Time to pull ourselves together

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Time to pull ourselves together

The entire country is at a standstill and in a state of shock and mourning since the April 16 sinking of the Sewol ferry that killed hundreds of high school students. Everyone became united in praying for the safe return of the missing passengers and in grieving for the dead and their families. People willingly avoided entertainment activities, trips and dining out during the mourning period. A pall of solemnity and contemplation permeated the country as it came to grips with the unprecedented calamity that victimized so many young lives.

But the prolonged gloom has had too much of a negative effect on the economy. Across the country, more than 80 festivals have been cancelled or put off. Promoters and travel agencies refrained from marketing events in May - a month full of national holidays and breaks. People cancelled their planned trips during long weekends, dinner or entertainment appointments, and even sports and other outdoor activities. The shopping and services sectors have been hit hard by the self-imposed lethargy. Consumption has disappeared along with the Sewol ferry.

The listlessness has splashed cold water on fledgling recovery in consumption and hit small businesses hard. Unlike large companies that rely on external demand, restaurants, lodging, travel and retail businesses are struggling amid sluggishness in domestic demand. A national disaster has also cost the economy, making life even harder for the self-employed.

It is natural to sympathize with the pain and suffering of the families who have lost their loved ones in a sudden disaster and refrain from merrymaking and indulgence. Spending in the United States and Japan also fell sharply in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the 2011 earthquake. Consumption also fell to all-time low after the deadly 2003 fire in the Daegu subway. But never before was sluggishness so extensive and protracted that it hurt the overall economy. We cannot force ourselves to return to business as usual as many are still missing at sea. But the country must slowly pull itself together. There have already been too many losses. We cannot let this disaster kill the economy as well.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 30, Page 30

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