[FOUNTAIN]Too many brokersBrokers live off the commission from mediating a business deal between two parties. Originally, the word “broker” used to mean a celebration or a gift following the conclusion of a business deal. It comes from the French “brocour,” which was used in England from the 11th to 14th centuries. The word came to have the modern meaning when “pawn-broker” was first used in England in 1687. In the 19th century, the word began to refer to the specialists intermediating stock trading in the stock market. Broker is now a general term for middlemen. Influential politicians are often called “power brokers.”
The word “broker” started to be used in Korea during the Japanese rule. The Dong-A Ilbo wrote of a securities trading business in an article titled, “Bill-Broker Opening” in the June 14th issue in 1923. In his book named “The Gold Rush,” Professor Jun Bong-gwan discussed stories of intellectual brokers. Mr. Jun believed extraordinary manners and articulation, culture, connection, expert knowledge of their subject and motivation to overcome personal humiliation were the traits expected from a broker. These characteristics help make an excellent broker in the classical sense.
However, the meaning of the word has changed. Today, calling someone a broker is almost an insult. Where there is a scandal, there is a sinister broker. They do not have licenses and don’t even call themselves brokers. All they have is a tongue for smooth talk and all kinds of connections to exploit even the faintest acquaintance.
Brokers live together with black money. In the mid-90s, there was a rumor the slush fund of former president Roh Tae-woo was over 400 billion won. Cafes in the Jongno neighborhood were crowded with private loan brokers. They hoped they could make big money through money laundering.
During the construction boom, real estate brokers were rampant, and when many Koreans wanted to emigrate, visa brokers prevailed. During the financial crisis, loan brokers approached people who needed money urgently. Some powerful people received the help of conscription brokers so their children could evade military service. As defectors from the North increased, brokers began smuggling people into the country.
Recently reported controversies such as the alleged corruption regarding apartment construction at Opo in Gyeonggi province and the human egg trade involved brokers as well. Penetrating the trends of the time and avoiding regulations, the survival skill of brokers is amazing. I am worried that Korea is turning into a country full of pseudo-brokers.
by Ko Dae-hoon
The writer is a deputy city news editor for the JoongAng Ilbo.