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Lula’s Triumph, Obama’s Loss, and Korea

Posted November. 05, 2010 11:19,   


People do not vote for an incumbent who has done a bad job. Brazil`s ruling party candidate Dilma Rousseff, chosen by the phenomenally popular President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, garnered the most votes in Brazil’s presidential election Sunday. In the U.S., mid-term elections were held Tuesday. U.S. President Barack Obama had pledged to bring about change in his election campaign two years ago but failed to create jobs and instill hope in the American people.

December 2007 is well remembered by Koreans as they elected a new president after being disappointed with the Roh Moo-hyun administration. Then Grand National Party presidential candidate Lee Myung-bak won the election by earning 5.31 million more votes than runner-up Chung Dong-young of the United New Democratic Party (now the Democratic Party). People voted for Lee with the expectation that he could revive the economy and trusted his “747” pledge of 7-percent annual growth in GDP, per capita income of 40,000 U.S. dollars, and Korea`s rise to the rank of the world’s seventh-largest economy.

In the face of the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression of the 1930s, Obama pushed forward with massive stimulus plans and fiscal spending, including bailing out the financial sector. He failed to create jobs, however, something which Americans most longed for, but adhered to his reform agenda despite incurring public resentment. Companies criticized Obama’s reform measures as dragging down economic recovery and said health insurance and financial reforms resulted in more regulations and heightened uncertainty, altogether denting their investment drive. Companies simply held reserves in their hands and were unwilling to invest.

In an interview with The New York Times, Obama said he thought fiscal spending would create public sector jobs. Had that money been spent on the private sector, consumption and production could have increased, enabling the market to self-operate and raising the investment confidence of U.S. companies.

Decades ago, another U.S. president was frank with Americans in a time of far greater peril. “Your government has unmistakable confidence in your ability,” said Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After turning the economy around, he set up plans to expand social welfare. Obama put practicality behind ideology and ideals, however, in his zeal to overcome the crisis. Lula is the first president in Brazil who instilled pride in its people living in a country with as many resources as the U.S. but not wealth. Elson Gomez, a truck driver in Brazil, said, “Lula is the first president who made me feel that my country is the best in the world. He has made me proud of my country.”

Lula’s biggest achievement is boosting the Brazilian economy and narrowing the gap between rich and poor. Between 2003 and 2008, the number of poor declined 43 percent, among whom 32 million joined the middle class. The U.K.-based Financial Times said Lula turned Brazil into a nation with opportunity by raising poor people’s income more than others. Lula is a president who enabled all of his countrymen to become better off, the daily added.

Bolsa Familia, an anti-poverty program in Brazil, scales up cash transfers to the poor to help them stand on their own. Cash is given to mothers who must send her children to school and get them proper vaccinations. The program has cut the number of welfare-related civil servants and prevented welfare fraud. The program had been launched by a former leftist president but Lula continued the program in yet another stellar accomplishment.

A former labor activist, Lula did not side with unions but instead granted autonomy to companies and privatized state-owned businesses. He also cooled inflation through an ultra belt-tightening policy and attraction of foreign capital. Because of this, Brazil is now the world’s eighth-largest economy with growth of 7 percent this year and unemployment of 6.7 percent, the lowest since 2002. Brazil will also host the World Cup soccer finals in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016.

The world population will begin declining from 2020. Korea should steadily strive to join the ranks of advanced economies within this period. In a fair society, those who work hard are rewarded. The creation of a social safety net is crucial but a “cradle to the grave” system of social welfare is inappropriate for today’s world. It will be interesting to hear what Korea’s ruling and opposition parties think about the elections in Brazil and the U.S. Two years from now, Korea will elect its next president. What will his or her qualifications be?