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A letter to Hong Nam-ki

Dec 14,2018
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New Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy Hong Nam-ki tours SECO, an engine parts supplier, in Asan, South Chungcheong, to see what kind of support small- and medium-sized companies need from the government. [NEWS1]
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Yi Jung-jae
The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

The second economic team of the Moon administration has launched. In a swan song before his resignation on Dec. 10, former Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy Kim Dong-yeon said that his team was focused on what can be called a “paradigm shift.” The report card is closer to a failure than a success, with more frustration than rewards. “It felt as though I was living with a lump of coal on my chest,” he said. Kim Kwang-doo, vice chairman of the National Economic Advisory Committee, returned to the professor’s life. He said the roots of the economy were shaken.

The two men were known as the opposition in the economic team. With their departure, only “yes men” remain. The following is what I imagine their advice to the new head of the economic team, Hong Nam-ki, deputy prime minister for the economy, would be. Of course, this is 100 percent fictitious.
Dear Hong,

This is K, the first head of the economic team. I first want to say sorry. I feel heavy to leave a struggling economy and lots of homework. I ask you to keep three things in mind. You are probably aware of them already.

First is leadership. The president asked you to be one team with the economic ministers. He is right. But I couldn’t do it. I didn’t meet with related ministers frequently and did not have candid discussion. The market quickly realized it. How were the Aug. 2, 2017 measures aimed at stabilizing the overheated housing market? When the deputy prime minister for the economy should have overseen the boiling real estate measures, Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Kim Hyun-mi and Blue House Secretary for Social Affairs Kim Su-hyun personally announced the plan. Some said I was a puppet vice prime minister, and there was disagreement within the economic team. I took a photo with President Moon’s former policy chief Jang Ha-sung and claimed that I was the economic commander, but no one believed me.

You should not repeat my mistakes. The president asked me to set up a conference of economic ministers. Use the it, but know that it can hardly resolve everything. The politicians who were appointed as ministers are accidental civil servants; they have different points of interests than the normal civil servants like us. They prefer policies that win votes. They are better at arguing than policymaking. Normal civil servants cannot beat their accidental counterparts with words. Instead of ideology and argument, speak with numbers and policies.

Don’t be intimidated by the accidental civil servants, especially Blue House policy chief Kim Su-hyun. As you know, he is different from his predecessor, Jang Ha-sung. At least his ears are open. He is a person who also has the president’s ear. He has a strong sense of ownership for the government and is stubborn. He is knowledgeable in real estate and environment, but inexperienced with policy operation. You said you would meet with Kim every Friday. Even when you have different views, argue internally. Don’t let the voices go over the Blue House walls.

Second, control speed. The balloon effect of speed and greed must end. A fast increase of the minimum wage took away jobs from the old and weak and accelerated the fall of small businesses. You said that a revised plan to fix the minimum wage increase will be announced in the first quarter of next year. It is the right direction, but you should hurry more. The president said that macroeconomic indicators are good, but next year they could be gloomy. Interest rate policies may be difficult to use because of the sluggish economy and alarming household debts. We are already seeing a real estate transaction cliff as the flow of the real economy is disrupted. An exit strategy should be prepared.

Third, persuade the ruling Democratic Party (DP) to get on board. The party is hindering innovative growth. The president addressed the need for regulatory reform for data, but the three bills — the personal information protection act, the communication network act and the credit information act — were not dealt with by the DP. It is not likely to change next year. When lawmakers don’t listen to the president, can you convince them? But you gave your word, so at least pretend to do so. I couldn’t. I hope you can display great courage and sacrifice yourself for challenges instead of showing small courage and step down when you cannot follow your belief.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 13, Page 34