[Viewpoint]Think like a rat

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[Viewpoint]Think like a rat

It’s already December, and the luckiest year ― that of the golden pig ― is nearing an end. However, not many people around me say this year has been so great. We surely have made our daily bread, but we have not experienced luxuries such as making a trip to the countryside for a regional gourmet meal.
The last few years have been tough, but we naturally hope next year will be better.
Next year is the year of the rat. According to the Chinese Zodiac, those born in the year of the rat are quick to spot danger, a characteristic that probably has to do with the nature of rats. They always check the back door before starting a job. Because they choose the less dangerous way out, they make self protection their top priority. Rats adapt to different environments easily and are pragmatic. Their weak points are stinginess and greed. Even when things seem satisfactory, they are not easily pleased.
If the rats display their merits, we will be able to enjoy a better living next year. However, that is not as easy as it sounds. Predicting the future is very difficult. Bank of Korea Deputy Governor Lee Seung-il has a good joke about that. In heaven, Einstein assigns tasks to the people who enter. He orders a person with an IQ of 300 to continue studying the theory of relativity. He asks a person with an IQ of 200 to plan a friction-free restructuring program. When a person with an IQ of 20 arrives, Einstein doesn’t know what to ask him to do. Finally, he says, “Predict the currency exchange rate in six months.”
That illustrates how hard it is to predict how the market will go. Nevertheless, we can clearly hear the warning signs that there may be a slump in the world economy, originating from the subprime home equity loan crisis. Former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said the housing downturn could get worse. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told The Wall Street Journal the subprime crisis will hit bottom next year. All we hear are grim forecasts.
In July, the world celebrated what Fortune Magazine called “the greatest economic boom ever,” saying it was “as good as it gets.” However, the situation has completely changed. The Federal Reserve minutes, released on Nov. 19, show that deciding on the rate cut in October was a close call.
High-ranking Korean government officials are also concerned. Financial Supervisory Commission Chairman Kim Yong-duk recently said the credit crunch in the United States will have a more serious effect on the global economy than expected.
Another official makes an even scarier prediction. “The high price of oil will burst the bubble in China’s economy after the Beijing Olympic Games. In addition to the slump in the U.S. economy, Korea’s foreign currency reserve will have no means of defense. We will have to endure difficulties that cannot be compared with the suffering we experienced during the 1998 foreign currency crisis. The only way to overcome the crisis is to gain trust from the international community. We need to earn a reputation that even if there is another foreign currency crisis, we won’t miss any payments.”
The year 2008 is the most important year for Koreans. We will have a new administration as the country is threatened by worldwide economic uncertainty. What we desperately need now is to adopt the merit of the rat, sense danger and reject the shortcomings of greed.
Unless we prepare for the risk and refrain from popping the champagne cork too early, we will end up repeating the crisis. In his poem, “The Rice of Positive,” Ham Min-bok wrote, “If I sell a copy of my collection of poems, I get 300 won (33 cents). It seems like a small amount of money, but it can buy me a bowl of salt, so I feel content like the blue sea.”
There are two things to keep in mind during the year of the rat: Beware of danger and keep within the boundaries. That way, next year will be safe and satisfactory.

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

by Chung Sun-gu

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