This paper attempted to explain the economic success that
Korea has achieved over the last three decade in terms of
certain elements of social capability that Korea seems to habe
possessed. These elements were classified into social values and
attitudes, education and the formation of a human resource base
and acquired pragmatism and secularism, It was also shown that
certain institutional features such as the nature of the
government were important in mobilizing these elements.
During recent years, especially since the process of rapid
democratization began in 1987, Korea has experienced an
eruption of various tensions, as well as political, social, and
economic instabilities. The new democracy, in particular, touched
off and explosion of acrimonious labor-management disputes,
with labor rather violently wielding its newly-gained rights in
order to force maximum concessions out of management on
wages and other aspects of the industrial relationship. Also, the
new democracy has allowed outburst of popular criticism
alleging that the government had been intervening in the market
for economic growth at the expense of social equity.
To a very large degree, the eruption of these disputed and
grievances may be regarded as a consequence of the very
success of Korea's economic endeavors of the last three decades.
For one thing, the new democracy itself may be said to a result
of this success. for it came largely as a response to the
peoples's demand for a level of political development that was
commensurate with the achieved level of economic development.
For another thing, labor has become expensive as a result of
sustained increases in the worker's living standards. The clamor
for social equity, too, would not habe arisen if the economy had
not grown enough t be able to afford it.
In this way, it seems that the success of the past economic
endeavors has undone its own foundation, by weakening the
willingness to work,. which was often seen to be the most
crucial element of Korea's social capability in the earlier years,
and also by depriving the government of a strong leadership role
through democratization. Accordingly, many observers and the
Koreans themselves have been wondering whether the so-called
Korean miracle has not come to an end.
I would like to end this paper by expressing my optimistic
view on this issue. In my view, a more crucial and more
fundamental factor than willingness to work in explaining
Korea's economic success so far has been the determination to
"live better" or to improve one's socio-economic status. In the
past, under the government leadership, Korea has on the whole
effected an appropriate interplay between this determinations, its
human resource base, and pragmatism, These three crucial
elements of social capability remain undiminished today; if
anything, they continue to be enhanced.
What has changed, however, is the institutional framework,
i.e., the nature of the government and its relationship with the
market. Being a believer in the efficacy of democracy as well as
of the market mechanism, I an convinced that the new
democracy, as well as the retreat of the government from the
market that was achieved during 1980s, will also enhance the
synergistic interplay among the three most crucial elements of
Korea's social capability.
This would mean that in the future while the Koreans will
work less, they will improve their productivities more rapidly
and continue to demonstrate their economic dynamism. Social
equity will be strengthened along the way and will also
contribute to productivity improvement.
In conformity with this prognosis, under the impact of
strenuous efforts made by the government and the business
sector, the institutional structure of Korea's policy and economy
has been adjusting rapidly to the new environment over the last
few years. As a result, political and social stability has already
begun to prevail while, after a brief interruption in 1989, the
economy seems to be recovering its extraordinary dynamism.