1/27/13

Open letter to Park's advisers (Korea Times, by Casey Lartigue, Jr.)



As soon as Park Geun-hye won the 2012 presidential election, she became like the main character in ``The Marriage of Figaro” (``The Day of Madness”). She was getting so much advice from so many people that she didn’t know which way to turn.

Some of the advice in open letters and wish lists for the President-elect has been good. I’d like to offer this advice to her many advisers: Focus on what you can do.

My first reason for this is that by the time 2018 rolls around, many South Koreans will be happy to see Park on her way home or behind bars. Even if she follows through on what 49 million people in Korea want, they are likely to be disappointed by the inevitable compromise on their particular issue.

Due to compromises and ``only Nixon could go to China” strategies, presidents in democracies rarely leave office more respected than when they were initially elected. Political leaders are scapegoats for people waiting for supermen (or superwomen) to fix problems.

The easy explanation for the animosity is that politicians are liars ― an explanation I accept, with an asterisk. How could they not be liars? Voters demand that politicians promise two contradictory things: firstly, more government action and second, lower taxes.

Similarly, Park ran a smart campaign that embraced both fiscal restraint and expanded welfare. On the campaign trail, the contradiction could survive but in office, actual decisions will have to be made. She is likely to support political compromises that will disappoint her supporters while still outraging opponents who even hate what she has for breakfast.

The complaint that politicians are liars masks a more terrifying reality: Politicians don’t know how to fix most social problems. If Park knew, for example, how to reduce the suicide rate, why didn’t she do something about it during her 14 years in the National Assembly?

Now, as president, she supposedly knows or can pick the right people to come up with solutions for a national wish list growing by the day. If people are looking to political society, then it means that civil society has failed, yet people won’t be satisfied with political solutions forced on them.

The second reason to focus on what you can do: It keeps you active. Of course, there are some things that only elected leaders can do, such as ordering troops into action. For most social policies, however, you don’t need to wait for the president before you get involved with a cause.

In the 1956 book ``The Anti-Capitalist Mentality,” economist Ludwig von Mises argued that people loathe capitalism because it takes away the excuse for their own failures. At the office or in a kingdom, people blame the boss or king for their own inaction or individual failures.

The more modern ``Leadership Attribution" theory posits that people identify with a hero or villain (such as, Hollywood caricatures of heroes or villains, or sports fans blaming or praising a coach).

In the past, Koreans blamed kings for droughts; in more modern times, they have praised dictator Park Chung-hee for Korea’s economic growth and blamed Kim Young-sam as being ``unlucky” following a series of catastrophes in the mid-1990s.

So what should Park do as president? I don’t care. I hope she feels the same way about the things I want to do when it comes to social policy. Well, well, I guess I do have advice for her after all.

Casey Lartigue, Jr., is a visiting scholar at the Liberty Society in Seoul. He can be reached at cjl@post.harvard.edu

 Korea Times link