Beware the Tacitus Trap

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Beware the Tacitus Trap


While President Moon Jae-in makes a speech and Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon listens, Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy and Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki drinks water at the 2019 National Finance Strategy Meeting on May 16. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

The author is the deputy financial team editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.

Tacitus was considered one of the best leaders and senators in Rome. He was also a great historian. Along with Sallustius and Livius, he is one of the three great Roman historians. He wrote “Germania” — the only book on ancient Germanic tribes existing today — which is considered one of the most dangerous books in human history as it was the basis for the core concepts of Nazi ideology. His other major works include “The Histories” and “The Annals.”

A Tacitus Trap refers to the trend of people treating everything, whether true or false, as a lie when the government or an organization loses its credibility. In his “Histories,” Tacitus wrote that once the people bear a grudge against an emperor, all the good and bad things he does makes them hate him. When the government loses the people’s trust, nobody believes the truth.

It is similar to the “redenomination scare” spreading throughout YouTube and other social media platforms. “Redenomination” refers to the act of changing the face value of currency to smaller units in the same ratio. In other words, it means changing the currency unit. Yet some people mistook it as currency reform and are swept up by various “theories.” They believe that: “The purpose is to legalize an underground economy by taking away stashed cash. Currency value will plummet and real estate prices will surge. We have to put money in safe assets like U.S. dollars or gold.”

The Blue House, Bank of Korea Gov. Lee Ju-yeol and Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy and Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki have all made it clear that the rumor is groundless. They emphasized it was never considered and that there is no plan to pursue it. To change the currency unit, the Bank of Korea Act should be revised and the National Assembly has to agree. It is realistically difficult, yet some people have been swayed.
What’s beneath the redenomination scare is uncertainty surrounding the Korean economy, distrust in the government and discontentment with the economic policies of the current administration. A Tacitus Trap, or a so-called withdrawal of trust, creates rumors.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 27, Page 31
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