Bad time for expertsDonald Trump braved all kinds of criticism about his lack of experience and knowledge of foreign and domestic affairs, saying, “The experts are terrible.” His pluckiness sat well with grass-roots voters especially among the white population in the Rust Belt, who have grown disgruntled with globalization and distrustful of mainstream politicians.
Trump also hates taking advice from experts. He went his way after he was elected, stunning mainstream politicians at home and abroad with his populist and nationalistic America First agenda.
The liberal government in Seoul also has been cynical about the mainstream, treating it as an old guard. It pushed through a double-digit hike in the minimum wage despite repeated warnings from experts in the business and economics community. Engrossed with a crusade to push up the hourly wage floor to 10,000 won ($9.30) within the next three years, the government tries to use unconventional and pushy ways to relieve the side effects of a sudden jump in the minimum wage.
Unemployment shot up because the self-employed and smaller merchants could not afford the sharp rise in labor costs. Yet the government finds faults in other areas. It vowed a crackdown on employers in their compliance with new pay guidelines, for instance. It pressures landlords to lower rents, large companies to increase orders from smaller suppliers, and credit card companies to cut commission rates.
None of these measures are easy. Past governments tried but failed to force the private sector to do their bidding. Bashing the haves in the business community and meddling in economic activities is almost always wishful thinking that only backfires.
The government was stubborn on its nuclear reactor policy as well. Its proposal to suspend construction of Shin Kori 5 and 6 reactors as part of its campaign to phase out nuclear power was axed due to opposition in a public poll. Regardless of that setback, the government is intent on pushing through the phase-out policy. Nobody from the nuclear reactor industry is being consulted in the phase-out procedures.
The government has been saying solar panels are replacements for nuclear reactors and has given that business to cooperatives run by environmentalists instead of the state utility, the Korea Electric Power Corporation. Politicians from the Moon Jae-in presidential campaign have been named envoys instead of career diplomats. The administration under Moon is decisively anti-expert and anti-mainstream.
It is true that our society has become disillusioned and disappointed with the expert class and the mainstream because of all the prerogatives they enjoyed from collusive ties with the political and bureaucratic community. In his book “The Death of Expertise,” Tom Nichols said that experts get things wrong, but not as often as ordinary people.
Georges Clemenceau, a French statesman during World War I, famously said, “War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men.” That sounds wise. And the government seems to believe that energy and economic policy need not be left to experts in those fields. But if all the laypeople relying on knowledge from Google or social media replace professional experts, we would end up with populism swaying our public agenda and risk the collapse of our democracy.
Former liberal president Roh Moo-hyun was a flexible man who knew when to turn right when necessary. He sought policy ideas from traditional chaebol think tanks like the Samsung Economic Research Institute. He defied the liberal ruling party’s opposition to his push for a free trade deal with the United States. He even endorsed the dispatch of Korea’s UN peacekeeping troops to the U.S.-led Iraq operation.
But Moon, who was Roh’s chief of staff, keeps stubbornly to the left. He insists that his way will prevail in the end to create a more equal society regardless of early confusion. In a New Year’s address, Moon reaffirmed a commitment to the 10,000 won minimum wage to ensure the so-called income-led growth. He has been overly self-righteous thanks to his approval rating staying over 70 percent ever since he was elected last May.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 11, Page 28
*The author is the chief executive of JoongAng Design Works.