The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The Battle of Waterloo episode marks the first chapter of Chinese million-seller book “Currency Wars” by Song Hongbing. Major Henry Percy, the messenger of the Duke of Wellington, arrived in London, on the night of June 21, 1815, with the much-awaited news that the British and their allies had defeated the French Army under Napoleon at Waterloo. The sea voyage carrying the good news was delayed due to stormy weather. Rumors were already abound that Wellington would have been defeated by Napoleon. One man, banker Nathan Rothschild, knew better. He was informed about the battle before Percy arrived in London. Rothschild’s agents bought cheap stocks at the London exchange and made huge gain.
It is not just Song who believes the great Rothschild fortune was built on a bet on the 1815 Battle of Waterloo. Nathan, the third son in the banking family in London, learned of the British victory in the high-stakes battle 30 hours faster than the rest of the British, and earned riches through the trade in British government bonds. Some historians like Niall Ferguson refuted to the theory, but nevertheless most agree on the importance of firsthand information to get ahead and make money in finance.
The Rothschild brothers had informants and agents across Europe who sent messages with pigeons that were faster than public announcements and newspaper reports. Their network and faster access to developments in other countries and markets helped build trade and investment for the financing family. Their correspondences showed that the brothers resided in London, Paris, Frankfurt, Vienna, and Naples to exchange information.
Information makes money and power. In the digital age, even a few seconds can make a difference. “The Future” by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore explained that traders in New York and Chicago futures and securities markets used superfast optical cables despite their hugely high costs because they were 0.003 seconds faster than the general network. Even 0.003 seconds could make someone richer or poorer.
The prosecution office is a rich source of information. It is not that prosecutors are well informed. They deal with so many lives and can change them as well. If they start investigations on a new drug maker, thousands of retail investors could be affected. Money is not the only area that becomes influenced. Some lawmakers could be indicted for the violence involved at the National Assembly to stop fast-track bills. The indictment will not just decide the fate of the lawmaker but the staff in his or her office as well as the future of their constituencies.
The government has banned the prosecution from releasing details of their investigation underway. Their regular briefings are no longer available. Reporters cannot ask about a certain criminal case, and prosecutors cannot confirm any of them. Even if a certain public figure is indicted, prosecutors cannot explain the charges.
The new guideline was imposed under Cho Kuk during his brief stay as justice minister. It was designed to protect civilian rights of the people whose crimes have not been proven. The opposition Liberty Korea Party strongly backed the prosecution’s seizure of confidential state documents for the impeachment trial of former President Park Geun-hye two years ago. But everything changed after the opposition became the ruling force.
Who would be most disadvantaged from the embargo on information from the prosecution? The government has blocked information to the people who have to rely on media reports. Information is distributed even under sanction, although to a selective group who can afford to pay the higher price.
Wealth inequalities have widened under the Moon Jae-in administration. Even having a home in Seoul has become an unreachable dream for many as a result of the liberal administration’s ever-tougher real estate policies. On top of that, the information gap has widened. Equilibrium should be restored before it is too late.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 26, Page 28