The cost of development

From the early 60’s to 1997, the key word in South Korea was development. Social policies, inclusiveness and welfare were subordinated to growth and fast development. Competitiveness, earnings and being part of the production machine were the only way to receive benefits from the state. South Korea, just like Taiwan, Japan and most Asian countries had to play a game of “catch up” when the post-colonial period of their histories started: They were not industrialized (except for Japan), did not know democracy, were largely still stuck in a traditional Confucian world, where agriculture and social immobilism were at the core of society and followed their colonial phases with twenty to thirty years dictatorships. Yet it was during these years that both countries reorganized and saw in production and industrial development the ticket that would take them into modernity. But at what cost? As mentioned above, in Confucian societies, the needs of the state come before the needs of the individual and so, by setting up and favoring competitiveness among industrial conglomerates in the country, they made productivity essential to the very fabric of society, and participation in the process was both expected by cultural standards and essential to ne a meaningful part of state’s life. In Korea for example, during Pak Chunghee’s regime, as long as a firm was “delivering the goods”, to put it bluntly, it would be keep on receiving aid and financing from the state, and some of these conglomerates (Chaebol) became so rich and influential that the line between political power and the so called economical bureaucracy (furthering the interests of the firms and planning development ng growth strategies) became paper thin. While after the 1997 Asian economic crisis talks of universal welfare began in Korea and nowadays Korean society is a much more inclusive and universalistic when it comes to providing services to all citizens equally, the chaebol’s oligarchy has yet to dwindle. Massive corruption is widespread among these family-run conglomerates, where systems are in place that allow them to conduct what Koreans perceive as “immoral” practices, if not only for the fact that these conglomerates have an extremely tight relationship with political power in the country. Welfare , as much as it has developed in the last couple decades, still is subordinated to productivity or at best used as a bargaining chip by political and economic elites. The term “too big to fail” was extensively used in Korea to describe conglomerates like Samsung, for example, that hold such a large share of the country’s wealth that no matter the cost can’t be allowed to fail. When you hold a country’s 20% GDP share you hold massive social responsibilities, but when “institutionalized” impunity comes into play, suddenly human nature kicks in and corruption becomes the norm. The arrest of Samsung’s CEO may come at a surprise given the romanticized image of ideal civilization people have when it comes to Asia, where social responisibility and moral behavior are the norm, but for any expert this was no shock…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s