Time for a debate

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Time for a debate

Kim Byung-joon, the interim head of the main opposition Liberal Korea Party, continues to criticize the Moon Jae-in administration of statism or excessive government control. Kim, who was a policy adviser to President Roh Moo-hyun when Moon was his chief of staff, has been critical of Moon’s administration ever since he was recruited by the conservative party for its makeover after a landslide defeat in the June elections. “What has changed in the governance system from the fact that the face of the chief executive is different?,” he argued. His sharp tongue also had advice for the conservatives. “The nationalist growth model of Park Chung Hee no longer works today,” he said, urging a new liberal model led by the market.

Kim criticized the health and welfare ministry’s plan to regulate TV programs on food. “Are we living in a feudal society? Why is the government interfering in what people do in their pastimes?” The ruling Democratic Party accused him of a sensationalistic campaign to grab attention. He may have succeeded as the conservative party, which nearly disappeared after a landslide loss in the June local elections, has realigned its ideology with the slogan “liberalism versus statism.”

But Kim’s campaign, while heavy on rhetoric, is light on substance. Statism by definition refers to a political system where the state has substantial centralized control over social and economic affairs. He is wading into a complicated debate on the country’s freedoms, democracy and capitalism.

Conservatism in general supports a small government that doesn’t interfere with the market, while the progressive front champions a greater role for the government. Moon took over from a president kicked out of office. He is impatient to restore the dignity of the office. The proposed restrictions on TV programs is meant to address the problem of obesity. The fact that every other TV channel has a food-related show playing throughout the day is a source of concern for the health authorities.

But the excessive meddling has begun to irritate the broader population. The Moon administration has been overly officious in national, social, economic and everyday affairs. Our society has never deeply contemplated what kind of relations the state should have with individuals and the market. Instead of making the issue a political ploy, politics should create a public debate. We live in an age of autonomous machinery and digitalization. The government cannot cover every sphere. We must discuss what can be done and what cannot through public debate.

JoongAng Sunday, Aug. 4, Page 34
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