Beware the moral economy

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Beware the moral economy


Lee Hyun-sang
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.

Did they become pragmatists suddenly? The Blue House seems to have separated ethics and capability when promoting officials. The ministers who were involved in controversies were appointed. I am not sure whether the main job of the judge who was nominated for the Constitutional Court is to conduct trials or invest in stocks. I am not blaming the verification process. The Blue House knows the flaws but went ahead with the nomination. The president said that the ministers whose appointments were controversial turned out to perform better. When appointed, the president asked them to show their capabilities.

Are ethics and competency separate? Unfortunately, research showing otherwise was published by the Journal of Personality and Social Physiology by the American Psychological Association in February 2018. University of Toronto’s Jennifer Stellar and Stanford University’s Robb Willer concluded that impressions by other people on a person’s morality affect impressions on that person’s competency after conducting and analyzing six individual psychological experiments. People don’t acknowledge competency after seeing unethical behavior as people assume that the outcome was made through trickery.

President Moon Jae-in wouldn’t have neglected ethics in the appointment criteria. But among the four candidates the opposition party fiercely opposed, two nominees were appointed and two were not. I cannot deny that outsiders were sacrificed for insiders. Five days after the new ministers were appointed, the president issued a message for the centennial of the provisional government. “The times of privilege and violation, elites frustrating and hurting the ordinary lives of the people with collusion, conspiring and symbiosis should end.” Did the message stir the ministers? Did they think it was not about them?

Morality cannot be separated from politics easily. If so, communities cannot be maintained. If you read Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and think morality is useless, you are seriously mistaken. He only saw through that the essence of politics is power, not morality. Morality is still a strong tool of politics. The current administration is different from DNA and knows it for sure. However, morality applied to one side is not Machiavellianism.

Where the showy formality should be removed is not politics, but the economy. Unlike politics, crippled with a lack of morality, the economy is hurt by excessive morality. Under slogans to eradicate deep-rooted evil practices, pragmatism is lost. The result is costly. Nuclear reactors that can be used were shut down and nuclear reactors under construction were halted. Reservoirs that are intact could be torn down based on unverified efficiency analysis. All government agencies were mobilized to beat on an unethical conglomerate owner and a controversy of “murder by power” arose.

The economy of morality ignoring human instinct is bound to lead to hypocrisy. It would be fortunate if the backlash is limited to the appointees who did not pass the hearing. What about the working-class people and young people? The government is not likely to give up the income-driven growth that was practically pronounced bankrupt. For balanced development, the locks for the preliminary review that had been guarding the treasury are opened. There is no sign of worrying about what to leave for the future generation. The group suffering the most from the policy of good will are the weak. The employment statistics released monthly make that clear.

There is a supplementary conclusion for the psychological study mentioned above. While morality and competency are inseparable, people’s reactions change subtly depending on which one they see first. When people see competency first and then unethical aspects, they tend to separate them. “They are competent, but I am not sure about ethics.” If morality and competency cannot be displayed at the same time, it is better to show competency first. But I am not sure of the government at the moment.

The ultimate end of politics without morality is a loss of power. But an economy buried in morality ends in national ruin. It is happening in Venezuela.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 12, Page 30
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