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Resetting our society

Koreans brought back the country from the brink of bankruptcy in the late 1990s through unity.
Mar 01,2017
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To uphold our proud rich history and tradition, our ancestors have resisted the injustice of the Japanese colonization through the March 1 independence movement and established a democratic republic. They fought against dictatorship to safeguard and strengthen democratic roots for sake of freedom and happiness of their future generation. But what have the descendants done? Our society has never been so unstable, divisive and directionless.

There have been tougher challenges. But each time, we united to fight. We knew where we were headed. In such loss of direction, it is best that we return to the fundamentals. What is the purpose of a national foundation? Who is the owner? Our Constitution is our guide.

The nation serves to perpetually ensure safety, freedom, and happiness for ourselves and our future generations. The goal should be to guarantee public stability, democracy and the well-being of the people.

Public safety relies on solid security. Geopolitical conditions remind us of the days under Japanese invasions in the late Joseon Dynasty era. We must not invite the catastrophic aftermath from the poor political judgment of Joseon envoys Hwang Yun-gil and Kim Sung-il that led to the Japanese invasion in 1592. We must not waver among global powers of China, Japan, the United States and Russia.

Security issues require open discussions and diverse opinions. If a policy is not made on thorough and sufficient debate, it could spark lasting controversy. A secretive arrival of a policy and unilateral push is an outdated way that needs to be cast away. No one would question that Korean security hinges on a strong alliance with the U.S. Seoul must acknowledge the power of Beijing in the context of traditional relationship with Washington. We also must not neglect that fact that a good relationship with Tokyo is strategically important for our security. Moscow poses as a new partner for regional peace.

What also needs overhauling is the representative democracy system. We are in today’s mess because elected representatives have failed to represent public interests well. The public can now express themselves more freely and easily due to technological advances.

Public opinions should be better reflected through an electronic voting system. They also should be more easily led to law-making through petitioning means. The public also must be able to demand dismissal of politicians who neglect their role. The presidential system must be fixed so that the state chief executive does not wield almighty power. Political parties must discuss constitutional reform for the interests of the future generation. They would not reach an agreement if they pursue constitutional reform for political interests. If they cannot arrive to a consensus, they must delay the process so that the leadership changes apply to the president five years from now.

Koreans are some of the unhappiest people in the world with their suicide rates at record highs. A legislative study based on 2012 data shows that the income of the top 10-percent makes up 44.9 percent of total national income, the highest rate in the world after the 47.8 percent of the U.S. Wealth inequalities are worsening because politics merely serve for the richest 10 percent. Job security is the basic social welfare. Policymakers should pay more attention to job appropriation from reduced work hours. Robots and machines should be taxed to give relief to those who lose their jobs to them.

The country’s future depends on its capacity to ride the fourth industrial revolution wave. We have the technologies. But regulations get in the way. Korea has missed the timing to promote drones and the fintech, or digital financial, industry and increase thousands of jobs because of regulations.

Big Data and the health care industry could be next. Policymakers must immediate ease regulation on privacy and remote medical care. Missing business opportunities even with having the necessary technologies is foolish and wasteful. Lastly, there must be more policy attention to the future generation. The young people live without hope. Social mobility has stopped working.

In a survey last year by the Korea Development Institute, 65.3 percent believed connection and money get success in Korea. Only 33.8 percent said capabilities matter. The unfair rules in the social playing field must be normalized. There is no hope for a nation when the young are hopeless. The government finances stimuli programs through debt that would have to come from the pockets of the future generation. It must stop the unjust deficit financing scheme.

The presidential candidates resorting to populism must correct themselves. Koreans brought back the country from the brink of bankruptcy in the late 1990s through unity. The world was awed by the way Koreans, from toddlers to the elderly, donated their gold and piggy bank savings to help the country. Korea was able to pay back the international bailout fund way before the due date. We have the genes of resilience against crisis. The time has come for us to use our collective wisdom and strength again. We must go back to the basics. We must reset our society with belief in our inner strength.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 27, Page 33


*The author is a professor of the bio and brain engineering department at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.

Lee Kwang-hyung