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Old wine in a new bottle

Apr 17,2017
On September 11, 1789, six years after the end of the American Revolutionary War, the Department of the Treasury was established under the U.S. federal government.

Since Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers, became the first Secretary of the Treasury, extensive reshuffling of the organization and function of the department was rare.

The only major change would be the reorganization in 2003, as a division overseeing terrorist financing was installed in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks in 2001. Also, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which was a part of the Treasury Department, moved to the Department of Justice.

The Japanese Ministry of Finance also has a history of over 100 years. Since Okura-sho was established in 1869, there has been one major reorganization in 2001, as Japan’s economic slump of the “lost decade” became “two lost decades.”

How about Korea’s finance ministry, the Ministry of Strategy and Finance? Since the Ministry of Finance was established in 1948, there have been a number of name changes, Ministry of Economic and Planning, the Ministry of Finance and Economy, the Ministry of Budget, the Ministry of Planning and Budget and today’s Ministry of Strategy and Finance and the Financial Services Commission.

Since 1994, the longest organizational structure and name was the Ministry of Finance and Economy, which lasted 11 years from 1998 to 2008. But this is nonexistent today, because the government organization was reshuffled whenever the administration changes.

Reorganization is often needed, but what’s more important is not which ministry is in charge, but how it operates. Just as the Park Geun-hye and Choi Soon-sil scandal shows, the problem is not the organization itself, but the people who operate it. Even for a small restaurant, both the owner and the customers know that changing the name and sign and rearranging the seats won’t make a difference. In the end, the restaurant needs to offer quality food at reasonable prices. The Ministry of Strategy and Finance deals with the budget of 400 trillion won ($352.1 billion) and tax revenue of 240 trillion won.

Let’s stop saying “put old wine in a new bottle” so easily. Rather than changing the hardware, we need to focus on the software of solid and feasible economic policies.

*Business news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo

Cho Hyeon-sook