From a broad perspective, South Korea’s “Miracle on the Han River” appears quite miraculous. Economically, South Korea was transformed from one of the poorest nations in the world at the end of the Korean War to a developed nation in the early twenty-first century. The growing globalization of the world economy clearly empowered South Korea as growing integration into the world economy was the centerpiece of the nation’s economic developmental strategy. Yet, Korea’s rapid growth and industrial transformation appear paradoxical in several key regards. First, an economic miracle should produce a satisfied and grateful population, but most leading politicians and the country’s leading economic and political institutions have been fairly unpopular during most of South Korea’s postwar history. Second, the South Korean experience crosscuts the normal debate in development studies, which conflates globalization and neoliberalism. Third, South Korea’s widely vaunted developmental state in the 1960s and 1970s in reality departed quite significantly from the developmental state model. Finally, South Korea’s attempts to promote its integration into the global economy during the post-developmental state period produced several sets of contradictory effects.
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