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[Editorial] What Is the ‘New Deal?’

Posted December. 12, 2008 04:31,   


Bahk Jae-wan, senior presidential secretary for political affairs, told a radio program Wednesday, “The four-river cleanup project is completely different from the grand canal project, and since it is multifunctional, it can be considered Korea’s version of the New Deal.” Bahk also told a newspaper Thursday, “Since it restores streams, it is not a (normal) New Deal but a green New Deal.” In a panel discussion last week, Bahk Byong-won, senior presidential secretary for economic affairs, said, “The cleanup project is akin to a New Deal policy for domestic construction companies.”

The new project intended to create jobs through public works is reminiscent of the New Deal policies led by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to rebuilt the Great Depression-hit U.S. economy and society in the 1930s. Large-scale construction projects cannot comprise the entire New Deal, however. The New Deal was more of a social policy and construction projects were launched to create jobs and boost household income.

The new New Deal proposed by U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is an attempt to create 2.5 million jobs. It is not about launching large construction projects but about generating jobs in old infrastructure such as schools, traffic systems and public buildings and finding environmentally-friendly sources of alternative energy. It also includes reducing U.S. dependency on foreign oil and increasing Internet infrastructure.

Korean public officials, however, have proposed their own version of the New Deal without giving trustworthy and specific policy plans. Koreans have no idea about the policies other than vague plans for large construction works. The government did not clarify its position on if the river cleanup is unrelated to the grand canal project, which President Lee Myung-bak said June 19 that he will nix if the people oppose it. Also suspicious is the mention of the canal project by certain ministers, presidential secretaries, politicians close to the president, and supporters who pushed for the canal project in the presidential election campaign last year.

Serious consideration is needed of what is required over the long term to create jobs and strengthen economic infrastructure, even if the project is about building social infrastructure. Whether the river cleanup is more efficient and urgent than building railways, highways and ports must be verified. Policies for the middle and lower-income classes also must be worked out in detail. A so-called green New Deal might sound nice, but without a specific action plan, drawing crucial public trust and support will not be possible.