Public Policies in East Asian Development: Facing New Challenges

By F. Gerard Adams; William E. James | Go to book overview

8
Public Policies in the Korean Economy

Kyu Uck Lee


INTRODUCTION

Despite the recent financial crisis set in motion at the end of 1997, Korea's record of rapid economic development over the past three decades remains very good. It is widely accepted that the Korean government has been largely responsible for the economic performance of the country because it has set the targets for economic growth, toward which it has implemented forceful policies and directed private economic activities.

During the Korean War, the Korean economy, which had already long suffered from Japanese colonialism, was reduced to almost nothing. The economic basis of the country was so devastated that the market practically did not exist. Under these initial conditions, strong government intervention succeeded in mobilizing the national spirit and energy and igniting economic dynamism. The Korean government took the initiative to rev up the engine of growth, which induced Korea's early economic takeoff.

As the size of the Korean economy grew, and its industrial structure was upgraded, Korea increasingly needed a new modus operandi, that is, a shift from government intervention to the market mechanism and from a closed economy to an open economy. However, long accustomed to direct government control, Korean business could not easily or readily execute such a shift. Though all economic agents appeared to agree on the need for fundamental change, the natural inertia governing their mind and the vested interests lining their pockets prevented them in toto from making the right decision at the right time. Moreover, the Korean government did not fully gear up its economy for global competition. In particular, it failed to educate the people about what is really meant by globalization and did not sufficiently implement institutional reforms required to create a full-fledged open

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