With the presidential election in South Korea only three months ahead, The Dong-A Ilbo conducted a survey of 436 subscribers in collaboration with the Korean Association for Public Administration, and they cited “preparation for the fourth industrial revolution” as the biggest agenda of reform for the next administration. Many expressed their concerns that it is vital to upgrade the operating system of the old, obese government structure in order to deal with the crisis of global supply chains and covid-induced social bipolarizations more proactively.
Indeed, the market is changing at the speed of light. A new era of digital industry characterized by metaverse and AI is emerging fast, with the influence of cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) ever more growing. The conflicts and adjustments stemming from the sprawling expansion of platform businesses have long become a crucial socioeconomic agenda.
But the current government is not fully ready to catch up with the tectonic shift of economic and industrial paradigms. In a short-answer question for “a new ministry most needed for the next administration,” 63 respondents, the biggest number, proposed to install a ministry “dedicated to digital innovation” to mediate and manage the often line-blurring topics of digital agenda such as AI and data through various means of convergence.
It might be also necessary to consider building a new ministry with a comprehensive management scope over everything ranging from energy to environment to adjust the Moon Jae-in administration’s policies to phase out nuclear power and accomplish carbon neutrality to better reflect reality. That explains why the Biden administration rolled out the Department of Energy last month. As the recent shortage crisis of urea solution in South Korea suggests, any disturbance in global supply chains can have a serious impact on the local economy; therefore, the government needs to be equipped to monitor and manage the different categories of industrial policy, diplomacy, national security, and information.
While Lee Jae-myung and Yoon Seok-youl, the presidential candidates from the ruling and main opposition parties, are sharing their vision for restructuring, a fundamental problematic awareness is nowhere to be seen. Their reform agendas are fragments of an argument for separate budget authorities, an establishment of a youth department to win the hearts of younger voters in their 20s and 30s, and a proposal to revamp the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. Neither candidate has clarified any plan as to how they will usher in and prepare for an industrial revolution. Instead of sticking to the stopgap measures of fiddling with the existing ministries or creating a new ministry to earn votes from a particular group of people, the two candidates must share their vision and have a fierce open discussion on how they will cope with the ever-changing tech trends and social evolutions of late. Their strategies of “splitting up” or “assembling” ministries as a way of marking a breakaway from the previous government are not worth pushing for.