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Matt DiTondo

The rise of South Korea is interesting to me on a personal note, because my grandfather was stationed there at the end of the Korean War. He has told stories before about how there was absolutely nothing (buildings, infrastructure, etc) there, and how everything that his battalion needed, they had to build. So it is interesting that, within a span of a lifetime, a whole country can change so significantly. This brings me to another thought: it seems, from the last few readings, its almost as thought the wealthy and well developed nations are picking winners and losers. Politically, the US needed South Korea as a bulwark against Communism, and so as the article mentions, it invested rather heavily in it (mostly through foreign aid.) In the last piece we read, we saw a similar story for the US and Taiwan. It makes me think whether or not we have a greater capacity to develop nations than we give in appearance.

Max Thomas

As many people have also commented, I found the parallels between South Korea’s economic development and our discussions in class to be very interesting. Like many of the countries we’ve discussed in class, South Korea invested heavily in human capital and manufacturing, instituted land-rights reform, (reluctantly) embraced foriegn direct investment, and saw much quicker growth in their modern sector (compared to their traditional sector).

Of these seemingly common practices of economic growth, I found South Korea’s relationship with foriegn direct investment the most interesting. Initially, South Korea was hesitant to accept large quantities of foreign aid, fearing a return to past colonial regimes. However, despite their initial reluctance, South Korea quickly became one of the largest beneficiaries of foreign direct investment (largely made by the United States). By embracing foreign aid to their economy, South Korea accelerated their rate of economic development.

Because much of the aid given to South Korea was American, I wonder how South Korea’s development story would differ had the United States faced alternative political incentives. Ultimately, investments in South Korea made by the United States were investments made against the Soviet Union. Had there been no conflict on the Korean peninsula, I wonder how a united Korea would fare post-WWII.


I had very little context surrounding South Korea’s economic development, so I was pretty impressed with the progress the country has made since the 1950’s considering the context on development we’ve gained in this course. One of my initial major takeaways was South Korea’s ability to bounce back from several events that could have been seriously catastrophic for their progress (changes of regimes/political systems, assassinations, economic recessions). Perhaps they were able to lean on U.S aid during some of these events. I was also impressed at their ability to shift the backbone of their economy several different times, from light industry, to heavy industry, into the modern technology/innovation space. Not only this, once they were considered a “developed” country, they were able to adapt to the new issues that came with development whether it be competing with other major exporters like China or dealing with immagration immersion issues. Some of the most interesting questions came at the end of the article: what were the main factors in this “miracle” being possible and what were the major consequences? It's hard to argue against American aid being a major factor whether that be aid in the form of a military presence, or through financial/trade measures. I think an underrated factor was the ability for the South Korean people to have a sense of nationalization through the “common enemy” in North Korea. Finally - what were the consequences? Obviously there are going to be some major issues in a military state seeking rapid development - the impact on the low wage workers of the country as well as the population of women in the country cannot be ignored.

Yuhan Liu

I really enjoyed reading this historical piece about South Korea. I think it is especially interesting to see how the rapid development of South Korea first came about under military governments and through the Chaebols which initially gained their advantages because of their relationship with the government. Political systems and “family-run” businesses definitely do not look like the traditional recipe for economic development, so it is even more important to look at the development of countries like South Korea that used non-traditional institution and policies and reflect on our reading for Monday which points out that unorthodox institutions that departed significantly from Western norms can be used effectively for economic development when they are sensitive to local opportunities and constraints. Thus, reading this paper makes it clearer that there is not a one-size-fits-all prescription to development, and each country ought to start with really understanding its own limitations and needs. Also, as the paper points out, the Success of South Korea is inseparable from the historical context in which the country developed its industries, human capitals, and technologies, so it is also not to say that if South Korea is to start the same reforms today, they will necessarily succeed. Therefore, by reading about South Korea and its particularities, I am even more aware of the multifaceted nature of successful development policies.

Mary Wilson Grist

As I read this article, I constantly kept referring back to the Solow Growth model. The shift from a labor intensive market capital intensive must have required at least some amount of savings. In the Solow model, savings = investment = changes in capital. This increase in capital allowed South Korea to diversify and begin to produce more profitable products such as steel, ships and then later automobiles. As many people have pointed out, one major factor in the successful growth of South Korea is the endogenous efforts to increase educational quality. This increased investment in education leads every unit of capital to be more productive, efficient and profitable.

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