Until the day he was outed, the most influential commentator on South Korea’s economy lived the life of a nobody. Park Dae-Sung owned a small apartment in a middle-class neighborhood of Seoul and freelanced part-time at a telecom company. Thirty years old, he still hoped to earn a four-year degree in economics. In the mornings, he would bicycle to the public library to study for the university entrance exam. His standard uniform was slacks, loafers, and wrinkle-free button-down shirts, as though he were going to work in an office. But with his slightly chubby moon face, glasses, and neatly parted hair, he easily blended in among the rows of students. While they worked through school assignments, he immersed himself in the text of his chosen profession.
In the evenings, Park would go online, frittering away the hours like millions of other geeks. He often played the simulation game Capitalism II, where he’d assume the role of a blue-chip investor, closing million-dollar deals and speculating on skyscrapers. Nothing that he did earned him any attention.
Then, in March 2008, Park opened an account on South Korea’s popular Daum Agora forum. Here, he decided, he would call himself Minerva, after the Roman goddess of wisdom, and write exclusively on economics, drawing on both public reports and his years in the stacks poring over Adam Smith and Joseph Stiglitz. Affecting the effortless command of a seasoned investor, he strove to project the authority that had eluded him in real life. The world economy is in the midst of collapse, he warned, so pay your debts and stock up on noodles and drinkable water. He made pronouncements on when to buy or sell a home, exchange Korean won for dollars, and pull out of the financial markets altogether.
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