Seeing what they want to see
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The haughtiness and hot-headedness of presidential staff and government policymakers have become commonplace in the ruling party-dominant National Assembly. They have their nose in the air whenever they are summoned to the standing committees of legislature. When questioned by an opposition lawmaker, President Moon Jae-in’s Chief of Staff Noh Young-min blatantly laughed in his face. Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae sneered, “You’re writing a novel,” when an opposition lawmaker raised the issue of favoritism over the excess sick leave for her son during his military service three years ago. Even Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, who should use a diplomatic tone and language, snapped at opposition lawmakers when she was demanded to express apology for a Korean diplomat’s alleged sexual harassment in the Korean Embassy in New Zealand.
Most of those seated in senior posts in the presidential office and cabinet used to be lawmakers themselves. They would not have tolerated it if government officials had been rude to them. Their arrogance must have been fed by the supermajority dominance of the ruling party following its landslide victory in the April 15 parliamentary elections. But their self-assurance and bigoted reasoning have gone too far. Moon’s Chief of Staff Noh claimed that polls show the government’s real estate policy has the backing of the majority of the people. But few have ever heard of such polling results.
The Moon administration has the knack of selecting polls to back the reasoning for their controversial agenda. They kept a low profile on the mixed results from surveys on the establishment of a new anticorruption investigation body, scrapping of elite schools, nuclear reactor phase-out or the removal of reservoirs. Yet they highlight any favorable results, however faint, to claim that their policies have the backing of the public.
Many government statistics can hardly be credible. The government insists that housing prices have risen 11 percent since Moon took office three years ago — not a 52 percent spike claimed by a civilian nongovernmental organization study. The job, inflation and income data are also disputable. It is why people wonder if public policies were really devised on an accurate understanding of reality. Few believe in the government argument that housing prices are beginning to stabilize.
British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli loved to cite statistics at parliament as they could easily convince his opponents. He used to quote the phrase “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies and statistics.” He also said, “Numbers don’t lie, but liars do.” The 19th century British politician’s statement’s honesty to the temptation of exploiting numbers to serve political purposes should sting today’s Korean ruling front.
To the government, what matters is only the opinions of its supporters. Any opposition is fake news. From the perspective of the government, the Korean economy and society should be doing very well, instead of performing at their worst in 22 years.
Sept. 1 was the country’s Statistics Day. Census guidelines were first employed in 1896 in the later days of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). But sincerity toward data is shallower today than the days of the monarchy. The government sacked the head of Statistics Korea for defying its wishes. No government can gain public confidence if it stays opinionated.
The past conservative governments at least did not blatantly lie. Instead, they chose to stay somewhat ambiguous if the results of surveys were not favorable. Insisting that the views on instability in the housing market were fake news and that a majority of people back the government’s real estate policy cannot help the market or the economy.
Nearly 80 percent of Korean economists blame the government for the surge in home prices, while the government lays the fault on past administrations and speculative buying. The country’s future is shaky if policymakers see only what they want to see.
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