[NOTEBOOK]By law, things could be worse“If anything can go wrong, it will.” This is Murphy’s Law, and it gets applied to almost everything. On the day of a school field trip or a homecoming, it will certainly rain. College entrance examination day will always be the coldest of the season. When I get in line at a supermarket to pay, my cashier will be the slowest one. When I’m caught in a traffic jam and change lanes, the lane I just left will begin to move.
Half-jokingly, a businessman recently said that Korea’s economy seems to follow Murphy’s Law. Whenever it’s about to recover, an unexpected incident occurs that sets back hopes.
If exports begin to rise, manufacturers cannot secure raw materials. Then international oil prices go up, and companies cannot keep up with the rising costs. When the economy finally shows signs of recovery after a long slump, the election season approaches. As an investigation of illegal election campaign funding is about to conclude, another scandal stirs society.
Politicians could make the atmosphere more amicable if they chose to, but they almost always drive the situation into near-catastrophe. A political fiasco is followed by another scandal. Everyone has agreed that saving the economy is priority number one. So why is the situation so complicated?
While Korea struggles with its political, social and economic predicaments, economies around the world have started to show signs of recovery. But the Korean economy is still hibernating. The U.S. economy certainly has rebounded, and there are clear signs of recovery in Europe. China and India are leading growth in Asia as new economic engines, and other Asian countries, such as Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Taiwan, are following them closely. Even Japan seems to have grown out of its decade-long slump. Korea seems to be the only country whose economic forecast is still murky. Was our economy born under an unlucky star?
Scientists claim that Murphy’s Law is not about luck, and can be logically debunked. Field trips and homecomings are usually scheduled in a season with high rainfall. Similarly, college entrance examinations are held in early winter, when people really notice the mercury dropping.
The odds of my choosing the fastest cashier line, out of all the available ones, are slim. The “slow-moving lane” effect in a traffic jam can be similary explained. Murphy’s Law is a bogus theory that places responsibility on fate, with no basis in logic. (It has a good deal to do with the fact that people tend to forget good experiences and hold on to bad memories.) It might sometimes give comfort, but it has nothing to do with reality.
That applies to the current economic situation, too. There must be tangible reasons why raw materials are in short supply and oil prices are rising. Irrespective of the market’s condition, the election date has been set for some time. We all know better than to blame fate for the endless political fiasco. Dissatisfaction and antipathy toward politicians is not new. It has been a chronic problem, and the situation is unlikely to change overnight.
I asked an executive member of a civilian economic research institute about the effect of Murphy’s Law on the economy. He sarcastically responded with another question: “Has the Korean economy ever been out of difficulty?” He said that our economy has grown to its present size by overcoming all kinds of “unfortunate” realities. In retrospect, the current hardships are not necessarily worse than any past predicament.
But if the political climate were more stable, and if other factors were more favorable to the economy, wouldn’t the market have revived sooner? The expert responded, “If that was the case, something worse would have happened.”
* The writer is business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jong-soo