Addiction to ideology

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Addiction to ideology

Kim Ki-chan
The author is a senior writer of labor affairs at the JoongAng Ilbo.


In the late ‘90s, Life magazine chose Johannes Gutenberg’s metal movable-type printing press as the greatest invention of the past millennium, bringing the 15th-century German craftsman into the limelight. Korea’s metal movable-type technology from the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) has barely received any recognition from abroad, despite historical records showing Goryeo’s technology predated Gutenberg’s by nearly 70 years. Actually, even Koreans do not know exactly who invented Goryeo’s metal movable-type printing press.

Unlike the West, Korea had no patent system back then and all individual skills were marshaled to satisfy the needs of the ruling class. The use of printing was strictly limited to the royal palace, practiced only under the authorization of the royal court. It even took a century for “Bangyesurok” — a book on national reforms during the late Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897) — to be published for wide circulation in 1670.

In the Joseon Dynasty, entrance to bookstores was tightly controlled, blocking commoners from laying their hands on anything they could gain new information from. The nobles saw knowledge as a prerogative. There was, however, one exception: “Samgang Haengsildo” (1434), the most-printed and widely distributed book of the Joseon Dynasty, as it encouraged readers to practice Confucian virtues. In other words, printing technology was exclusively used to solidify the central ideology of the ruling class.

Ideology-based rule tends to lead to oppression, as seen in the doleful history of the metal movable-type during the Goryeo and Joseon dynasties. Regulation on bookstores and printing were a form of oppression. When rulers felt they lacked a sense of reasoning to back their policy decisions, they protected their vested rights by purging anyone who thought differently. There was never room for any other opinion. Likewise, the Moon Jae-in administration’s so-called jeokpye (deep-rooted evils) eradication drive can also be seen as a type of purge.

The ruling class could easily stretch its ideology whenever it saw fit. Economic activity like trade, which would have brought the lower class more fortune, was frowned upon. It was this ideology that widened the gap between the rich and poor, prompting the have-nots to feel envious of the haves. The ruling class wasted no time in deflecting blame to others, while brazenly keeping themselves out of the controversy.

Last Monday, Rep. Yoo Gyeong-joon of the main opposition United Future Party (UFP), a former head of Statistics Korea, raised serious doubt about the fundamental reasoning behind the Moon administration’s income-led growth policy during a session of the Strategy and Finance Committee in the National Assembly. He said the administration’s logic did not match the actual raw data. The Moon government’s income-led growth policy was initiated by Moon’s former senior secretary for economic affairs, Hong Jang-pyo, and former policy chief Jang Ha-sung. They argued that the share of labor income in our national income was falling. But referencing statistics from the Bank of Korea (BOK), Rep. Yoo said that the labor share has actually been increasing from 2010. When confronted with this discrepancy, central bank Gov. Lee Ju-yeol said Yoo was right, adding that Hong and Jang might have had “another logic” in mind when they crafted the policy.

The Moon administration’s economic policy was proven to be at odds with the government’s official data. No wonder the Korean economy has been weak.

A company CEO I recently met put it well when he said, “This administration does not have any economic logic. It is only filled with ideology. That is why it draws a distinct line between its friends and foes when approaching the market, industrial fields and employment issues, treating each side differently without making any effort to look squarely at reality. For instance, solar panels built on mountains have ruined our environment, yet the government’s traditional allies never say a word. They keep their mouths zipped even as a woman was sexually harassed by a man of power. They are bent on pushing through ideology-based policies.”

This administration lacks logic. That is why it always blames others for its own failures. It is a pity that I have to witness this in the 21st century.
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