[Viewpoint] Spreading the word on development

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[Viewpoint] Spreading the word on development

Korea’s economic rise gets a special page in the history book of the global economy. No other country can match Korea’s pace in industrialization and twin advance of new and traditional industries, ascent of global-ranking companies and technology innovation in the span of a half century. Korea remains an exemplary post-World War II economic success story and has earned a reputation as a model for development.

Moreover, Korea’s economic and industrial progress is still ongoing in the contemporary stage. It is why Korean government authorities and scholars are more in demand to speak and advise developing governments on policy making and model development than their Japanese and Western counterparts.

The country, with its newfound status as a donor country due to increased contribution in overseas development assistance, has been aggressively pushing its Knowledge Sharing Program to share and promulgate its experience in economic advances with developing countries.

But these efforts should be met with some scrutiny. First of all, Korea should be honest and modest in sharing its rags-to-riches experience. Domestic economists cannot clearly and logically explain what musters human energy and economic resources to drive a country for sustainable growth. The Korean economy has expanded at a staggering rate and scale over the last five decades, but there are no authoritative theories as to the major driving force.

Economic progress is a composite result of political, economic, social, cultural and historical forces as well as policies, customs, tradition, leadership, human resources and other external factors. Political and social scientists can only explain partial and fragmented reasons for the rise and fall of a state and economy.

It is best that authorities stick to micro case studies such as establishment and operation of state agencies like the National Tax Service, state lender Korea Development Bank, the public health insurance system and public utility service in their lessons. But these cases also cannot succeed in another county if political, economic and legal circumstances were different.

Secondly, authorities defining the country’s economic development should take into account the extraordinary external and domestic conditions the country faced during the times of modernization.

The people laboriously worked around the clock to produce and export to pick the country up from the rubbles of war in the 1960s, and united resources and efforts to nurture heavy industries in the 1970s with the backdrop of tension during the peak of the Cold War.

Without a security alliance and aid from global superpowers, we could not have been so fortunate in overseas borrowing, foreign investment and technology transfer. The developing economies face an entirely different global and financial environment today.

Thirdly, we should refrain from selling the Korean economic model for national benefit. Intellectual integrity and accredited analysis are more important than reputation and accomplishments. We must be able to provide research work on our experience based on a universal platform and persuasive policy tools.

We can compare the project to the rise of the Korean Wave, or global popularity of Korean performers and entertainment. Fans in Paris, London and Saudi Arabia enjoy K-pop. Young people on the other side of the hemisphere do not care if the tune they are singing and dancing to is from Korea, Japan or America. They are captivated by the catchy and sophisticated rhythm accentuated by meticulously arranged dance moves performed by impeccably good-looking groups of male and female singers.

A government push or nationalistic rendering of the sensation would only inspire anti-Korean sentiment from locals. In offering assistance and consulting, we should refrain from thinking of it as a chance to market and impose our economic model.

We need more objective and comparative evaluation on the universality of the Korean economic style. Instead of packaging our development model for a marketing purpose, we should draw other states’ interest in our system and assist in its adaptation to make it work in their countries.

The government should encourage and assist local and foreign economists in quality research work and on the Korean economic development model instead of mass-producing files and reports that only gather dust in the government offices of developing countries.

* The writer is a professor of economics at Sogang University.

by Cho Yoon-jae
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