The economic story of South Korea is one of the most extraordinary in modern history. Fifty years ago, South Korea was attempting to recover from a devastating war, and was on par with some of the poorest countries in the world for life expectancy and economic output.
Today, South Korea beats the EU in terms of GDP per person. It is the only country ever to make the transition from being totally dependent on development aid to rich within one working generation.
The catalyst for this change is attributed to Park Chung-Hee, the military dictator who ruled from 1961 to 1979. Park adopted an outward-looking economic strategy to rapidly industrialize the country.
The strategy facilitated economic growth through labor-intensive manufactured exports. It allowed the economy to gain a competitive advantage despite its poor natural resources and small domestic market.
Since Park’s death in 1979, South Korea has become a vibrant democracy. Its economy has continued to grow as conglomerates, or chaebol, have fostered rapid growth and resilience.
They have done so by basing their structures and strategies on successful international companies and initiatives.
South Korea has pushed itself to the top of the field by following the paths of those before them. It will now have to rely more and more on innovation and new markets in order to see continued growth.
Currently, Park Chung-Hee‘s daughter, Park Geun Hye, is the 11th president and the first female president of South Korea. Despite entering into a very difficult time of controversary with North Korea, dealing with an aging population and criticisms for the being the daughter of a dictator, Park Geun Hye is one of the most respected female world leaders at present.