The problem with good will
The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
In last week’s address at the National Assembly, President Moon Jae-in advocated for a society in which every member thrives. No one would doubt his good will to create a community for all — just like a parent who cares for both successful children and struggling children. He said that the past year had been a time to improve Korea’s economy and social structure, making everyone better off. “To attain that goal, the government has been pressing ahead with income-led growth, innovative growth and a fair economy,” he underscored.
Moon made it clear that the country cannot go back to the days of deepening economic inequality even if his new approach does not bear fruits immediately. Despite some problems in the course of shifting policy direction, he vowed to maintain a policy to live well together. He urged the public to trust the government and wait until a budget of 470.5 trillion won ($418.6 billion) that would bring tangible achievements from his economic policy.
Income-led growth — a key axis in the so-called Jae-nomics — is based on the assumption that demand will increase when the real incomes of the low-income class increase, that increased demand will lead to more production, and that investment will encourage overall economic growth. The Moon administration has raised the minimum wage and offered many supports to increase the real incomes of low-wage earners. However, its impact has yet to be seen. Due to the minimum wage increase, some people have actually lost jobs and some small businesses went out of business. They happen to have been in the low-wage group.
A Munhwa Ilbo survey showed that four in ten respondents said the economy has gotten worse. Only one in ten said it was improving. Those who said they were more needy were mostly in the low-income class earning less than 2 million won monthly, while those who said they were better off were concentrated in the high-income bracket with more than 5 million won in monthly income. In contrast to the government’s expectations, the effect of increasing incomes for low-income earners is not happening, and earning disparities are growing.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s famous campaign slogan — “It’s the economy, stupid!” — has never felt so spot on. The government is getting high marks for its North Korea policy, but that doesn’t help when the economy is suffering. In a Gallup Korea poll, the approval rating for Moon sank to 55 percent last week. The halo earned on his trip to Pyongyang last month disappeared. His approval rating fell by ten percent in just three weeks. A plan to replace Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy Kim Dong-yeon and Blue House policy chief Jang Ha-sung may be an attempt to boost his approval rating.
No policy is perfect. We must change direction if a policy is not going well. Before deciding to stick with its income-led growth policy, the administration must check whether its financial support for the low income class is properly allocated. Before discussing innovative growth, companies also need a morale boost. Who wants to work if businessmen are treated like criminals? To talk about a fair economy, the government should be strict with itself. The deputy prime minister for the economy or the presidential policy chief should be given full authority to correct inefficiencies and abnormalities.
In his speech, Moon described an inclusive country in which no citizen is discriminated against. But the reality is different: anyone related to the past administration is considered a part of so-called past evils. While the government is talking about tolerance, it is wielding swords of exclusion. All pasts have both shadows and light. It is arrogant and self-righteous to try to undo the past and start from scratch. That is a major reason why liberals failed in history.
The Moon administration called the Park Geun-hye administration a “Blue House government,” but it is starting to resemble the Park government. The Blue House reigns above the party and government. Many of Moon’s aides at the Blue House are driven by ideas but lack competence or experience. The first year of the administration may have passed with high hopes, but the second year is when problems arise.
Good will doesn’t always guarantee good results. Good will is meaningful only when there is the competence to turn ideals into reality. Good will without competence and a sense of reality is nothing but wishful thinking. Good will is not an excuse for incompetence.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 6, Page 31