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[Editorial] ‘Occupy Yeouido’ rally

Anti-capitalism protests, which took shape in New York a month ago to decry Wall Street bankers, swept across the world Saturday. Angry protesters rallied in hundreds of cities all over the world, denouncing greedy financiers and ineffectual politicians for ruining the global economy and condemning millions to poverty.

In Seoul, civic groups braved the rain to organize protests in Yeouido, the hub of Korea’s financial industry, and other parts of the city, marching in step with “Occupy Together” protesters worldwide.

In the “Occupy Yeouido” rally, some 300 people from consumer rights groups, including the Korea Finance Consumer Association, urged “99 percent of Koreans” to unite and stand up against the remaining “1 percent” ― “reckless financiers and incompetent financial regulators.”

They asserted that Korean financiers triggered an unending series of problems, including the ongoing savings bank debacle, the 2008-09 “KIKO fiasco” and the 2003 credit card crisis, inflicting enormous pain and suffering on numerous consumers.

The main cause of these financial wrecks, they claimed, was the greed of financiers. The protesters also criticized financial companies for using their profits to enrich a handful of large shareholders and executives.

Their criticisms are mostly valid. In fact, they echoed the harsh rebuke to financial companies delivered by Financial Services Commission Chairman Kim Seok-dong on Thursday. Referring to financial firms’ growing tendency to pay out hefty dividends and big bonuses, Kim reminded them bluntly that they were bailed out with taxpayers’ money amounting to 160 trillion won ($140 billion). He then urged executives of financial companies to get rid of their excessive greed and avoid moral hazard.

A few days earlier, Financial Supervisory Service Chairman Kwon Hyuk-se also told CEOs of major banks to refrain from providing excessive compensation to large shareholders and executives and prepare for growing global financial market uncertainty.

Despite the scathing criticisms from the top regulators and an outcry from civic groups, financial companies have thus far taken no action to address the problems. They appear to think that it is unfair to treat them just like the Wall Street firms that pushed the global economy into turmoil.

There is a point to this. But they cannot escape criticism for continuing to ask for government money when in trouble, while in good times, they simply use profits to line the pockets of shareholders and employees. They should stop such irresponsible practices and behave in a more socially responsible way. This is the message that “Occupy Yeouido” protesters wanted to deliver.
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