[Viewpoint]No reason to fear

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[Viewpoint]No reason to fear

Korea is said to have avoided a foreign currency crisis, but fear of an economic slump is growing. The crisis is spreading to the real economy, and people are afraid. When a fire breaks out in a theater, more people are crushed to death while rushing to the exit than actually burned to death by the fire. These victims die because of panic.

The root of the financial crisis is that people rashly withdraw their deposits out of fear that they might lose them. That’s why Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” when America was hit by the Great Depression.

If you are in fear, you will defeat yourself before waging a fight. However, the problem is that we cannot help feeling scared no matter how many times we are told not to.

About 10 days ago when the country was in the middle of the financial crisis, I visited Ulsan. Farmers were busy harvesting rice in the golden fields. I was reminded of the old days when the country was poor. It felt like yesterday when we celebrated the production of over 40 million sacks of rice. Today, no one is interested in a good harvest. We might have become insensitive and less grateful.

I also toured the Hyundai Heavy Industry and Hyundai Motors factories during my Ulsan visit. As I explored the world’s No. 1 shipbuilder and No. 5 automaker, I felt sure that Korea would never fall.

I was overwhelmed with a sense of confidence that as long as there are Koreans working hard and breaking a sweat all over the country, we will stand tall. I thanked the founding fathers of the Korean economy who have created that foundation, namely Chung Ju-young and Lee Byeong-cheol.

I have witnessed with my own eyes the evidence that we need not fear.

If anyone feels afraid about the future of the Korean economy, I encourage him to go to Ulsan, or to Samsung Electronics in Suwon, or to Posco. He should see for himself that Korea is not so vulnerable.

Fear is born when trust fails. President Roosevelt’s first challenge was to regain his nation’s confidence. He needed to make the citizens believe that there was someone who was in charge and was taking care of the Great Depression.

Throughout the month of October, Koreans were in fear because we did not have such a figure.

Confidence in a leader is not gained through words. He has to show proof.

The won-dollar swap deal is proof. What made the market suddenly trust the Lee administration? Did it use convincing rhetoric? No. One trustworthy action removed market distrust.

Fear spreads like an epidemic, and the rapid spread of fear is panic. Leaders are responsible for keeping this from happening. When a general is scared, his army will fall. That’s why the person in power and the agency with authority has to be prudent in what he says and does.

No matter how hard the government tries to aid a bank, if the bank is afraid of bankruptcy and passively holds onto its money, companies become insolvent. If those with money cut spending at times of an economic crunch, the economy for the average citizens will fall as well. If employers decide to lay off employees out of fear, the economy will go into a vicious cycle of unemployment and an economic slump.

We can overcome fear with courage. We all have a worry or two. Courage is the mindset to get over the fear and stand tall instead of being crushed by it. Courage without basis is recklessness. If we have proof, trust in ourselves and are capable of convincing others, we have real courage.

And we have reasons to be courageous. As I said earlier, Korean corporations are no longer the companies they were at the time of the [1997] financial crisis. They now have solid fundamentals. We need to trust corporations and those who run them. Korea used to be the poorest country in the world, and now, we are the 13th largest economy.

Korea has been invited to the G-20 summit to discuss the international economic crisis. This is proof that Korea has grown. We have past experience of getting over a crisis. And so we hold the conviction that we can cope with this one as well.

In particular, the crisis this time seems to be a temporary one. The ordeal is expected to last a year or two, maybe three years at most. And we can use this knowledge to comfort ourselves.

Just as fear spreads, courage is also contagious. When everyone was shivering in fear before Goliath, young David stepped forward with a few stones and a sling. He might have been confident with his sling that he used to defend his sheep from wolves. Maybe, he had a belief, or a vision, that he could defeat Goliath. It was the source of his courage, and his courage turned the table. That courage spread to the soldiers who were infected with fear.

What we need now are belief and courage. When we believe that we can overcome the economic crisis, we will be able to.

*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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