Monday, August 15, 2011

He Don't Know Us Very Well, Do He?

The Hankyoreh, the left-liberal South Korean news site, has an interesting article about the Hope and Sympathy Youth Concert, which put three political figures on stage to discuss political issues on August 12. "Concert" is a misleading word, maybe a mistranslation; since what is involved is two traveling speakers joined by local figures, "Tour" might be more accurate. They drew an overflow crowd of 1600 in Changwon, and according to the article they've regularly spoken before audiences of around 2000 young people at each stop. There's also going to be a big Hope rally in front of Seoul City Hall this coming weekend.

The title of the article made me wary, though: "For three figures, 'common sense' replaces left and right.'" That might be better than the American cliche of the middle of the road, since it implies something other than splitting the difference, but "common sense" (again, I don't know what Korean words it's supposed to translate) is generally wrong too. One should especially keep one's hand on one's wallet when politicians and business types appeal to common sense, and the Hope and Sympathy tour appears to be no exception.

The article got off to a promising start, though: Yoon Yo-joon, "a 72-year-old former Minister of Environment and conservative strategist who twice served as director of the Yeouido Institute, the Grand National Party’s think tank", told the audience:
Korean society likes to apply labels. I have hardly heard the term ‘Red’ thanks to my ancestral background, but democracy only deepens when you first move from political democracy to socioeconomic democracy. That is Article 119, Item 2 in the Constitution [on economic democratization]. If we did a good job of upholding that, there would not be the inequity and polarization we see in Korean society today.
The others agreed with him, pointing to the irony involved when people who call for implementing the Constitution are accused of being Commies. We have a similar irony here, where the rightists who claim that they simply want to return to a strict reading of the US Constitution have no idea what that document says. And ours is evidently a lot shorter than the Korean Constitution.

The theme that night was evidently harsh criticism of the Korean conglomerates. One of the other speakers, Ahn Cheol-soo, dean of Seoul National University’s Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology, "said that large companies like Samsung were 'like newborn babies that want everything when the urge strikes.'"

So far, so good, though American corporations are well-known for demanding government money whenever they run into difficulties; and Korean conglomerates always benefited from government support and intervention. But then the speakers revealed rather serious ignorance about the US corporate and political scene.

Ahn commented, "In the U.S., when chairmen gather together, the news comes out the next day that they are forming a research organization to lower expensive healthcare costs, while when we gather together, we demand tax cuts."

Er, no. US corporations also demand tax cuts. If American CEOs have ever formed a research organization to lower expensive healthcare costs, it would prescribe the elimination of Medicare.

Yoon explained that the reason large South Korean companies engage in a “plundering” management style is because they are at an early stage of capitalism.

Again, this would imply that American corporations are also "at an early stage of capitalism," but it might be better simply to acknowledge that capitalism is plunder, whether it is state-managed or nominally private. Corporations have no natural existence anyway; they are not "people," as one distinguished American political theorist claimed last week, but creations of the state. If these gentlemen are dispensing "common sense," they'll need to look for something better, like accurate information.