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A Retirement-encouraging Society
in the Era of a 100-year Life Expectancy

 

2022.04.04

 

While working at a large corporation, person ‘A’ started investing in real estate in 2014. Through ‘gap investment (a type of investment in Korea where the house owner leverages the money provided by lump-sum housing lease to purchase a house with a small amount of capital),’ ‘A’ started buying houses near the metropolitan area. After six years, by 2020, his asset amounted to 2.5 billion won. He could not imagine his wealth to grow to such an extent.
Based on his experience, ‘A’ opened a podcast channel on real estate investment and saw a rapid increase in subscribers. After listening to ‘A’’s podcast, a publishing company representative contacted ‘A,’ asking if he would like to publish a book about his experiences. ‘A’ decides to write a book and concludes a contract with the publisher. The next day, ‘A’ handed his resignation letter to the company he worked for. Finally, in early 2021, ‘A’ collected the stories shared through his podcast and published a book.

 

A college student ‘B’ majoring in science and engineering started investing in cryptocurrency in 2017 as he learned about bitcoin. Seed money he accumulated through tutoring, 5 million won, became 30 million. But not to overly invest, ‘B’ decided to change all the coins he had to cash as he was enlisted. After being discharged from his duties, he reinitiated his investment in cryptocurrencies in 2019. As he kept on investing the money he saved through his part-time jobs, ‘B’’ s proceeds from the investment became 2.2 billion won in early 2021.
‘B’ decided not to work for a company after graduating from college. Instead, he created his YouTube channel to talk about his experience in cryptocurrency investment. By the end of 2021, ‘B’ published a book accumulating his know-how on cryptocurrency investment and saw high sales in his book thanks to his popularity on YouTube.

 

A government official ‘C’ started investing in stocks in 2007. The following year, he lost almost all of his money due to the subprime mortgage crisis and gave up on buying stocks for some time. Then, in 2011, he started studying the market and went on to reinvest. When COVID-19 broke out in 2020, ‘C’ borrowed money against his apartment and opened up an overdraft account to invest more in stocks. He invested 550 million won, composed of his own 250 million won and a loan of 300 million won. His investment turned into 3 billion won by early 2021.
‘C’ quit his job and became a full-time investor. To keep track of his investment experience, ‘C’ started running a blog in 2017, and many read his investment stories on the blog. At the end of 2021, ‘C’ released a book on stock investment with a publisher which wanted to make a book from the posts.

 

Many books released in the Korean book market are like those described above. For example, Gift Giving Santa’s Secrets to Stock Investment (Business Books), How to Retire Rich on a Normal Person’s Income (RH Korea), The Humanities of Wealth (Open Mind), Retiring at 30 with Bitcoin (Kugil) are some of the renowned books on investment in the market. Saving and investment, success in investment, and early retirement based on financial success are the stories written in diverse styles of books on the bestselling bookshelf.
Ironically, a different theme was popular in Korea a few years back. Many books were on YOLO (You Only Live Once) then. At that time, best-selling books had a contemplative attitude, embraced the tiring world, and gave a sense of consolation. Essays, like I want to Die, but I Also Want to Eat Tteokppokki (Heun), I Decided to Live as Me (Clay House), I Almost Lived Diligently (Woongjin Thinkbig), and essays written from the character’s view, such as I’m Glad You Lived Like Bono Bono (Nol), used to be popular.
The core message of popular books in the mid-2010s was a witty stance as one contemplates finding a true self. The popular books at that time were honest and self-retrospective familiar stories. For example, the stories were about a person who was still proud after failing to lose weight, a new worker who went against his boss knowingly, and a middle-aged boomer who did not stop forcing his ideas on others.
Now, books on financial investment are everywhere. A trend starts from destroying the hegemony. Often, new themes that go entirely against the current trend tend to be welcomed by the public. Even when considering that, the recent change is strikingly drastic.
The common theme of recently released books is an escape from reality. Unfortunately, life has never been easy. If the best-selling books used to show witty but cold smiles towards reality, the recent best-sellers would talk about actively changing the situation one faces. Early resignation, a recent social phenomenon, is at the forefront of such efforts.

 

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How to Retire Rich on a Normal Person’s Income, Retiring at 30 with Bitcoin, I Decided to Live as Me, I Almost Lived Diligently

 

 

