The ruling party’s arrogance
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.
Starting next week, it will be mandatory for bicyclists to wear helmets. The rule has been subject to heated debate, even though wearing a helmet is necessary for safety. Many complain that they are sweaty and uncomfortable when wearing a helmet. They also say it ruins their hairstyle.
Wearing a helmet while biking is mandatory in Australia and New Zealand, while most European countries, including Germany, leave it up to the riders. In Japan and the United States, the requirement varies by jurisdiction and age.
Japan and the United States are particularly sensitive about personal safety, but they are ambivalent about making helmets mandatory because they believe the state should not impose itself on the people. In the United States, there is even a debate about requiring helmets while operating a motorcycle. Many supporters say those who are not wearing helmets should go through an additional driving test and obtain a medical insurance certificate through a special licensing system.
The idea is based on the theory of the “nudge” concept from Richard Thaler, the 2017 winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. Not withstanding the claim of excessive intervention by the government, there have been no news reports of people hurting their heads while using Seoul’s bike sharing system. Thus, a limited regulation would be the proper way to handle this situation, but such a sensitive nudge is a luxury for us.
What’s amazing is that there is no clause in the law punishing bicyclists who do not wear a helmet. Is this a law without any intention to enforce? Does it only exist to intimidate and discomfort people?
There are other examples. A recently introduced decree in the Natural Park Act bans drinking alcohol on all mountains. Starting this spring, drinking alcohol is banned not only along hiking routes, but also inside shelters. The intention is understandable, but it is unheard of in the world to have a law that prohibits drinking from a bottle packed inside your own backpack.
And the government never bothered to ask the public about their opinions. That is why the administration is being criticized for “statism.” If it really wants to make the country safer, the people’s hearts and minds must change and the government must persuade the people. But the government is habitually ordering the public to follow its lead. Such was the case when it decided to phase out nuclear energy, raise the minimum wage and made income-led growth the centerpiece of its economic policies. This government leads the people by browbeating the people and forcibly pushing them.
A senior official in the administration drew furor by saying, “Not everyone needs to live in Gangnam,” and insisted that the recent terrible jobs figures are just part of growing pains. When opposition leaders refused to accompany him on a trip to Pyongyang, the president scolded them. “You must stop insisting on your parties’ interests and strategies,” he said.
Kim Hyun-mee, the minister of land, infrastructure and transport, reportedly distributed Thomas Frank’s “Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?” to lawmakers of the ruling party. The book is about how the American Democratic Party failed to win the next presidency by supporting a professional class instead of its core supporters in the working class during the Clinton and Obama administrations. The book is all about making original supporters the top priority.
Kim is repelling the original supporters of Korea’s Democratic Party with her housing policies, and it is unclear why she is paying attention to this book. Perhaps she wanted to deliver the message that the market never wins against the government so the policy will remain unchanged. Or maybe she wanted to convince lawmakers that the party and administration must not be swayed by public opinion because their policies are right.
The argument of concentrating efforts on key supporters like the working class is a good one. The administration has promoted itself as the “government of jobs,” and the president has billed himself as one of the people. His pledge was to create a country where the poor are well off and lead happy lives.
It is a great pledge, and no one will oppose it, but the president’s approval rating is falling and his key supporters are leaving, but it’s not because he has turned a blind eye to the demands of his supporters like the Democrats in America. In fact, his administration is more pro-labor than any other government in the past. No, they are leaving because the administration is high-handedly pushing a policy that even longtime loyalists are protesting.
Robert Putnam and Francis Fukuyama argued that trust among members and groups of a society is the social capital for new growth. They said social conflict damages trust and hinders growth. But the Democratic Party is troubling the political waters with the slogan, “We must unite to win,” and stirring up social rage.
“We must win the next 10 presidential elections,” the party said. Previous administrations received a red card from the public by making this move. The Democratic Party in the United States also lost because of the illusion and arrogance that “I am right, and you are wrong.”
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 21, Page 30