The Korea Herald


[Kim Seong-kon] S. Korea should choose Affluent Boulevard, not Poverty Lane

By Kim Seong-kon

Published : Sept. 3, 2019 - 17:15

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There are many funny street names in the Unisted States. Some reflect positive nuance and idiosyncrasy, while others sound negative and weird. Google provides a host of funny street or road names in America.

Some funny names include Frying Pan Road in Virginia, Roast Meat Street in Connecticut, Chicken Dinner Road in Idaho and North Sandwich Street in New Hampshire. Other amusing names are Anyhow Road in New York, Pillow Talk Court in Las Vegas and Billy Goat Strut Alley in Kentucky.

There are some street names you may find charming. For example, you may want to live on Memory Lane in Mississippi, Story Street in Montana or I Dream of Jeannie Way in Florida. Perhaps living on Supreme Court in Illinois or A Hundred Year Party Court in Colorado would not be bad, as well. And who would not want to live on Candy Castle Lane in Indiana or Pleasant Street in Massachusetts, even though they sound a bit unusual as a street name?

There is little doubt, however, that you would be reluctant to write the following as your mailing address: Psycho Path in Michigan, Error Place in Cincinnati, Slaughter Neck Road in Delaware, Booger Hollow Road in Alabama, Bad Route Road in Montana, or Poverty Lane in New Hampshire. Indeed, it would be a bit awkward to say “Poverty Lane,” to a taxi driver asking. “Where to?” It would be equally embarrassing whenever you had to write “Poverty Lane” in the address box on documents.

These days, many people are worried about the possibility that South Korea may end up entering Poverty Lane in the near future unless it changes the current lane of populism that has been consuming astronomical amounts of tax money. If that is true and the worries turn into a reality, all the nations of the world will witness a country that was once envied for accomplishing the “economic miracle on the Han River” going further down Poverty Lane.

Aside from populism, there are other factors that might make the South Korean economy falter. he possibility of foreign investors’ abrupt, massive withdrawal of funds comes first to mind. Surely, foreign investors will not hesitate to do so as soon as they find South Korea is no longer a safe and secure place to invest due to unprecedented international crisis, such as its clash with Japan, hostile along with squeaky trade issues between China and the United States that will eventually impact the domestic economy, or potential threats from a North Korea that has secured its nuclear arsenal. If South Korea’s identity continues to remain dubious as it vacillates between socialism and capitalism, foreign investors will also be reluctant to invest here.

If the UN’s economic sanctions on North Korea are lifted and South Korea offers massive financial aid to the it, supporting 20 million destitute people there, the South Korean economy will no longer be prosperous. Of course, South Korea can take advantage of cheap labor in North Korea. But it will cost many local jobs here. Besides, there are other places for inexpensive labor in Southeast Asia already.

Our relationship with China, Japan, and the States, too, will affect our economy directly. We should always keep in mind that America’s primary concern is Japan, rather than South Korea, and China’s main concern is Pyongyang, not Seoul. Therefore, we cannot afford the luxury of having an illusion that both China and the US will take the side of South Korea over the North or Japan. That means we are all alone and can easily be isolated in East Asia, caught in the crossfire among our neighboring countries.

Our isolation will go deeper when Japan and the States choose to come to terms with North Korea directly without the mediation of the South, thinking that they could use North Korea as a leverage against China, like the US did with Vietnam. If so, South Korea will no longer appear useful in the eyes of Japan and the States. Many Koreans still naively believe that South Korea so is important strategically that Washington will never give her up. Unfortunately, however, this may no longer be true. It would be quite embarrassing for South Korea, and yet we should prepare for such a change, because that day will surely come in the near future unless we change the course of our nation that, according to many experts, is currently headed in the wrong direction.

In order to enjoy economic prosperity, we should be on good terms with other nations. If we are at war, it is other countries that will become prosperous by taking advantage of the situation. We should be wise and discreet, before making hasty decisions emotionally. We should use our cool heads, not our boiling, pumping hearts

When people in other countries ask us, “Where’re you going?” we should be able to answer, “To Affluent Boulevard,” not “To Poverty Lane.”

Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting professor at the University of California, Irvine. -- Ed.