Inclusivity at home and abroad
The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Why does one society succeed while another fails? Jared Diamond, a professor of physiology and geography at UCLA analyzed the rise and fall of a community from the perspective of cultural anthropology in his book, “Collapse.” He discovered a decisive difference between a successful community and a failed community: an ability to create a long-term plan and an ability to adjust core values. Can a society pre-emptively detect a crisis and make a bold decision? Can it differentiate between what to keep and what to abandon among the values of a community? Can it make a decision to boldly accept new values? A society that successfully makes the two decisions will prosper and continue, but a society that does not will fail.
The Moon Jae-in administration is facing fierce criticism. Unfit candidates were nominated as ministers and the presidential spokesman made real estate speculation. Economic indexes are alarming and a red signal is blinking in inter-Korean relations and foreign affairs.
The people have different opinions toward the crisis. Some may feel uneasy, while others feel satisfied.
But one thing is clear: the success — or the failure — of the Moon administration is not someone else’s business. It is a matter that will decide the success or failure and the survival or collapse of our society.
A critical juncture exists in the history of a community. Now is that time for 21st-century Korea. The Moon administration was launched when the people carried out a peaceful protest against a predecessor who damaged our constitutional values. Our future depends on whether it will realize the people’s expectations and hopes.
International order — maintained over the past seven decades since the Cold War ended — is being shaken. The United States has given up its role as the leader of the world and turned to an “America First” policy. China’s rise is reshaping the dynamics of East Asia. On one side of the Korean Peninsula, a young dictator is attempting to use nuclear weapons as leverage to reshape the framework. Depending on the choices we make, South Korea could rise or fall.
After 15 years of joint research, Daron Acemoglu, an economist from MIT, and James Robinson, a political scientist from the University of Chicago, published “Why Nations Fail” in 2012. The two scholars argue that a nation’s success or failure depends on the characters of the political and economic systems it chose. A country with “inclusive” systems succeeds, while a country with “extractive” systems fails.
An inclusive system guarantees participation by various classes and groups, but an extractive system justifies a small group of elites’ exploitation of the majority. A pluralistic democracy and rule of law is the basis of an inclusive political system. An inclusive economic system offers an incentive of reasonable reward for effort and creativity to prompt creative destruction while safeguarding not only capital but also labor as fundamental property rights.
The two scholars said a certain level of success is still possible in an extractive system, but a sustainable success is impossible without an inclusive system. North Korea, at first, was stronger than South Korea, but the South introduced an inclusive system at a critical juncture, while the North persisted with the extractive system, creating a gap that is impossible to be narrowed.
The Moon administration selected engagement as a core value. To resolve the worsening polarization of society and economy, it believed that reinforcing inclusive political and economic systems was unavoidable. But while it promotes engagement, it is actually dividing the country. It sided with one side while excluding the other. Therefore, the campaign to root out past ills has become a means to humiliate previous governments. The public disappointment is shown in the continuing fall of approval ratings.
If the Moon administration truly wishes to realize the value of engagement, it must set a precedent. It must recognize the opposition parties as a partner in governance and the president must talk with them to create a long-term plan that will determine the fate of our society. He must pick capable and experienced candidates for top posts, no matter what political and ideological affiliations they have, to stop the vicious cycle of appointment flops. If Moon thinks he has done enough by accepting the resignations of a presidential spokesman and a ministerial nominee, and withdrawing another ministerial nomination, that is a miscalculation. Engagement without cooperative politics and unbiased appointments is hypocritical.
If the government creates the framework of inclusive governance, it is a success. The opposition parties must also stop opposition for opposition’s sake. They must put the success of the community as a priority. If this administration fails after the Park administration’s collapse, our future will break apart.