Compromise is key
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The People Power Party (PPP) has been ridiculed as the People Headache Party. But lawmakers from the main opposition party can hardly protest. They must humbly take it. They must look at their performance and ask what they have really done for the people. Sadly, they don’t seem to have the will or dignity to go through such introspectiveness. Their helplessness was already manifested in the April 15 parliamentary elections.
They came out with a campaign slogan called “Wealth of Civilians,” tweaked from, “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” (1776) by Adam Smith, to pit themselves against the Moon Jae-in administration. They vowed to make civilians, or ordinary people, wealthy. The slogan itself was not that bad. The economy was being ruined by the liberal administration’s experimental income-led growth and trickle-up policy. While homeowners were threatened with tax bombardment, the government’s nuclear phase-out policy, which failed to take into account its economic repercussions, caused serious side effects.
The concept of reviving civilian or private wealth was quite refreshing and timely. It served as an alternative to antimarket policies by the liberal government. But few remember the slogan because it was not accompanied by concrete action plans. The measures were a theoretical call to lift government regulations to simulate corporate investment and growth and mange national debt to ensure fiscal integrity. But the PPP’s plan lacked details on balanced and engaging growth for all people.
The mantra of neoliberalism (in which the winner takes all) can hardly convince a young generation that cannot find decent jobs nor does it speak to an older generation worried about post-retirement living in a rapidly aging society. Ordinary people are not persuaded by an empty-shell concept to cast their ballots.
Despite their many flaws, the liberals at least managed to win over voters. They act differently from what they say, yet aren’t ashamed. Even when their children enjoyed various prerogatives for schooling, work and military service, they nonchalantly speak of justice and fairness. They doled out hefty emergency relief funds even to people who do not need them and were generous with subsidies through four supplementary budgets.
The ruling party enjoyed a landslide victory over the opposition in the last general election. The triumph means the general public believes the liberal government is doing the right thing even though it does not fully support it. I recently read a book “The Third Way to Equality” (provisional English title) written by a former bureaucrat who served as the head of the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy. I asked the author, Lee Kyung-tae, who also served as Korea’s OECD ambassador, what made someone like him, who led an elite public career, to write a book on equality.
“The economy is weakening and jobs are difficult to find. But when you look around, you don’t find many in trouble. You easily meet Koreans enjoying pleasure trips in luxury hotels abroad. People tend to mingle with folks who are economically similar. Of course, there are people in difficult situations. But you are not meeting them. Still, we must not go socialized for social benefit excess. Socialism can help ease inequality significantly. But except for a few most exclusive elite, living standards of the rest of the population will deteriorate. We must not take that path,” he said.
Lee argued that the rightists must accommodate welfare and the leftists should accept the market economy. None of the “civilian wealth” rhetoric and experimental policies such as income-led growth, a phase-out of nuclear energy and overturn of a new airport will be of any help to the economy. The conservatives must change first. The PPP must examine the flaws and shadows of the market economy and present alternative solutions in detail. The U.S. presidential election showed that neither the far-left in the Democratic Party nor the far-right in the Republic Party can win. That reflects the zeitgeist of the times. I hope our liberals remove their hypocritical masks. Both fronts must learn from the past if they do not want to perish.