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Korean economy after 20 years of OECD membership

Posted October. 25, 2016 07:18,   

Updated October. 25, 2016 07:24


In "A Man Called Ove" by Swedish writer Fredrik Backman, the protagonist named Ove gets fired from his job at 59, after 43 years of service. He attempts to commit suicide several times and gets harassed by corrupt officials. Sweden, which is known as a welfare heaven, may not be too different from other countries. Still, Ove could die a "happy death" because Sweden had a system in which a promise made by the community is kept and corruption is filtered during the process. A simple slogan calling for adopting the Swedish model would not create the social structure of such a virtuous circle.

Yoon Jong-won, who took office as the South Korean ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in October last year, feels the country's status a little lower that the middle among 34 member states. While advanced countries are having concrete discussions about economic growth "beyond GDP (gross domestic product)" for higher quality of life, while South Korea is still desperately clinging to increase the economic growth rate just by one tenth of a point. Whenever he sees exemplary cases involving other OECD countries, Yoon says he cannot wait to send analyses and translations of such cases to Seoul. His staff members are having a hard time as their workload has been doubled.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of South Korea becoming the 29th member of the club of rich countries. It is true that Seoul's capital liberalization aimed at joining the OECD in 1996 became a boomerang, causing the 1997 economic crisis. The country was also criticized for having popped the champagne too early. However, its economy has tripled since then, and the country that once received aid has become a donor. With the ratio of irregular workers the fourth highest among the OECD countries and the world's highest suicide rate, now is the time for South Korea to pay attention to the side effects of economic growth.

According to the British magazine Business Insider's survey of corruption in OECD countries, South Korea has been named among the 16 most corrupt countries, together with Chile, Mexico, Turkey, Hungary, Poland and Estonia. The fact that all of the corrupt countries were among the lowest rankers in per-capital gross domestic product indicates that corruption hinders sustainable growth. For South Korea, bribery has been cited as the biggest problem. Even the most creative policy for economic growth would end up in an empty talk without severing the chains of corruption.