The righteous will never be shaken

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The righteous will never be shaken


Kim Dong-ho
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

President Moon Jae-in expressed regret about bad jobs statistics during his New Year’s press conference. But the government will keep its policy direction unchanged, he said. The so-called “income-led growth” policy will remain intact for the third year even after it’s wrecked the economy and cost thousands of jobs. The true core of Moon’s so-called “J-nomics” remains ambiguous; even key policymakers cannot pin down its essence. The initial J might refer to the president’s given name or to jobs given the administration’s promise to create jobs. The name should not be of any importance. What matters are the consequences and the stubbornness of policymakers who choose not to see — and admit to — any shortcomings in their policies.

Some accuse these policymakers of sticking to an extreme fallacy to advocate the righteousness of their beliefs. But that alone cannot explain their stubbornness. I scanned many types of social science books — including psychology and business management — to comprehend the fallacy involving group thinking. Surprisingly, many symptoms were laid out and deciphered there.

First of all, they have absolute conviction in their judgments. They are incapable of accepting any wrongs in their decisions, nor can they accept criticism. When spikes in the minimum wage led to massive job losses, they claimed the outcome was an inevitable growing pain that occurs in the transition of an economic structure.

Next, they find every reason to justify their decisions. They turned a deaf ear to warnings and undercut data or information contraditctions unflattering to their policies. The Blue House flagged irrelevant data to rationalize the merits of rapid minimum wage increases. It even replaced the chief of the national statistics office when negative data continued to appear month after month.

Moral delusion can be dangerous. Insiders become highly defensive of their beliefs and vehemently resist any attempt to discredit them. They cannot be morally or ethically disputed. When Kim Tae-woo, a former member of the special inspection team at the Blue House, exposed its spying on private citizens and other unethical practices under the Moon Jae-in administration, the presidential office denounced him as a rotten apple. They are a righteous group that deems itself different from past governments: they can do no wrong.


Reporters raise their hands to ask questions of President Moon Jae-in at a New Year’s press conference a the Blue House on Jan. 10. Moon said he will press on with his so-called “income-led growth” policy. [JONT PRESS CORPS]

The self-righteous and self-centered group tends to keep doubts strictly to itself. Insiders do not question their decisions, and they maintain silence even when doubtful or fearful of undermining the group’s unity. Though they might privately have questions, they do not share them with others. Instead, they blindly follow a unanimous principle. Since silence is understood as endorsement, no one cares to question the genuineness. They are weighed down by the overall pressure to accede. Anyone who expresses disagreement is branded a traitor — like Kim Tae-woo or Shin Jae-min, the former Finance Ministry official who blew the whistle on the presidential office’s meddling in appointments in private companies and the unnecesarry issuing of debt-financing national bonds.

The group falls under extreme bias. It doesn’t believe outliers are capable of good intentions. It disregards advice, however well-intentioned, and continues on its way.

Yale University psychologist Irving Janis introduced the concept of groupthink in 1972, describing it as “extreme consensus seeking tendencies.” Such thinking affects decision-making to the point of overriding realism. It’s born from the exclusive bond among group members who defy any challenges that might disrupt group harmony. This is exactly what has led to J-nomics ruining the Korean economy.

Korea’s economy is expected to grow in the 2 percent range this year, as it did last year. All the data — investments, manufacturing, consumption, employment and exports — are poor. The semiconductor sector, which previously kept the economy growing, has slipped into a downward cycle. Sharp increases in the minimum wage and a cutback in working hours have dampened business activity. Around 1 million self-employed individuals had to close their businesses last year. Policymakers must shake out of their reverie. Otherwise, the Korean people will lose all hope.

JoongAng Sunday, Jan. 12-13, Page 30
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