Thursday, March 1, 2007

Chapter 7: Credit is Life part 3, pages 199-205

Update 3/5: Rabbi Cooper won't be able to give a talk when he comes to Seoul this month. It's a busy life when you're fighting the good fight. I recommend to all that you do your part to help by going to any book store, picking up a copy of the book, flipping through it and tsk-ing loudly with an angry look on your face. You know, get the word out.

The really funny thing about this book, for me, is that it reminds me of when I had been in Korea for a year and a half, like Rhie had been in America for a year and a half. Thats the point where you start to tell yourself that youve got everything in your host country all figured out. The funny thing about it is that you form your sense of the country from the most trivial garbage. You see significance in the way people do insignificant things and extrapolate them out into great theories. The folks over at Peer-See (who I believe are currently in that year to year-and-a-half sweet spot of half-knowing their host country of China) have dubbed this process extrapohating.

In Rhies case, he extrapohates American stores return policies, service in stores, and operating hours out into a theory of America in todays longer than usual installment.

In our country, about 4 million people have bad credit. Many people commit suicide or crime because of card debt. Card companies are being ruined because of their costumers
procrastination. In America this would be views as unimaginably disturbing. Customers economic power and ability to pay are absolute preconditions for credit card companies , and as we see card companies ignoring credit history and in a time when competing companies fight with each other, carelessly giving credit cards to people with no economic power in their 20s and 30s who rack up huge debt that they cant bear, and walk the path to ruin, some card companies going bankrupt, and as we see out national economy deeply dominated [by this trend], isnt it time that we took another look at the idea that credit is life?

This was, of course, written in the period in 2003 and 2004 in which the major credit card companies in
Korea were issuing credit cards indiscriminately to anyone with a pulse, giving many Koreans enough economic rope to hang themselves. Rhie is saying that perhaps Korean companies should take a better look at their prospective customers and stop issuing so many cards to young people without jobs who could never pay off their debt

If we consider the credit card in
America as ones economic life, the drivers license is like another life that protects your freedom of mobility. In Americans wallets you will always find two kinds of cards, and those cards are the drivers license and the credit card. America is a huge country and in that huge country the people live very spread out from each other, and so its difficult to even imagine life in America without a car.

Sad but true, and naturally one of the truly positive things that one can say about
Korea. Great mass transit.

Many people use mass transit such as subways and buses in large cities with densely packed populations, but in small cities or suburbs the only way to get around is by car. Buses are not economical so they are few and far between. People with no cars, the sick and the elderly ride buses, but its unspeakably annoying to do so.


The biggest difference between American residential areas and our countrys is that there are never any stores in them. In America there are huge malls where all the stores are concentrated together, so if you want to buy a roll of toilet paper or a pack of gum, you have to go several kilometers to a shopping mall or shopping center to buy them. Since you cant walk there and you have to drive even to buy a loaf of bread, the car is as necessary to the American as a pair of shoes. Cars were prerequisites for American development, so Americans and their cars have an intimate relationship. In a country like that a person without a drivers license must be prepared for as must discomfort and trouble as a person without a credit card.


Most Americans get their license by the time theyre 18, and the US doesnt recognize foreign cards. America doesnt have a personal identification card like our Citizens Registration Card, so in America the drivers license is their identification card. One can get a drivers license by the time theyre 16, but in practice one can start driving when they are 18, and 16 year olds are permitted to drive only with a guardian present. So the credit card and the drivers license are Americas two forms of necessary evidence of identification. Since people use credit cards or debit cards for almost every transaction, almost nobody carries much cash. Once a robber held up a New York City subway car. Because almost everyone was carrying credit cards he got almost no cash. The famous story goes that he robbed everyone on the whole subway car and he didnt even get $100.


I love this page, it's a Rhie Won-bok special, full of lame observations of the kind that tourists make. Want to understand a nation? Go buy a rollof toilet paper, some gum and a loaf of bread, then ask a shopkeeper a question and write a book about it. Why not, you're a professor, you must be saying something of actual value.

