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The German model

Presidential power comes from the power of persuasion, Persuasion comes from genuineness.
Sept 16,2017
The opposition parties criticized President Moon Jae-in for being a high-handed, imperial leader, and they’re half-right. That is Moon’s character in terms of appointments. Because of his persistent selection of allies and associates to key posts, his opponents say “neglecting, annihilation and absolute destruction” are the three key principles of his appointments.

Making decisions on nearly everything alone and issuing orders are similar actions to those of his predecessor. The construction of the Shin Gori 5 and 6 reactors were stopped abruptly, although more than 1 trillion won ($883 billion) was spent, weirs were opened during the unprecedented drought and the largest ever welfare budget was created for his barrage of pledges only after Moon’s brief remarks.

But that is the limit of his authority. For him to actually change the country, like an emperor, he had to create a bill and pass it and seek a budget. The 100 national agendas are not exceptions. But the problem is that the opposition parties, not the president, have the actual decision-making power in the National Assembly. The ruling party, outnumbered by the opposition, failed to even pass the confirmation of Moon’s Constitutional Court chief nominee.

Furthermore, the opposition parties are touring Gangnam and Daegu to unite their supporters. Because the June local election is approaching, they are provoking the supporters. There are voters who cannot accept the outcome of the presidential election, and many of the lawmakers are counting on their supports. In this National Assembly, the president has a little room to maneuver.

President Lee Myung-bak, who earned the nickname of “Emperor,” could not push forward his Grand Canal Project. Prime minister nominees of the Park Geun-hye administration were rejected one after another. This is probably a problem of the presidential system, not just the Korean politics.

The outgoing President Harry Truman, before his successor Dwight Eisenhower took office in 1953, reportedly had a similar feeling. Nothing happened no matter what orders he made, Truman once said, according to Richard Neustadt in his book, “Presidential Power.” A president is different from a military commander and Eisenhower will soon learn that the presidency will bring him serious frustration, Truman reportedly said.

For a president’s order to be accepted smoothly and a country to change according to it, what should be done? Neustadt, after analyzing the presidents of the United States and their major policies, concluded that presidential power comes from the power of persuasion. Persuasion comes from genuineness and genuineness comes from self-sacrifice. The Moon administration’s growth policy is modeled after the welfare countries of Northern Europe. The welfare program of Sweden, built over a half century ago, started from the social democrats persuasion of laborers after they took power in 1932. Based on the supporters’ concession to refrain from demanding wage hikes and increase labor flexibility, they also won the concession of businessmen.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who was the head of the Social Democratic Party, used the same method to cure the “German disease.” He reformed the welfare system, which had not been toughened for 50 years, and overhauled the rigid labor market.

President Roh Moo-hyun probably felt the same when he pushed forward the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, when the public criticized him for “turning the left right and making the right turn.” He once asked, “what if we are anti-American?,” but he still sent combat troops to Iraq. If he were a conservative president, his administration would have failed due to the leftists’ resistance. During his visit to Seoul, Schröder said a political leader needs to make a hard choice for the sake of national security, even if he or she will lose the election. That was exactly what Roh did.

The National Assembly finally opened, although the chances of it smooth operation are gloomy. The ruling party’s 10 priorities include plans to support Moon’s pork barreling policies to support the minimum wage, jobs in the public sector and fair taxation.

These are necessary policies to create jobs and reduce wealth gap, but without labor reform, no country can succeed in increasing the employment rate and reduce the gap between part-time and salaried workers. Leftist administrations in Sweden and Germany managed to carry out labor reforms and save their countries. We must import such policies to accomplish a Northern European-style welfare program. There is no reason for the Moon administration to not pursue this, if it is truly a government that serves the community.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 15, Page 34

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Choi Sang-yeon