Opening Ceremony of Karl Polanyi Institute Asia
Date April 24th, 2015 | Venue Seoul Innovation Park
It is a great pleasure to be here today. I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to President Alan Shepard of Concordia University and Professor Kari Polanyi Levitt for coming all the way here to congratulate everyone on the opening of the Karl Polanyi Institute Asia. I also thank Professor Marguerite Mendell, who is not with us here today, President Song Gyeongyong of the organizing committee, and Director Jeong Taein for hosting the institute. And thank you, all of the distinguished guests.
Today is a very meaningful and historical day. It is the day when a Karl Polanyi Institute branch is opened in Seoul, the capital of Korea, the first of its kind in Asia. Honestly, the name Karl Polanyi has perhaps long been unfamiliar to many people, including myself. Why then is Polanyi gaining a new life here in Seoul, Korea 50 years after his death? I think the desire to dream of and create a new society and a new civilization has been calling Karl Polanyi to Seoul for some time. It is no coincidence that a Karl Polanyi Institute is opening in Seoul, which has been through a winding history and countless ordeals. We have serious and grave challenges today as well. Disparity between the rich and the poor and inequality are blocking the way towards social justice and cohesion. The low birth rate and ageing population, as well as climate change and environmental issues are threatening our future.
For the last year, Korean society has been in a chaotic state. I sometimes think that we are not moving forward at all towards a new future. Compressed modernization and speed-oriented economic growth, which we have believed in and have had blind faith in, is stagnant, and the Sewol Ferry disaster was a direct result of those complex factors. The achievements of industrialization and democratization that we wanted to reach faster than anybody else resulted in an uncaring and unprincipled society in which such disasters were inevitable. The chaos has also been caused by a lack of introspection and imagination in the new society. It reminds me of Antonio Gramsci’s quote, “A crisis consists precisely of the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born.” The reason we cannot help recollecting the quote now is that we are facing a true crisis. The reality is that the novelty, which will replace the old, is not yet moving. It is not a problem only in Korea and Seoul. The problem is experienced by Beijing and Tokyo, and is shared by the developing countries in Asia.
Because crisis is another name for opportunity, we must turn this crisis into a great transformation to a new society and a new civilization. Karl Polanyi gave us a motive for a new imagination and a model of new social development. He said, “Freedom is the foundation of all true harmonies” and, “A human being cannot be subordinate to a market or a product.” He emphasized that “The economy should be controlled and instructed so that the economy does not subjugate a society and people, but instead should move for the society and people.” Through the concept of “embeddedness,” he stressed that the economy should be accessed and understood in relation to the society, because the economy is embedded in the society.
These insights arose from a deeply rooted faith in humanity’s free will and trust in the cooperation and solidarity of community. I believe that these introspections were possible because he had a humane belief in coexistence, mutual aid, and reciprocity. It is time for us to unfold a new imagination for a new community to emerge, with a new will to achieve a great transformation.
The Karl Polanyi Institute Asia and Seoul will stand in the center of this new change. Seoul has already started it. Seoul is ready to fly with the two wings of governance and innovation with citizens. The entire complex will be an advanced base, a hub of social innovation. A number of international organizations will join us and many people who dream of a new society will be revived.
Hubs of a sharing economy, a social economy, cooperatives, and community movements are all here. These will form a major framework and be a signal to go forward to a new society, a new Seoul, and a new future.
The foundation of GSEF is in line with this as well; that it held the first conference and started as the first chair city is in accordance with Seoul’s dream and goals for a new model of social economy.
Our plan and ambition is to adopt the social economy method in every area of administration to present a Seoul-type social economy development model and bring about new changes in citizens’ lives. The determination to raise the ratio of social economy out of GRDP to 7% by 2020 will be an important milestone towards that goal and vision. Seoul’s goal and vision is to be the capital of global social economy and cooperatives.
There are always difficulties and challenges on a new path. However, if we walk together rather than alone, the dream and the goal will be certainly achieved. Seoul will go forward with the Karl Polanyi Institute. I thank the president, professors, Chairman Park Jindo, and the members of organizations again. Seoul will be with you. Thank you.