If the evaluation is not conducted properly, the Republic of Korea may suffer for the next four years. When we get evaluated, we ask the evaluator to focus on results and abilities. Now, it is our turn as voters to evaluate the National Assembly, reminding ourselves how students, workers, professional athletes and business owners are evaluated. As informed voters, let’s vote based on who had worked for the country. Even when you buy a new phone, you research the lowest prices, functions and features, and try to make the best purchase for the price.
Let’s all ask ourselves this question. Have I ever spent more time thinking about who to vote for in the election than which electronics to buy?
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 4, Page B8
The author is a vice chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries.
by Lee Seung-cheol