[NOTEBOOK]Calendars drop Korea to 2d tier

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[NOTEBOOK]Calendars drop Korea to 2d tier

The year 2001 is winding down and with it there is one thing that has to be changed fundamentally. The calendar craze.

This year it is pretty hard to get a free calendar. Many companies have cut down on their free-calendar frenzy under the pretext of "cost savings." What was once a given commodity has become a luxury item. Most companies have reduced their calendar production by 10 to 20 percent while almost none increased it. No wonder customers and business partners are whining in chorus, "Where is our calendar?"

If one blames the economy for this sign of reduced generosity nobody is going to disagree. But I think we need to put a new light on this matter. We certainly don't need a calendar for each room. I wouldn't know any person in the world with enough energy and patience to go through that tedious process of putting a hole in every room. One calendar for each house should be surely enough to handle the affairs of one year.

Without doubt, a calendar full of nice pictures and paintings is in itself a decoration, but at what price to the company? Conglom-erates like Samsung, LG and SK usually print 500,000 to 1 million calendars, though not necessarily all the same size. Equally well known companies print in the hundred-thousands, all at a minimum cost of at least 1,000 won (80 cents) a calendar. One does not need to be a genius to figure out the substantial costs that companies have to bear.

We should adopt the thinking that even a small calendar is a waste of money. It would be a small step we could take in order to join the ranks of the foremost economic nations.

Several indicators including GDP evaluate a country's economic power. "Competitiveness" is one key factor. For a country like ours, where too many people live in a small area with limited natural resources, exporting is the only way to bring the bread and butter home. In order to export, one has to be ready to compete with local and international companies that are trying to do the same. "Competitiveness" makes a country great in this new war.

Several research institutions regularly study competitiveness. The International Institute for Management Development and the World Economic Forum are the leading authorities. Korea ranked 28th out of 49 countries in the institute's evaluation; the forum put Korea 23d out of 75 nations this year.

Still, there is hope for Korea. First, the studies revealed that a country's size does not necessarily determine its competitiveness. In the Institute for Management Development's study, America, Singapore, Poland, Luxemburg and the Netherlands took the top honors. In the World Economic Forum's study the leaders were Finland, America, Canada, Singa-pore and Australia. Countries smaller than Korea ranked high on both lists. This should ring a bell in our heads. We could be on that list if we wanted to.

The second thing to note is the evaluation categories. The studies mainly focused on the effectiveness of government and the level of corruption. Other factors considered were company productivity, technology level and human resources. In other words, natural resources and capital are secondary. What is important is the system in place and the values. These are things we can learn, so there is hope for us.

Companies in the United States or Europe can make their living just by meeting domestic consumption, but Korean companies have to export to survive. Hence, keeping the product costs down is priority No.1, and companies that compete like crazy to cut their costs are called "patriots" in that sense.

We should start a "no sending and receiving greetings cards" campaign. Nowadays, the letters "Happy New Year!" are already imprinted and one needs only to write the sender's and receiver's names. Sometimes, the signature of the sender is imprinted as well, and one starts to wonder why the card has been sent in the first place. After all, a card should have some personal touch to it. Of course, one understands the need for these imprints. It is quite a painful task to write every card by hand.

A new state of mind of the receiver would liberate us from the slavery of "producing," when we should write, greeting cards. What we should keep in mind is that we don't have to have a greeting card.

writer -----------------------------------------------------------------------

The writer is a deputy business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Min Byong-kwan

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