A fanciful happy ending
The author is the editor of economic news at the JoongAng Ilbo.
“A (digital) coin is like a sudden portal opening up in a comic scene […] You must get in before the door closes. It is the only brief opportunity people like us can get,” says Dahae in a monologue in the book “Let’s Go to the Moon” by author Jang Ryu-jin. To the twentysomething heroine worn down by the run-of-the-mill work and burden of paying up student loan, the world of cyptocurrency appears as if by magic. She suddenly livens up and becomes hopeful fantasizing about riches as she enters the amazing world of cryptocurrency investment.
Although she put all her money in the digital coin, she has little idea about the technologies behind it except for reading some topic items in newspapers. “I have no idea about blockchain or cryptocurrency […]no matter how innovative the functions of the currency are, I have no need for the technologies,” she admits. She also is aware how risky her blind herd investment technique can be as she hears repeated warnings from the media and experts. “Even though I say I will reach the moon, I am fearful of going broke. I shake with the fear everyday.” But she desperately needed the light at the end of the tunnel in her dead-end life. “There is no hope here (workplace) under a conservative environment, stupid boss and meagre pay,” she fumes.
The dialogue in a fictional setting sounds real as if muttered by any young Korean. Their frantic crypto engrossment looks highly dangerous. A digital coin’s value soars by 1,000 times in just half an hour and sinks by a third a few hours later in the case of Arowana Token. Dogecoin created as a joke in the beginning celebrates its founding day as “Dogeday” by speculating on the coin on the day.
The novel mirrors young Koreans who stake everything in a risky asset. Not all young people are swept up in the frenzy. But the young generation desperately longing for an exit in their hopeless lives would sympathize with the chase for the castle in the sky.
The crypto phenomenon in Korea underscores the despair and anxieties of young Koreans. The economy once dubbed “Dynamic Korea” is no more. Opportunities have become rare. Growth potential has been sagging. Jobs for the young are becoming scarcer. Even those lucky to get in are stifled by the strict culture of conservative organizations.
The sky-high housing prices add to their agonies. Having a home even with saving every cent has become a mission impossible. Politicians who vowed to solve the housing problem turned out to be two-faced hypocrites.
The fear of never being able to own a home led to a panicky buying spree. When the panic buying subsided, the frenzy moved onto the crypto market.
There is no solution in sight to the young generation’s perils. There are only downsides down the road. Aging is accelerating and the fertility rate is at its lowest. Korea is drawn down into the dreadful dark age Japan has gone through. Covid-19 only exacerbated the situation. Even if the pandemic dies down, Korea will be stuck with low-growth and wealth disparities down the road.
The novel ends with a happy ending for the young. They hit the jackpot and plan a new life. But that’s possible only in a fictional setting. The reality is cruel. A speculative fever never ends well. A few could make money, but a lot more will be burned. The sweet dream of a windfall can turn into a nightmare at anytime.