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Time to change the paradigm

Jan 01,2019

As the new year begins, we have heavy hearts instead of hopes for a better future. Our economy suffered unprecedented losses due to the Moon Jae-in administration’s pushing of an untested policy experiment dubbed “income-led growth” and a campaign to root out so-called past evils. Despite millions of small merchants’ warning of a massive civil disobedience movement, the liberal administration passed a revision to count paid holidays as hours on the last day of 2018. That could put many employers technically in violation of the minimum wage. The implementation of a 52-hour workweek, coupled with layers of regulations and anti-market policies, also made ordinary people’s livelihoods worse. Regardless of the administration’s promise to create jobs, our unemployment rate hit the worst level in history.

The sharp ideological divide over growth and distribution — and the administration’s pro-North Korea policies — helped widen the gap between generations and across genders and classes. A bigger problem is the alarming spread of frustration and despair across the spectrum of our society.

Despite his strong vows during the campaign, President Moon Jae-in failed to demonstrate leadership based on social integration and communication with the public. As a result, 19 months into his presidency, his disapproval rating has finally surpassed his approval rating as an increasing number of citizens turn their backs on him in disappointment. That does not signify a crisis for the administration alone; it means that Korea’s success story could come to an end sooner or later.

Exactly 100 years ago, our forefathers enthusiastically fought for the liberation of our country from Japan’s colonial rule through the March 1 Independence Movement and the April 11 establishment of a provisional government in Shanghai. Even though they had lost their motherland, they did not lose the dream of a new nation. The outstanding economic growth and achievement of democracy in the Republic of Korea can be attributed to our ability to rebound from crisis. It is time to cope with a plethora of challenges at home and abroad with the same national resilience.

Our biggest concern is the economy. All the uncertainties originating with U.S. President Donald Trump’s America First policy, the ongoing Sino-U.S. trade war and Brexit are casting dark clouds over the global economy. If these trends continue, our economy, which relies heavily on exports, could suffer critical damage. Despite loud alarms going off all across Korea Inc., the government must prevent a prolonged slump and recession from expected decreases in exports and domestic demand.

To achieve that goal, the Moon administration must first recover trust from the market. Above all, it must revitalize dampened investments by the private sector. In a meeting in December, Moon said that there are concerns that there is no future for our economy. But his concerns must not end in rhetoric: he must change his policy based on income-driven growth — the administration’s signature policy aimed at boosting growth by pushing for a radical hike in the minimum wage for the poor, in particular. Moon must not be driven by hard-line labor unions and instead should display leadership and courage to persuade them to join a national drive to rejuvenate our sagging economy.

In political realms, Moon must reform our systems rather than blindly try to root out so-called past evils. Despite the need to replace corrupt and incompetent officials, his crusade backfired because it primarily focused on raiding and punishing them, even including the possibility of having drawn up a list of people to remove in the name of rooting out past evils. The government must listen to a former government official’s confession: “I could not tell any difference in the new administration.” It is time for the Moon administration to re-establish our overall systems to permanently end malpractice and corruption in officialdom.

Another concern comes from the stalled talks on the denuclearization of North Korea and our shaky alliance with Uncle Sam. Of course, Moon deserves praise for his remarkable role in the historic U.S.-North summit and his three summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. But the denuclearization of North Korea is deadlocked due to Kim’s tricks and Trump’s political crisis. Security experts are even raising the possibility of North Korea dragging its feet on the denuclearization front and a more hawkish response by the United States. To make matters worse, we have an unexpected conflict with our ally over defense cost-sharing, which could push the Korean Peninsula into an abyss depending on the results of the negotiation. The Moon administration must thoroughly prepare not to invite a security crisis from a reduction or withdrawal of U.S. troops from this country.

2019 marks the third year of Moon’s five-year presidency. At this critical juncture, Moon must drastically change the way he is administering the country. He must first revamp his Blue House staff and hire people from opposition parties if necessary.

Fortunately, we do not have elections this year. We hope the president keeps in mind our former National Assembly speakers’ advice that he meet as many people as possible across the ideological spectrum. If a spirit of co-governance is recovered, he can weather the tsunami of challenges. If not, he will be headed to a fatal crisis of leadership. We hope Moon follows that trajectory if he really wants our nation to take another leap forward.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 1, Page 26