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Ju-Ho Lee, Hyeok Jeong and Song Chang Hong

Over the last half century, Korea successfully escaped from poverty and socio-economic instability to achieve remarkable economic growth and democracy. An average Korean lived on 2.3 dollars per day in the 1950s; she now earns about 60 dollars per day. Since 1960, the Korean economy has maintained a 6 percent annual growth rate of real GDP per capita, becoming the 13th largest economy in the world (Maddison Project, 2013). This achievement is regarded as a historic case of sustainable growth. While several factors contributed to this outstanding growth, there is emerging consensus that Korea’s achievement of both sustained economic development and democracy is mainly due to its investment in people. At its initial stage of development, Korea faced problems similar to most other developing countries. To escape from a vicious cycle of poverty, Korea had to overcome a legacy of antiquated traditions in education and training. Koreans had traditionally neglected vocational and technical training, owing partly to Confucianism, which praises scholars of the humanities and farmers while disregards professions in manufacturing and trade. Because parents encouraged their children to pursue academic education in colleges and hold white-collar jobs, industries lagged behind with few technicians, skilled workers, and blue-collar workers. To make matters worse, Japanese colonial rule prohibited Koreans from accumulating both physical and human capital for entrepreneurship in industrial sectors. The three years of the Korean War with the division of the Korean peninsula also devastated the economic and social infrastructure and fundamentals for economic growth.

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Ju-Ho Lee, Hyeok Jeong and Song Chang Hong