[FOUNTAIN]Come to Hooverville for a valuable lesson

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[FOUNTAIN]Come to Hooverville for a valuable lesson

John Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath” describes life in the United States during the Great Depression of the 1930s. It depicts the wandering existence of the Joad family of tenant farmers. During their journey from their Oklahoma home to California, there are many heartbreaking developments. The elderly grandparents die on the way. After being comforted by a clergyman over their deaths, the family continues on, in pursuit of their Western dream: “It is over for the dead. We have work to do.”
Finally the family reaches California, their destination. But the moment they see it, the dream disappears.
They move into a Hooverville, which is not the utopia they have been dreaming of, but a migrant camp of shacks, tents and jobless people. It is clear that the Joads will not find their fortune here. They have done their best, but their journey has ended in failure, and now they have to wander again.
The Hooverville is not just a fictional place. In those times, there were Hoovervilles all over America, filled with the hopeless and the unemployed. Everyone who read the novel knew what a Hooverville was.
Why the name? It was a play on the name of then-President Herbert Hoover. It reflected the grief and resentment of common people who had to suffer from poverty because of economic failure. There was also what was known as a “Hoover blanket”: the newspapers that the desperately poor would use to cover themselves at night for lack of anything else.
President Hoover was an ideologue. He was a morally upright person. But he was incompetent. He was unable to look squarely at reality. When the economy collapsed, President Hoover assured the people that everything would be all right. He said there had been little reform in government prior to his inauguration. He said that the final victory over poverty was at hand. Self-importance and incompetence ― that was the combination that led to Mr. Hoover’s being remembered as one of the three worst presidents in U.S. history.
What about us? Of course Korea’s present situation can’t be compared with what the United States was going through during the 1930s. But the statistics alone show us how badly the economy is doing. And ordinary people can talk about it firsthand.
And yet we don’t often hear the president worrying about the economy. What we hear from him is talk about a coalition government. Is this because President Roh Moo-hyun believes what he said on April 6 ― that “the Korean economy has fully recovered?” If Mr. Roh, who is currently on vacation, takes a close look at the origin of the word “Hooverville,” perhaps he will learn a lesson.

by Lee Sang-il

The writer is a deputy international news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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