Inheriting good policy, ditching the bad
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
To be a president and good at it, a candidate must excel in economic management.
At the end of the day, the president’s primary role is to make people’s lives better. But a president cannot be an expert on economy and tend to every area. Urgent affairs could arise, and specific expertise could be required. It is why the president must have competent economic aides. Former general-turned-president Chun Doo Hwan did not know about economic affairs. But he recruited some of the best and gave them full authority. Regardless of his follies, Chun’s reign did contribute to paving the way for a leap in the economy.
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol vowed to place top priority on the economy. The prosecutor-general-turned politician does not claim to be a president on economy, but his campaign platform centered on the economy. He pledged to make the environment better for business and firmly backs free market principle by keeping public role to a minimum and stimulate corporate activity for a benign cycle in the economy. He has specific plans for each region — turning the southern coastal city of Busan into a hub for maritime and trade activity and moving policy lender Korea Development Bank to back the plan while building a multiplex shopping mall in Gwangju to revive consumer activity.
The formation of the transition committee also centered on the economy. Yoon nominated Han Duck-soo, a former prime minister and trade minister, as his first prime minister in the new government. During a workshop of the transition committee on March 26, Yoon emphasized pragmatism and public interest. “As the economy is most important, our industrial structure must become more advanced and sophisticated,” he said. All the talk so far is rhetoric. It is not easy to achieve the desired effect.
The president-elect said what had gone wrong under the incumbent government must be closely examined so as not to be repeated. But what had been right in the direction should be maintained, he added. During his meeting with President Moon Jae-in, Yoon also said that governance was “a by-product of accumulated policies,” adding he would take on good policies and improve some of the unproductive ones. He will be starting off on the right foot if he follows his on words. The tradition of discrediting and undoing the work of the governments should be stopped now. Filtering out the good and bad policies could be the starting point of a government in the right direction.
History testifies to the importance of good inheritance. President Park Chung Hee embarked on an ambitious five-year economic development plan in 1962 to modernize the economy based on the industrialization foundation laid by the Syngman Rhee government. If elementary schooling had not become mandatory at the time — and without the farmland and currency reforms the Rhee administration achieved — the “Miracle on the Han” could have been delayed or even might not have been possible. Korea gained the funds to create steelmaker Posco and build the Gyeongbu expressway connecting Seoul and Busan through colonization compensation from Japan while normalizing diplomatic relations with Japan based on the 10-year negotiations the Rhee government carried out with Tokyo.
The hosting of the 1988 Seoul Olympics under the Roh Tae-woo administration was won in the Chun Doo Hwan government. Korea has shown how developed it has become from war ruins through the international sports event. Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Motor, which were regarded cheap second-rate brands until then, began to become well regarded internationally. But a new government is prone to go over the top. Denying and revoking projects of past government of a different ideology can harm economic progress. As it turned out, the liberal Moon Jae-in administration ceased all the projects to secure resources overseas, which was aggressively carried out by the Lee Myung-bak administration.
President-elect Yoon must abandon Moon’s anti-market policies like income-led growth, but must maintain what should be upheld. The Moon administration’s nuclear phase-out policy had lots of problems because of its rush, but nevertheless was going in the right direction. Moon’s roadmap for renewable energy sourcing, the hydrogen economy, a semiconductor cluster in Yongin, Gyeonggi, and the promotion of materials, equipment and components for self-sufficiency in IT supply chains should be kept. The promotion of the materials and parts supply chain actually began under the Kim Dae-jung administration, but lost steam when the government changed.
Ideology must not deter an economy president from respecting and keeping good policies of past governments. Liberal governments led by Roh Moo-hyun and Moon could not extend the ruling power beyond a single five-year term largely due to their failure of real estate policy. Not every president can be good at economic management.