[EDITORIALS]The Scary Reminders of Debt

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[EDITORIALS]The Scary Reminders of Debt

By next week, Korea will officially put the economic recovery program supported by the International Monetary Fund behind her. The government will be returning the remaining $140 million of the $19.5 billion in assistance from the Fund on Aug. 23, two years and nine months ahead of the original schedule. The program would have lasted three years and eight months.

That report is no doubt a positive development, especially because nothing, whether it is in the economy or in politics, seems to be going right. It is especially uplifting that the country will be officially taking back the right to set the fundamental direction of the economy that was given up for money. We have come to realize harshly what debt is capable of doing and how important leadership is to an economy. Looking back on the desperate circumstances in the depth of the crisis and the ensuing recession, we ought to be proud about our part in making a recovery.

But the response to the final repayment has been lackluster, clearly because of a new set of circumstances that has emerged. While economic indicators are uniformly slipping, the people also cannot seem to say confidently that things are any better than they used to be. Political squabbles are widening schisms and the government refuses to do its job, which add to woes.

So confidence in a better tomorrow keeps waning. The outlook for the second half of the year is growing murkier. Following a sharp deterioration in exports and capital investment, even consumption is showing signs of slowing. The growth for the third quarter is now expected to dip below 3 percent, pulling growth for the year down with it. The worse case scenario has another economic crisis looming.

When these are the circumstances we are faced with, paying off the debt to the International Monetary Fund cannot by itself be a cause for celebration. It should rather be an occasion to commit to a new start. The first people who need to get their acts together have to be politicians who cannot stop bickering and government officials who look to the Blue House for everything. Crises can come and go, but there would be nothing more hopeless than a country that does not learn from the one that has just passed.
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