[Viewpoint] Don’t mock the wealthy - join themOn Aug. 24, an IPTV study room for underprivileged children opened in Sosa-dong in Bucheon, Gyeonggi. Some 30 elementary school students attended the opening ceremony, and Korean Communications Commission Chairman Choi See-joong, Gyeonggi Governor Kim Moon-soo, lawmakers Cha Myeong-jin and Lim Hae-gyu and notable businessmen were invited as well.
Governor Kim gave a speech and noted the high-ranking attendees. As Grand National Party lawmaker Cha Myeong-jin congratulated everyone on the opening of the study room, he asked the children, “Raise your hands if you want to be a politician.”
None of the students raised their hands.
“Raise your hands if you want to be a singer.” About half raised their hands.
Finally, the lawmaker asked, “Raise your hands if you want to work hard and make a fortune.” The hands of all the students in the room shot up high.
When these grown-ups were young, they aspired to be president, a general or a scientist. Now to be rich is the most common dream among children. The students who raised their hands were from economically challenged backgrounds, but the desire for financial affluence seems to have penetrated deep into their innocent youth.
We don’t have to feel bitter about the material world. Instead, there are positive aspects to children having a healthy interest in making money early on. The grown-ups need to make sure to provide them with correct perceptions of the rich, a proper concept of money and healthy spending habits.
Koreans are not very friendly towards the rich. The rich have been constantly criticized for accumulating wealth in shady manners and not paying their taxes properly. There have been numerous cases of abuse of power, exploiting insider information or monopolizing profitable projects. Some businessmen have been involved in illegal transactions.
Despite recent improvements, people still associate being rich with corruption and crime, and many feel hostile to large corporations. A head of a conglomerate said that his teenage son had asked him if it was wrong to make lots of money. He realized that companies need to have a social conscience. We are certainly not giving our children a proper economics education.
For our children to have an appropriate perception of the rich, we need to teach them the essence of capitalism and the market economy. The mainstays of capitalism are the recognition of personal property, competition and the pursuit of profit. Opportunities are equal, but outcomes might not be the same.
Korea is a capitalist nation, but sentimentally, we are more socialist. In a sense, Korea stands in comparison to China, a socialist country with a capitalist mind-set. Companies will be respected if they give back to society, but the fundamental purpose of a business is to pursue profit.
Second, we need to encourage children to think economically. They should have clear ideas of opportunity costs, risk and return. Those who make a big fortune are often handsomely compensated after venturing into something others would not dare to. Yet they are often mocked for merely being lucky. We need to keep in mind that many more people fail. Fewer than 5 percent of venture companies end up successful.
Third, we need to show the new generation that to become rich requires ceaseless effort. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Superstars such as Big Bang and TVXQ and football phenomenon Park Ji-sung did not become rich because they were lucky. Their success is the fruit of their blood and sweat. Park Ji-sung became an international star after he trained with World Cup coach Guus Hiddink, but not every player who trained with Guus Hiddink became Park Ji-sung.
Fourth, children need to learn how to make money. One can make money ethically through normal and reasonable decision-making. One must study how leaders in a field became so successful in order to be like them. Newspapers are a treasure trove of information and can offer shortcuts to become rich.
Fifth, we need to shift the focus from the general to the particular. Koreans tend to make generalizations easily. If Mr. Rich evaded his taxes, it is his fault, not the entire wealthy population. Also, let’s avoid the folly of stereotyping and making overgeneralizations about certain jobs and industries
Finally, we need to learn from the rich instead of shunning them. Petroleum tycoon Paul Getty said if you want to be rich, you have to imitate rich people. You need to think and act like a rich man. Instead of being jealous of Samsung, we would become a more powerful nation if we had more companies like Samsung. If you take after a healthy rich man, you can be rich too. Respectable businessmen have access to the VIP room at Incheon Airport. Those who make money justly deserve respect.
I hope all of our children will be able to become rich.
*The writer is the senior economic news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Park Eui-joon