Renewing the South Korean Miracle

South Korea’s incoming president, Park Geun-hye, takes over a country that has been a global role model for economic development. But, with the economy slowing and growth decoupled from ordinary citizens' fate, it has become a model in need of renewal.

SEOUL – South Korea’s incoming president, Park Geun-hye, takes over a country that has been a global role model for economic development. But, with the economy slowing, it has become a model in need of renewal.

The so-called “Miracle on the Han River” took root with the reforms initiated by Park’s late father Park Chung-hee, the country’s ruler for much of the 1960’s and 1970’s. A measure of South Korea’s success is that it was the first country to make the transition from being a recipient of OECD aid to becoming a donor, with per capita GDP today exceeding $30,000 (in purchasing power parity terms).

But the growth formula that long underpinned South Korea’s success – a form of state-guided capitalism that focuses on export-led manufacturing – is no longer working for many South Koreans. GDP has nearly tripled over the past 20 years, but, with real wages rising at less than half this rate, growth has become decoupled from the fate of ordinary citizens.

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