Dont they say that in a capitalist society the customer is king? Therefore the more developed capitalism is the more kind the service will be and the more kingly the customers reign will be. But the logic that developed capitalism means kinder service is not true. Japan is a friendliness surplus nation, where the customer gets extremely kind service, and all the service workers have a kind smile stuck on their faces, but the problem is that the prices are groundlessly expensive.
Rhie goes on to credit these high prices to a so-called "smile price". It doesn't seem to occur to him that in a country where everything is expensive, things like wages and overhead might drive up the cost of things in places like restaurants. Nope, all those high prices are just going to pay for all that obsequiously good service. Makes perfect sense.

In the most progressively capitalist Europe, the concept of service is totally switched. All the department stores and shops close early like all the other companies (e.g. Mon.-Fri. 9:30-6:30, Sat. 9:30-2:30). A few years ago customers raised their voices to the rafters complaining and the stores were forced to extend their working hours (e.g. Mon.-Fri. 9:30-8:30, Sat. 9:30-6:30). Of course on Sunday every business closes its doors like a knife [yeah, I dont really get that simile either - Joe]. The shop workers are never around so if you want to ask something you have to wait for a long time, and finally when you get to ask your question you wind up getting a brusque answer.


When closing time arrives, without fail you wont be able to buy what you want because the checkout counter will be crowded and theyll stop working. Thats why a lot of people in Europe are very worried about losing service competitiveness, but in America, on the other hand, its the exact opposite. In Europe naturally and also in our country banks are closed on Saturday, but like a symbol [that they are part of] the service industry, banks in America are open on Saturday until the evening and to top it all, a service competition has started in which some banks are open even on Sunday. Americans cant even imagine a store being closed on Sundays or holidays. They even place huge ads for holiday shopping to drag in the shoppers. It must be nice to shop everywhere whenever you want, but the problem is when the customer becomes a service worker they think quite the opposite way
(Graphic shows a woman talking to a man)
Woman: If I become a service worker I can
t rest on Sundays or holidays either?
Man: I
m sure theyll give you more money or something.

It's funny to count the number of times graphic design professor Rhie Won-bok's imagination fails him. They take off other days, genius!

refund is an amazing part of buying things in America.

Incidentally, I live in Korea and I get refunds for things all the time. I once got a refund for a bicycle I'd been using for six months.

Refunding means canceling a purchase. If you cancel any purchase and return the item for money, they dont even ask the reason and just give you the money. Naturally you cant return consumable items or things that you can copy like CDs, and sometimes they ask you why you want to return the item, but no matter what reason you give they will exchange the item. This system was legally mandated to protect customers from bad quality products, but in reality its because the service workers or store owners dont have to return any money and thus suffer no damage.
(Graphic shows men labeled
store original company, and manufacturer, and a box labeled original price of manufacture)
Store (thinking): If the original company refunds the money that
s the end of it.
Original company: If I pass off the refunding to the manufacturer that
ll be the end of it.
Manufacturer (angrily): People return things at the slightest provocation. Because of returns our profit is falling, so we must put the price of returns into our products.
(Graphic shows the author holding a layer-cake like box, with layers labeled
original price, tax and return price”)
Thats why in Japanese product prices there is a smile price and a friendliness price built in, and in American product prices there is a return price built in.

Just a thought here. If Im a kid and Im reading this book, how much is this going to make sense to me? Oh no, if I go to America I can get a refund whenever I want, but I have to pay a premium for the right to do so through added cost to the manufacturer. This reminds my of Rhies concept that America produces endless amounts of WMDs because of low population density. The concept just doesnt carry through to the conclusion. It just loses me in the middle, and I know for damn sure that it would lose any kid reading this book. This book reminds me at times like this of drunk adults talking to teenagers at parties about things theyd never understand. It also, come to think of it, brings to mind being a kid and buying MAD magazine, only to find reprints of The Lighter Side of . . . strips from the sixties. In the words of Milhouse They dont care whose toes they step on. Just like Rhie.

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