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A long suicide note

Survivorship bias now plagues the Korean political landscape on the right and left.
Dec 14,2017
The U.S. Air Force studied the bombers that returned from battlegrounds during World War II. They examined the bullet holes and common areas of damage to reinforce them for subsequent missions. They discovered that most bullet holes were found around the tail and wings. It would have been obvious to enhance the weakest spots with additional armor.

But one examiner argued that any part of the bomber would be exposed to the same hazard. He pointed out that the bombers that returned home had suffered no serious damage to their cockpits and engines. Those that did not return, however, had probably suffered fatal damage in either of those two sections. If not for such an insightful suggestion to add extra armor around the cockpits and engines, bombers and other fighters would have been overly bulked up in unnecessary areas and end up causing more casualties.

Such examples of so-called “survivorship bias” — conclusions drawn from survivors alone — exist everywhere. The bias can cause bigger fallacies if the survivor benefitted from unusual luck instead of skills.

Survivorship bias now plagues the Korean political landscape — unfortunately on both right and left wings.

The liberals think this captured ruling power, although in fact it dropped out of the sky like a windfall. They act as if they have the license to do anything. Instead of fixing the weak spots of the government and society, they add armor to the wrong places — the minimum wage, contract workers and nuclear reactors.

A toughened framework could prevent further damages. But a fighter is of no use if its key function of flying fast and high becomes undermined due to heavier weight. As a result of the sudden spike in the minimum wage, over 50,000 precarious jobs in apartment security and building maintenance are said to have been lost already. As much-delayed labor reforms have been neglected in the meantime, Hyundai Motor’s factories are plagued with strategic strikes that enable union members to avoid salary cuts during the walkouts.

A radical populist turn brought about the infamous collapse of the British Labor Party in 1983. At the time, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was pushing ahead with highly unpopular reforms to cure once and for all the so-called “British disease” by liberalizing public institutions, reforming health insurance and pensions, and slashing state subsidies. Unemployment temporarily shot up and the Tory government’s approval rating plummeted to 18 percent.

The Labor Party was determined to capitalize on the opportunity to steal back governing power. It came up with a radical election manifesto that went to the extreme left — nationalizing privatized entities, reviving labor union prerogatives, surrendering nuclear weapons, and withdrawing from the European community and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

It was so extreme that even Labor Party MP Gerald Kaufman, who was the party spokesperson, called it “the longest suicide note in history.” The Labor Party ended up winning the smallest number of parliamentary seats in its history and as a result gave Thatcher an expanded majority in the House of Commons.

In this country, it seems that the liberal Moon Jae-in administration does not have to worry about such a crushing defeat in the next election — even with its fumbles and strange preoccupations. Its North Korea policy is so flawed that the country’s foreign minister could not reply when a CNN interviewer asked whether Seoul officials were burying their heads in the sand like ostriches in the face of the North Korean nuclear threat.

The liberal administration can still relax thanks to the even stronger “survivorship bias” practiced by the conservative Liberty Korea Party. The main opposition party wishfully thinks the ruling power will roll back to its feet because of missteps by the liberal government. It has its eye on its immediate interests instead of trying to regain support from the majority of conservative voters who have not yet recovered from the shock of the impeachment of the former conservative president, the first to be removed from office in Korea. The opposition is lethargic in checking the ruling power and strives to sustain its life entirely based on the 10 percent of die-hard rightists.

The longest suicide note may be in the making in Korea. But it seems that there is no conservative politician who would speak and stand up for the distressed centrist majority — mostly conservatives — in this land.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 13, Page 34

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

Lee Hoon-beom