18 October 2008

Odds and ends

It's the night of Saturday the 18th here in Seoul, and I still have no idea when I am returning to the US.

It appears that the scorched-earth tactics of Lee Myung-bak have some justification in similar tactics by his leftist predecessor Roh Moo-hyun. Roh had constantly and openly accused the media of biases against him, and made life a living hell for anyone right-of-center. Roh even tried to spread government propaganda through public radio, much like Lee does today, but when he couldn't agree on a format (the broadcaster wanted more of a town-hall format), he cancelled the whole idea. No wonder the right-wingers feel so justified in making life a living hell for anyone left-of-center; after all, they credit themselves with South Korea's industrialization, and accuse the leftists of doing nothing other than taking orders from North Korea. Nevertheless, the whole thing needs to stop; otherwise, there won't be anything left in South Korea's still-nascent democracy.

And while the political infightings, and Lee's continued sinking of the national treasury into US conservative politics (something even opposed by Lee's own rank-and-file supporters), go on, the economy is headed for another disaster. The consensus among major financial newspapers worldwide seems to be that South Korea will be the first to fall victim to the upcoming global economic turmoil. So far, indications support that view; trade deficits are ballooning (thank the likes of Samsung for offshoring), foreign currency reserves are shrinking fast, the won is losing its value even faster than the US dollar, and the government is busy copying the failed US Republican economics to the letter. And the saddest thing will be that Lee will still be able to blame it all on Roh, and get away with it. Again, Roh was incompetent, but Lee's policies are not helping things at all.

Lee got into office claiming that he will bring back the double-digit economic growth of the 1970s, and most South Koreans bought it; after all, Lee's Grand National Party is the descendant of the military fascist dictatorship back then, which did make that impressive growth happen. But back then, South Korea was primitive and piss-poor, and even a modest economic growth would've been double-digit percentage-wise; that's no longer the case, and a mature, affluent economy, no matter how well-run, simply can't grow that fast, period. Moreover, the working and middle classes worked hard and selflessly back then to create that wealth, hoping for a slice of that wealth themselves, but it never really came their way; that's why they pushed for democratic reforms, and even gave the leftists a chance to fix things when the rightists bankrupted the country ten years ago. (Of course, Roh squandered that opportunity.) No matter what kind of spins Lee puts on the state of the economy, there is no way he, or anyone else, can create sustained double-digit growth again. Any South Korean who thinks otherwise ought to have his/her head examined.

I can only wonder what things will be like 30 years from now. In the past 30 years, the US adopted the supply-side economics of Reagan and Bush, with devastating results; in the same past 30 years, South Korea built a massive pool of technology, money, and human capital, AND also managed to start a real democracy. But the South Koreans would rather follow the failed US path than the success of their own recent past. Even a strong, large economy like the US could barely survive the past 30 years; South Korea surely won't make it through the next 30 years, if the Lee agenda is allowed to unfold.