A pipe dream
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Where are our vaccines? The Moon Jae-in administration claims its supply plan doesn’t have any problems. The reality is otherwise. Reserves are running short rapidly.
There is a long way to go before we achieve herd immunity, but Koreans have to rely on daily vaccine supplies. As a Russian vaccine is being considered, some even argue that we should get Israel’s surplus vaccines. If Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Korea, there’s no reason why the Chinese vaccine shouldn’t be an alternative, some people say. But watching countries in the front of the vaccine race return to normal, I am frustrated. I cannot but criticize the government for not signing contracts for vaccines earlier.
The Moon administration is blaming others. Moon criticized the international community for selfishness, vaccine developers for prioritizing their own countries and big powers for stocking up on vaccines. Moon’s belief that we can overcome the pandemic through international alliances and cooperation cannot be blamed. But that’s not how the world works.
The United States is offering 60 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines to other countries, 20 million of which are going to India. I’m sorry to say this to U.S. President Joe Biden, but it’s hard to take the U.S. help as a purely humanitarian gesture. It’s America First, and then helping the international community. But there’s nothing to gain from criticizing America. As the old saying goes, you become polite when you have sufficient food, and you become generous when you are rich. It’s the iron rule everyone knows. So, it’s not entirely wrong to talk about humanity and international alliances, but it can easily turn into an empty argument no one wants to listen to.
If you think about it, it’s not just about vaccines. Many domestic policies of the Moon administration rely on good will, the so-called “kind lease” policy it once promoted and the real estate policy that disappointed the public, rich and poor. No matter how the government argues that apartments are for “living,” not “making money,” who would want to fall behind when apartment prices soar overnight? Moon’s noble profit-sharing proposal for symbiotic growth between large companies and their contractors cannot work either without thorough planning and supplementary measures. The policy fails if he only appeals to good will.
The most frequently quoted phrase from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations is, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” Unlike Moon’s criticism, Adam Smith saw that pursuing one’s own interest was the very source of bringing food to the table. When you deviate from the pursuit of self-interest, there’s no place for individuals and countries to stand. Government policies must recognize this fact. The world is not where only good people live, and there is good and evil intertwined in individuals.
The Moon administration has proposed ideals that are higher than any administrations in the past. The president has a year left in office. He must listen to the advice,― “Politics is not a picture of ideals but efforts to get through the thornbush of reality.” Famous author Lee Byung-ju wrote it in a short story more than 30 years ago.