|Former Prime Minister Chung Un-chan, who has headed a blue-ribbon panel for co-prosperity of large and small companies, resigned Thursday.
The reason for Chung’s resignation was advice from President Lee Myung-bak, who was quoted as saying, “Don’t cling to the job anymore. It’s all over now. The governing party is already doing all the related work.”
It’s hard to know whether Lee’s remarks reflect a change of heart or powerlessness as a lame duck president. Either way, it’s disappointing all the same. Even those who don’t like Chung personally might well understand his sense of betrayal.
“Family-controlled conglomerates here are ignoring economic justice and laws, while throwing even corporate philosophy into the dustbin,” the professor-turned-administrator told reporters. “I have never seen a government succeed that avoids its historical duty (of promoting joint growth of large and small firms in this case).” He then called for the dismantlement of the Federation of Korean Industries, a chaebol lobby.
Critics suspect political ambition behind Chung’s seemingly abrupt move, even doubting his true intent in taking up the job about 15 months ago. True or not, what he said, not what he thinks, should be the point now.
We fully agree with Chung, while completely disagreeing with President Lee. The job of rectifying economic imbalance has just begun, not finished, and what the ruling Saenuri Party is doing for “economic democratization” is simply election-year lip service, a superficial and peripheral job at best, not genuine reform. The governing party would not touch the ownership structure or governance system of chaebol, just being content with cosmetic steps of increasing fines on violations.
This is not to say we sympathize with ultra-leftists’ calls for dismembering 30 major chaebol into 1,000 large, independent companies.
As Koreans witnessed during the 1997-98 financial crisis, the breakup of chaebol does not benefit workers but enrich only cash-laden investors, local or foreign, and mostly foreign ones with far deeper pockets. And unlike what they thought in the late 20th century, the ongoing crisis in Europe shows capital has nationalities. Like it or not, the chaebol system has proven its advantages. At stake is not to kill the industrial behemoths but to refashion their ownership and governance without hurting their vitality.
Chaebol reform is crucial for the entire economy, as the current closed, regressive practices within most conglomerates darken prospects by stifling creative entrepreneurship, especially among smaller businesses. It is vital for the survival of chaebol themselves, as no social entities, however strong they may be at the moment, can endure hostility from the absolute majority of its components.
Past experiences tell no ordinary methods will work. Former President Kim Dae-jung attempted to reform the chaebol in vain. He adopted neo-liberalistic means, ironically ending up strengthening their competitiveness. He also used too mild a method, trusting the chaebol’s good faith too much.
Only strong, near revolutionary methods will do. It will also require unprecedented bipartisanship as well as the severance of collusive ties between the chaebol and their cronies in all sectors of society, especially politics and the media.
Any leader who can do this will go down in history as the nation’s savior.
3월 31일 (토) The Korea Times 사설