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Catch-up and Crisis in Korea

Wontack Hong

Whilst the process of catch-up in Korea – led by export-oriented growth – has been rapid and, in a sense, very successful, it has also been subject to turbulence, not least in a crisis of near bankruptcy that has dramatically revealed its Achilles heel. Informed by the 1997 crisis, Wontack Hong writes a new history of the Korean economy; one that seeks to understand export-oriented catch-up in newly industrialized countries (NICs) whilst offering a realistic appraisal and forewarning of the pitfalls which could signal self-destruction.
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Wontack Hong


Korea has experienced one of the most profound economic transformations of any nation in history, and remains a very important field of academic inquiry. This book draws upon my knowledge and experience of Korea’s catch-up process. I have tried to examine the most relevant themes normally associated with a study of this kind and to structure my thesis accordingly. This book has evolved from my Trade and Growth: A Korean Perspective, published in 1994 and containing 23 papers I had written over a quarter century. In the late 1990s, however, Korea has experienced the so-called IMF crisis of near bankruptcy that has dramatically revealed its Achilles’ heel. (The financial crisis that invited the IMF intervention in November 1997 is somewhat misleadingly called “the IMF crisis” in Korea. I prefer to call it simply “the 1997 crisis.”) Korea is still trying to restructure its economy. Such an experience has very much influenced my perception of the Korean economy and its export-oriented growth process. I think “the 1997 crisis” has helped me to obtain a more balanced perspective, and has motivated me to write a new version of Korea’s catch-up. This book represents an historic study of Korea’s economic development and political economy rather than a contemporary study. Only Chapter 8 gives a concentrated deliberation of the origin of “the 1997 crisis,” and only at the end of Chapter 9 are the most recent post-crisis developments in the Korean economy addressed. Every expert on the Korean economy seems to have a...

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