Economic Catch-up and Technological Leapfrogging
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Economic Catch-up and Technological Leapfrogging

The Path to Development and Macroeconomic Stability in Korea

Keun Lee

This book elaborates upon the dynamic changes to Korean firms and the economy from the perspective of catch-up theory. The central premise of the book is that a latecomer’s sustained catch-up is not possible by simply following the path of the forerunners but by creating a new path or ‘leapfrogging’. In this sense, the idea of catch-up distinguishes itself from traditional views that focus on the role of the market or the state in development.
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Chapter 10: Technological catch-up in the capital goods sector

Keun Lee


Chapter 10 deals with the question of why making a catch-up is even more difficult in capital goods industries that are usually led by small or middle-sized companies. It relies upon the sectoral systems of innovation as a theoretical framework for analysis. From the findings, the chapter has identified three sources of difficulties in the catch-up of the capital goods industry, particularly in machine tools. First, while small firms in the capital goods industry are usually specialized suppliers to big final goods assembly firms in the consumer goods industry or other industries, and thus the tacit knowledge accumulated from the interface between the producer and the customer firms is very important, a serious difficulty lies in the fact that local client firms are reluctant to use locally made capital goods due to their poor quality and low precision level. Second, while a successful catch-up first requires the ability to produce goods of better quality and lower prices than those produced by incumbent firms from advanced countries, a typical difficulty arises because incumbent foreign firms often react by charging predatory prices upon news of the local development of capital goods by latecomers . Third, if the catch-up firms overcome this barrier, then the next strategy used by incumbent firms is to charge latecomers with legal actions for patent violations. Despite these intrinsic difficulties, the Korean economy has achieved a very slow but gradual catch-up in the capital goods industry. The chapter attributes such achievement to several factors, including the strenuous efforts of the government, niche markets in general-purpose machine tools and emerging economies, and finally, the increasing introduction and adoption of IT or digital technologies in machine tools.

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