No progress without basic reformsThe “objective” long-term direction of Korea has become worrisome recently. First, major social and economic indices are at their worst point ever since the statistics were first recorded, since independence and since democratization. There is a fear that the power behind national development has declined because the engine of economic growth has slowed down.
Second, Korea’s social conflict has consistently been recorded as the second worst in the OECD after that of Turkey, which suffers from religious conflicts.
In other words, the national system and constitutional establishment of Korea are no longer functioning to resolve conflicts and stabilize people’s lives at they should in an advanced democratic country.
Third, extreme political confrontations, a deteriorating problem-solving ability and the ineffectiveness of the governance system have continued to worsen under the current constitutional system, although the constitution exists and the presidential tenure is stable. The unfortunate combination of constitutional stability and ineffective governance has reached the point of no cure.
Since democratization, Korea has introduced numerous reform measures in many fields. Reforms have been made in politics, the National Assembly, elections, labor, the economy, the judiciary, the prosecution, education and administration. But the latest direction of the country shows that these partial reforms have either had no effect or actually brought about adverse effects. When the root was sick, we were treating the branches.
Since democratization, we often say that we have set up a procedural democracy, and the problem is now achieving a substantive democracy, but that is in fact an incredibly wrong evaluation. In a country where procedural democracy means an extreme imperial concentration of power and a monopoly by the executive branch on distributing resources, we are incapable of setting up a substantive democracy or even reaching sustainable growth.
Large international comparative studies have shown that a parliamentary system is superior to a presidential system in freedom, equality, welfare, fairness, size of the middle class, public transparency, stability and continuity of policies. The same applies to a proportional representation system compared to a majority representation system, a coalition government compared to an exclusive government, local autonomy over a centrist government, a larger parliament rather than a smaller parliament, and a multiparty system compared to a two-party system.
This is the exact opposite of the situation in Korea.
The cost of national conflicts caused by presidential campaign pledges, presidential projects, power abuses, political fights and a lack of policy continuity has far exceeded the level that our country can endure. The falling national competitiveness, the crisis in livelihoods and the decline of the middle class are the evidence.
The cozy relationship between Korean politics and the economy has been inappropriate for a long time. Since democratization, conglomerates’ assets, sales, portion of gross domestic product, industrial profiles and cash reserves have skyrocketed, while their employment has fallen by up to 60 percent. This is shocking. The ratios of corporate income to household income and corporate savings to household savings are also unbelievable.
As we can see the records, 169 trillion won ($144 billion) of public funds have been supplied for development and only 106 trillion won has been recouped. About 22.5 trillion won was spent on four major river projects, while astronomical amounts of tax money have been wasted in defense contract irregularities, ineffective appointments of top officials and failed resource diplomacy. They are failures of the presidential abuse of power, bureaucracy and the monopoly of decision-making power.
There were also enormous expenses for endless corruption and irregularities committed by public servants and industries, and by financial industries and companies.
If public representatives could have monitored, checked and controlled such cases thoroughly, it would not have been hard to create jobs, reduce the number of temporary and part-time workers, improve youth employment opportunities, lower educational costs, expand welfare programs for the elderly and hire more public servants to bring ourselves up to the OECD average.
Stopping abuses by the president, public servants and companies is the first step to reform. If we were able to prevent the waste of public bailout funds, 114,000 people could have been hired as permanent employees with annual salaries of 35 million won. If there were no appointments based on personal connections during the previous administration, about 40,000 people would have been hired every year as permanent workers with 35 million won salaries. What are the actual causes of today’s job crisis, despair of the youngsters and the collapse of people’s livelihoods?
Without changing the Constitution to distribute power and resources, reform and advancement are impossible. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who set the basis for the philosophy of modern democracy, made a sharp argument in his work “Constitutional Project for Corsica.” He said that of all governments, a democratic government is always the least costly.
A governance system’s goal is stabilizing and improving the people’s lives, and it must be verified and revised to match the people’s reality. The 20th National Assembly is destined to play a critical role at a critical moment. It must amend the constitution, develop a strong sense of responsibility and accomplish constitutional reform to achieve a division of power, a parliamentary state and a welfare state.
We should together lay the foundations again for livelihood reform and recovery of the country.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 24, Page 35
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a professor of political science at Yonsei University.