[FOUNTAIN]The economy can cope with a downturnSince President Park Chung Hee began an economic drive 44 years ago, the Korean economy has been growing admirably. Economic booms and slumps have alternated, and it is said that Korea is riding the fifth economic cycle. The magnitudes of the waves have been different, but there have been five tops and bottoms in the curve.
The first pinnacle was between 1967 and 1969, when war reparation grants and loans from Japan and rising demands from the outbreak of the Vietnam War brought an economic boom. From 1976 to 1978, Koreans were proud of the economic growth from a surge in construction orders in the Middle East. Wiping out concerns about rising foreign debt, the country experienced an unprecedentedly brisk market from 1986 to 1988. The high yen phenomenon and increasing semiconductor exports made Koreans happy from 1993 to 1995, and we overcame the economic crisis of the late 1990s and achieved a “global standard” between 2000 and 2002.
In these four decades, per capita national income has grown 120-fold, from a mere $80 to $10,000. When an average South Korean earned $80 a year, each North Korean made $120. The per capita income of the Philippines was $160 and that of Argentina was $1,300. Some nations fell back, but Korea grew out of the days when we had to eat tree bark. Today, the economy has slumped a bit, but it’s unfair to doubt its force and energy.
But on five occasions during the past four decades, the national economy was in a slump because of the successive military regimes and the financial crisis and International Monetary Fund bailout.
It was the citizens’ spirit that overcame the difficulties. We had memories of achievement, hopes for a better future and the determination not to give up. Korea’s power came sometimes from the leadership of the president, sometimes from the pioneering spirit of entrepreneurs, and at other times from the enthusiasm and diligence of workers and small business owners.
The Korean economy has always found a way to cope with crisis. At a recent economic conference hosted by the governing Uri Party, Jeffrey Jones, former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea, said that in economics, perception and feeling were more important than facts. What’s more important than the reality is the mindset to face that reality.
by Chun Young-gi
The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.