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Opinion

Taking the wrong path

Sept 01,2018
Choi Sang-yeon
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.

“My Body Stood or Walked Too Long” is the last book written by novelist Lee Mun-ku before his death. In this book, he wondered why President Kim Young-sam and U.S. President George H. W. Bush were often compared.

Lee reminded readers that Bush started the war against Iraq, and questioned why Kim was compared to Bush out of all the American presidents. Kim won a general election during his presidency. And yet, he was often compared to Bush and his son, U.S. President George W. Bush, because of their similar paths.

Kim was known for his slips of the tongue. George W. Bush was also known for them, and a book of his gaffes was even published. They were both leaders of conservative parties and they shared similar paths.

First, they were both devoted to overturning the legacies of their predecessors. Kim reshuffled the military’s leadership. He removed top generals and dismantling Hanahoe, the private group of officers tied to Chun Doo Hwan, only 10 days after he took office. Kim was happy to remove them. George W. Bush was famous for his campaign of “ABC” or “Anything But Clinton” after he was elected.

They both had their reasons to do so. Kim faced the challenge of ending the practices of the military dictatorships. Bush had to start the war against terror in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Both Kim and Bush promoted morality and national security and continued their battles throughout their terms. But their economic performance was marked by catastrophe.

The Asian Financial Crisis took place during Kim’s presidency, and he ended the term facing criticism that his biggest accomplishment was reducing the gap between the two Koreas’ incomes. Bush was president for the beginning of the global financial crisis, and he was labeled as an incompetent leader who destroyed the economy. Criticisms of them was fueled by zero-tolerance politics.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Korean President Moon Jae-in are today’s leaders. They both promote unity, balance and communication whenever they have time. They are both practicing politics to attack their opponents and stir up rage to win votes. Trump is pushing forward with his destruction of Obama-era policies, and Moon is attacking the previous Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak administrations.

They are not afraid of attacking their predecessors. They are maintaining their high popularity among their supporters by pleasing them. Their politics are similar to the politics from two decades ago, which promoted moral superiority.

The problem is that the economy, just like 20 years ago, is struggling. What’s more serious for Korea is that the Moon administration, unlike Trump, is obsessed with its anti-corporate, pro-labor ideology. It is fighting against general economic principles and all major companies.

All of Korea’s top 10 conglomerates have reportedly faced investigations by the police, prosecution, National Tax Service and Fair Trade Commission. In order for the political value of a just economy to work, the first step is removing the accumulated evils of the past administration. But there is no change to the Moon administration’s approach to the conglomerates. It is blaming its predecessors endlessly.

President George H. W. Bush recorded the highest-ever approval rating of 90-percent after his victory in the Gulf War, but the figure dropped to the 30-percent level within a year due to the worsened economy. The Kim administration walked a similar path as it was obsessed with the goal of hitting $10,000 in national income per capita.

In order to save the economy, it should be freed from politics. The Moon administration recruited experts to save the economy, and condemned officials from the past administrations for giving sugar water, not medicine, to the ailing economy. But there is no way the economy can recover if the Moon administration continues to speed up the income-led growth policy.

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon reportedly read the Korean translation of “The New Urban Crisis” by Richard Florida during his recent experiment where he lived for one month in a tiny rooftop house. Florida said technology, talent and tolerance are the crucial three “T”s for growth. He said one must speak freely to allow thought, knowledge and information to freely circulate.

It is time for the Moon administration to pay attention to the public’s outcry, despite the apparent success of its campaign to eliminate the accumulated evils of past administrations.

If Moon fails to do so, he may actually walk the same path as Kim and Bush.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 31, Page 30
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