[Viewpoint]Developed statusIs Korea a developed country? A Korean journalist argues strongly that it is not. Meanwhile, the head of a foreign chamber of commerce says that Korea is already a developed country, but the Koreans don’t want to admit it, and that fact causes problems.
So has Korea become an advanced country? And if so, what are the indicators that tell us we are a developed country?
The World Bank uses per capita gross national product as a yardstick to define developed countries, a category Korea has occupied since 2001.
Then is Kuwait a developed country? Its per capita GNP is higher than Korea’s, but it is not a developed country.
The United Nations Development Program has additional criteria beyond just high income. That is, it considers health statistics and literacy rates, for example. The organization has an index for the development of human resources to categorize developed countries. According to this index, Korea is well above the standards of many other developed countries.
Democratization and having an advanced market economy are other important signs that distinguish advanced countries from others. Thus, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which is dubbed as the “club” of developed countries, has three requirements for membership ― high income, democratic governance and a free market. The international body acknowledges that Korea met all the requirements in the mid-1990s and it accepted Korea as a member in 1996.
Some maintain that a country’s economic structure must also be considered when determining so-called advanced status. What percentage of gross domestic product is made up of agricultural goods? What is the ratio of the urban to rural population? According to the 2007 index of the World Bank, the average contribution of the farm economy to the GDP of developed countries is about 2 percent. In Korea, the figure is 3 percent of GDP. In developed countries, on average 78 percent of the population lives in an urban area. In Korea, the figure is 81 percent.
Korean companies and products are also doing well on the global stage. The world’s top three ship builders are Korean companies. Samsung’s construction arm has taken part in building all three of the world’s tallest buildings. Korean semi-conductors, mobile phones, air-conditioners, TV sets and processed steel are at the same level as those produced by other advanced countries. Korea excels in producing many important industrial products, such as automobiles, ships and airplanes.
Peter Drucker, the management studies guru, has said Korea’s economy has almost the same influence on the world as England, France and Italy. He added that Korea achieved industrialization within just three to four decades, while it took more than 250 years for western countries and 130 years for Japan to reach that status. He concluded that Korea had completed the phase of industrialization and had become a developed country.
Even though Korea easily falls into the category of being a developed country according to all these classifications, it still feels unreal because of all the news about corruption, labor-management conflicts and problems in the education sector. To become one of the top developed countries, there are countless other things that must work fine.
The World Economic Forum in Switzerland conducted a survey of 1,500 CEOs in the world to look at the factors affecting various countries. According to the survey, Korea’s problems are the instability of policies, ineffectiveness of government bureaucracy, difficulties in the financial sector and labor-management tensions. The CEOs also noted taxation irregularities, corruption and white-collar crime.
According to World Bank statistics, Korea’s per capita income based on purchasing power parity already reached $20,000 in 2004. The volume of Korea’s entire economy surpassed 1 trillion dollars in 2005 to become the world’s 11th largest economy. Currently we rank 12th, as others have also moved up.
In other words, we Koreans should stop thinking that Korea is not yet a developed country. By almost any measure, we have made it. Now we must work hard to resolve problems that prevent us from becoming one of the very top countries in the world. Let’s improve our politics, society and economy to match our developed status.
*The writer is a professor emeritus at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.