[FOUNTAIN]Passing the torch at Sogang

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[FOUNTAIN]Passing the torch at Sogang

Nam Duck-woo heard the news that he had been named finance minister on a taxi radio on Oct. 20, 1969. He was teaching economics at Sogang University, and he was on his way to the Blue House. His colleague, Lee Seung-yun, had just visited him at home and told him to go to the Blue House. That was the beginning of the so-called “Sogang School.”
Mr. Nam continued in senior public positions throughout the 1970s; he served five years as finance minister and four years as deputy prime minister for finance and economy. Two years later, another Sogang University colleague, Kim Man-je, was appointed the first president of the Korea Development Institute. Mr. Kim headed the country’s biggest think tank until 1982. Lee Seung-yun became a member of the National Assembly on a professional representation during the Park Chung Hee administration. In the Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo administrations, both Mr. Lee and Mr. Kim served as finance minister and deputy prime minister for finance and economy.
The term “Sogang School” refers to a group of Sogang University economics professors who led the country in the development-driven era under authoritarian regimes.
When Kim Jong-in was named a presidential economic adviser in 1990, the Sogang School returned to center stage. Mr. Kim was also a fellow Sogang University economist along with Mr. Lee, who was appointed the deputy prime minister. Founded in 1960, Sogang University is a relatively young school. By tripling the salary of Seoul National University professors and guaranteeing academic carte blanche, the fledgling attracted some of the best talent available and grew into a prestigious university. The economics department included members of the first generation of Korean economics doctoral degree holders from U.S. schools. Aside from the trio, the list includes Kim Byung-guk, former director of the Asian Development Bank; Kim Deok-jung, former education minister, and Park Seong-yawng of Kumho Group.
Korea’s rapid economic growth had a down side, and some critics call the Sogang School responsible. Their emphasis on growth might have created some of the structural problems that haunted our society for a long time. But as the first generation of Sogang School personalities retires, the timing ― during an economic slump ― is ironic.

by Lee Se-jung

The writer is a deputy business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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