Sarkozy and Lee
French election offers valuable lessons for Korea
The just-ended presidential election in France shows the country is rejecting not just fiscal austerity but the Anglo-American economic model of neo-liberalism. French voters chose the socialists’ slogan of ``integrity, contribution and solidarity” instead of the neo-liberalists’ ``labor, responsibility and authority.”
Francois Hollande, who will be sworn in as the first socialist president in 17 years, has vowed to raise corporate and property taxes for the rich while offering subsidies for firms that hire younger and elderly workers.
This is a far cry from outgoing President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has very much in common with President Lee Myung-bak. Both introduced the neo-liberalistic economic system marked by competition and efficiency, welfare cuts and deregulation under a pro-business, pro-rich policy, while maintaining the most pro-American foreign policies in recent memory.
Even more interestingly, both the French and Korean voters elected conservative leaders out of antipathy for their relatively liberal, leftist predecessors ― Francois Mitterrand in France and Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun in Korea ― who, however, followed neo-liberalistic economic model, too.
It was as if Koreans and French people had jumped out of the frying pan into the fire.
It remains to be seen how President-elect Hollande will realize his socialistic policies amid the eurozone crisis by winning concessions from large businesses and rich individuals, pulling off social compromise and regaining economic vitality. Also at stake is how to win cooperation from his German counterpart, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will unlikely retreat much to ease the austere fiscal pact. On the shoulders of the two leaders is the mid-term economic future of entire Europe.
Of our particular concern is what lesson Korea should learn from France and the rest of Europe.
Most Koreans can’t help but recall the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, during which they had to swallow ― without a word of protest unlike their European counterparts ― the bitter IMF pills of fiscal austerity and industrial restructuring. A number of Koreans lost their jobs, and entrepreneurs had to put their businesses on the block at dirt-cheap prices, the aftereffects of which are even continuing through today, resulting in an unprecedented economic polarization and social disintegration.
It’s long past the time Korea dropped the neo-liberalistic model and moved toward a more equitable and humane society. Regrettable in this regard are some conservatives’ exaggerations of and misleading comments on the European lessons. Greece, for example, has run into the current fiscal crisis less because of excessive welfare than because of incompetent policymakers and irresponsible taxpayers.
The biggest reason the European Union cannot easily escape from the crisis is it remains as a confederation (of countries) instead of moving toward a federation ― in which Germans will not make concessions, much less sacrifices, for Greeks or Spaniards.
Here in Korea, it should be far easier to concoct a grand social compromise if only different sectors and classes agree on the need for co-prosperity, not just in words as President Lee used to emphasize, but in actual policymaking and its strong implementation.
We wish Hollande success so he can provide a wider scope of choices for a nation halfway across the globe. This makes it all the more regrettable to see a dismal situation facing Korea’s political liberals, and emphasizes the need for Korean voters to make the right choice despite, or rather because of, it in December.