How did it become a trend? To understand the situation, we first must learn about Gen MZ (MZ Generation), the generation leading consumption, early resignation, and retirement. Also, it is essential to check their social status and environment.
Gen MZ is going against the definition of economic activity and career. While Gen MZ was in school, the first ten years of the 2000s were a booming time for Asian economies. Gen MZ saw Korea hosting the World Cup and people going on the streets to cheer for the match, and Korea’s companies showed stellar growth thanks to China’s rapid economic advancement. Nevertheless, the subprime mortgage crisis broke out when Gen MZ just started working.
For the next ten years or more, sluggish growth made the whole world suffer, and Korea was hit hard for being heavily dependent on exports. As a result, while there were more college graduates in the job market, the number of quality workplaces declined continuously. Gen MZ was more educated than their parents, accumulated more professional experiences, obtained more licenses, and scored better in English tests. Still, getting a decent job was far more challenging for Gen MZ than its previous generations. It was a camel through a needle’s eye and putting an elephant in a fridge. The harder it was to get a quality job, Gen MZ was more disappointed about the work. The corporate cultures felt too strict and controlled for Gen MZ, whose individual characteristics are essential. The sense of betrayal was deep as they were desperate about it. Thus, Gen MZ became quite cynical about work life.
On the one hand, economic activities also saw structural changes. It was common for people to get a job, follow the rules of the organization they belonged to, and live with a monthly wage. However, the typical way of living is changing. With the advancement of social media, there are more and more ways to live without belonging to a company. Who knew that YouTuber would be considered a job? There are also more individual business owners running online shopping malls. Venture investment is increasing, and startups with flexible working environments are emerging. Alternatives to working in companies are becoming diverse. Oil was spilled on the fiery structural changes in economic activities, called Asset Skyrocketing, near 2020. Real estate, cryptocurrency, stocks, and most investments recorded a sharp rise for many different reasons.

 

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Apartment Sales Price Index (Source: Korea Real Estate Board)

 

 

A long sustained low-interest rate worked positively for leveraged investments regarding real estate, leading to an increase in new investors. However, the Moon administration initiated policies to suppress speculation in the real estate market, which backfired and accelerated the price increase by attracting more demand to the market.

 

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Bitcoin Market Trend (Source: Bitsome)

 

 

Cryptocurrency created a boom in 2017 but then nosedived. However, it continued to rise from 2019 again and created the crypto-rich. Even after some downward adjustments made in 2021, the volume of cryptocurrency still amounts to a whopping 55 trillion won in Korea.

 

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KOSPI Index (Source: Naver Stocks)

 

 

The stock market plunged near the level of the 2008 financial crisis due to COVID-19. As a result, KOSPI dropped to the 1400s in March 2020, nearly half of what it used to be in Jan 2018, 2,600s. Ironically, the significant decrease was the opportunity many new investors took. Since then, KOSPI has shown a V-shaped recovery and recorded the highest point.
The steep increase in asset values stated above naturally became an escape for Gen MZ. Their proceeds from investment felt far larger than their monthly income from work. In the case of North America, due to the rise of the S&P 500, many young workers exited jobs after seeing growth in their assets, becoming the so-called FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) generation. Also, The Great Resignation rose as a reaction to the government’s COVID-19 subsidy. Similar phenomena are happening in Korea though the background and timing might differ.

 

Korea’s Gen MZ is changing the traditional definition of economic activity and career,
creating a new trend.

 

Consequently, the bookshelf filled with best-sellers reflects the current society’s changes. Unique experiences that gain social consensus create a trend in the publishing industry. The uniqueness of Korea in this era is being driven by experiences of a rapid rise in assets and early resignation.
Freedom is a philosophically meaningful word with diverse distinctive meanings. Nowadays, in Korea, freedom presumably means money. Financial freedom, finding ways to minimize labor in sustaining economic activities, is the common interest of the Korean general public.
While life expectancy is longer than ever, how should we view this unprecedented early resignation of the young? Is it right for publishers to explicitly reflect the trend? The bitter and sour side of Korea’s pursuit of wealth, which excludes humanistic aspects in viewing a social phenomenon, seems to have been exposed.
Yet, there is no need to consider the recent changes in the young generation only as an adverse circumstance. Korea reacts sensitively to trends. Trend changes and the general public’s interest flow along with the shift in social directions. A specific area of interest tends to dominate the general public of that era. Korea’s book industry clearly shows the dominant trend of the time. It is not that everyone turned into a cold-hearted person whose sole interest lies in money. People are merely focusing more on accumulating wealth now. Not everyone wants to leave their workplace. It is just that there are lots of people who quit their jobs coincidently.
Considering all the factors, we can infer how the future would unfold. The new trends are born to destroy the shadows of previous trends. It is no coincidence that YOLO was the dominant trend in the market before the current era’s early resignation and materialism. The new trend is like finding pleasure in dryness. In other words, it is about securing the future by denying the perks of enjoying the moment and not forgetting about tomorrow.
What will happen to bestselling authors like ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’? People live 100 years today. However, people might be able to live 120 years due to the advancement of medical technologies and the evolution of human beings 20 years from now. So, what will people who retired in their 30s do to fill the void for the next 90 years?
One thing is clear. All Koreans will have more time left for themselves than the past generations. Accordingly, people will start a new trend beyond building wealth to leave no regrets for the time left for them.

 

 


Written by Yeo Jason (Director of Tropix Studio)

 

kbbok

Yeo Jason (Director of Tropix Studio)

#YOLO#Gen MZ#FIRE#Early retirement#Essay
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