The State, Society, and Big Business in South Korea

The State, Society, and Big Business in South Korea

The State, Society, and Big Business in South Korea

The State, Society, and Big Business in South Korea

Synopsis

This book examines how the South Korean state is able to execute national policies that are opposed to the interests of social constituents, despite the expansion of social power.

Excerpt

This book is about relations between the South Korean state and big business conglomerates, the chaebôl, since 1980. After the Park Chung-hee Regime collapsed, following Park’s assassination in 1979, the principal role of the state in relation to big business turned from that of ‘patron’ to ‘regulator’ and recently ‘umpire’. The Chun government, which took over in 1980, started to regulate economic concentration in the chaebôl in an attempt to enforce economic stabilization and liberalization policies. I have examined the relationship during the period of a see-saw between them, through a lens of the autonomy of the state. The Korean state has been able to keep a high degree of autonomy not only under the authoritarian Fifth but also the democratic Sixth Republic. Although forms of oppressive political apparatus were removed through constitutional-institutional reforms for democracy in 1987, the high degree of autonomy built into the strong executive power did not fundamentally change. The Korean state retained various formal and extra-formal institutions, with which it formed a hierarchical relationship with the chaebôl. In explaining the strong autonomy of the state, economic analysis is not sufficient: we need to take social, political and historical factors into consideration. In this sense, the Korean state-chaebôl relationship is more systematically understood from the perspective of state-society than state-market relations. The relationship in Korea, however, cannot be relevantly elucidated within the state-society paradigms derived from western experience and history, e.g. liberal-pluralism, corporatism and Marxism. South Korean state-society relations have been characterized by alternative-modern factors, aspects of the Korean experience. One must not attempt to explain the state-capital relationship in South Korea simply from an economic viewpoint for it is significantly involved in political and historical aspects.

When I embarked on the research in 1991 to prepare for the book, state-business relations in East Asian countries were a popular subject among students of political economy, and several academic works on the South Korean case were already in existence. The reason I nonetheless decided to choose the subject was that most of them were written with economic and structural approaches. At that time I had an assumption that state-business

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