[Viewpoint]Defending the fortress

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[Viewpoint]Defending the fortress

Lately, the local stock market and the exchange value of the Korean won have been hit hard. When people have hopes that the market will improve, the index and won’s value go up. When the hope vanishes, the market plummets. Changes of heart happen almost every day, and we all are subject to cases of the jitters. People are fearful because we cannot predict the future.

However, in my eyes, the future is anything but bright. For at least a year, and probably longer, we are bound to struggle financially. Hardship awaits us. When the suffering is so obvious, there is nothing to be scared of or unsure about. You don’t have to actually hit bottom to know you are falling. What we need now is not fortune tellers or prophets, but people with the courage and wisdom to overcome these difficult times.

As this country makes its living from exports, Korea has to be sensitive about the shock waves from the financial crisis that have spread out from the United States around the globe. We are not responsible for the crisis. However, we cannot avoid its trials. The countries Korea exports to will be more frugal from now on, and this will lead to sluggish exports. Factories will be forced to shut down, resulting in increasing unemployment. You can predict the effects without much knowledge of economics.

Even if the existing financial order is maintained by a rescue package, an economic slump is clearly in our future. The economic crash has just not hit us yet. But we are beginning to see the dust clouds looming over the horizon created by the approaching enemy horsemen. Soon enough, they will surround our fortress. Until they retreat, we will be besieged. We need to be prepared at an individual level. But more importantly, we need to band together to protect the fortress.

President Lee Myung-bak was elected based on the people’s economic hopes and belief that he could revive our economy. However, his “747” campaign pledge - to achieve 7 percent annual growth, attain a per capita income of $40,000 and become the seventh-strongest economy in the world - is now a broken dream. Because of the souring exchange rate against the dollar, the national income has dropped even more. It is not the right time to tempt people with unrealistic promises and fancy propaganda. What we need now is determination and preparedness to overcome this hardship and unity to protect the fortress. During a time when suffering is on the horizon, leadership has to be different from periods of prosperity. For the time being our leadership cannot be based on economic principles, but on the will to save the nation.

In difficult times, the weak suffer first. When the fortress is surrounded, the poor are the first to run out of food. The rich can survive on their accumulated wealth when the economy is slow and stock prices hit rock bottom. In an age of turbulence, small and midsized businesses will collapse, and unemployed youth and undereducated people will suffer. Some will still profit amid the chaos by lending money at high interest rates, taking homes as collateral. Naturally, we will have discord within the fortress. But if we crumble internally, we cannot resist the crisis outside. Therefore, from now on, we desperately need leadership that shares the pain rather than one that pursues growth.

The leaders of the fortress play the biggest role in defending it. Not long ago, President Lee made a radio address and emphasized confidence. And where does this confidence come from? We need to trust our leaders. We have to have the conviction that if we follow them, the future will be brighter. The stock market and the exchange rate are fluctuating so much because the market does not trust the government. When the leaders are only working for their own benefit, no one will trust them or step forward to defend the fortress. We now need people who are willing to sacrifice.

During periods of growth, people are satisfied with their increasing wealth. However, in the age of suffering, people need leaders who can share their pain. When the country is prosperous, the free market is praised, but when we are struggling, the public interest must come first. We need leaders who put public interest before the personal.

We are at a juncture when the Lee Myung-bak administration needs to change its path. It cannot bring the citizens together under people who have always prioritized self-interest. There are just too many officials in the Lee government who have shady records when it comes to how they accumulated their wealth. I am sorry to say, but those who became rich through real estate speculation and rose to higher positions through their personal networks cannot lead us get through difficult times.

The initial shock of the financial crisis is starting to come under control. Now, the aftermath awaits us, and we need to prepare for the days after the storm. President Lee’s leadership direction needs to change, and the administration’s officials have to be replaced with people who are prepared to get us through the rough times ahead.

*The writer is the vice publisher and chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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