New Book: Confronting S Korea's Next Crisis

Confronting South Korea’s Next Crisis: Rigidities, Polarization, and Fear of Japanification

(14 chapters/ 656 pages; to be published by Oxford University Press, October 31, 2022) 

To go to the Oxford website, click here.

Abstract of the Book

South Korea’s economic miracle is a well-known story. However, today Korea is facing challenges on multiple fronts that are radically different from those seen in the early stages of industrialization. The Korean economy has been struggling with a faltering growth momentum and the rise of unprecedented socio-economic problems over the recent years well before the pandemic crisis. Koreans are grappling with slow income growth, all time-high household debt, high youth unemployment, inequality, and social polarization. Politics is in disarray and is incapable of directing social discourse for the common good. Rapid population aging along with the world’s lowest fertility rates stokes fears of Japanification. Such a dramatic shift in the perceived prospects of the Korean economy in a relatively short period has caught many by surprise and is little known to outsiders who are only familiar with Korea’s economic miracle and spectacular success stories of business conglomerates such as Hyundai, LG, and Samsung. Motivated by these latest developments, this new book seeks to provide a timely and in-depth analysis of key current issues and foreseeable challenges of the economy in hopes of finding constructive ways forward.

Reviews from Experts

This excellent book not only tells the story with great skill, but also points the way to a more hopeful, more vibrant economic future. Jaejoon Woo confronts the challenges facing South Korea with detailed empirical work and good policy sense. He shows that addressing these challenges will require a state that is no less active than in the past, but focused on new priorities such as social inclusion, labor market dynamism, and service-sector productivity.

Dani Rodrik, Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy, Harvard University

Jaejoon Woo has done a masterful and sophisticated job of analyzing why the economy has slowed and what it will take to sustain growth into the future. His analysis will be of interest to anyone wishing to understand the contemporary Korean economy. It should also be of interest to anyone concerned with similar challenges facing many other advanced economies at this time.

Dwight H. Perkins, Harold Hitchings Burbank Research Professor of Political Economy, Harvard University

Jaejoon Woo reviews the Korean economy with rigorous economic analysis and keen insight. His prescience then guides the readers on how the country can overcome the present obstacles of structural rigidity and social polarization to take off yet again without succumbing to the trap of Japanification. The book is the study of Korean experience and prospects; yet, the solution offered by the author can apply to all countries seeking to leap toward the new phase of economic development. I recommend this book to academics, policymakers, and anyone interested in economic growth and overcoming crises. 

Seoung Hwan Suh, 19th President of Yonsei University

This book presents almost an encyclopedia-like account of recent developments as well as policy challenges of the Korean economy. Based on a large set of data and an in-depth knowledge of the inner workings of the system, Jaejoon Woo presents his own rigorous analysis and work experience in plain language, thereby making them accessible to a wide range of audience. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who is more than casually interested in the Korean economy.

Il-Houng Lee, Former Member of Monetary Policy Board at the Bank of Korea and Former President of Korea Institute for International Economic Policy

South Korea’s influence and production sphere has expanded into culture, with K-pop group “BTS”, Oscar winner “Parasite” and Netflix hit “Squid Games” capturing the world’s imagination. But the Asian financial crisis continues to cast a long shadow over the Korean miracle and remains a constant reminder of what can go wrong. Jaejoon Woo goes beneath the shiny surface and confronts the widening fractures - rising income inequality, an aging population, mounting household debt and populist politics. Jaejoon argues that active government policies, structural reforms and a stronger social safety net is needed to avoid the next crisis. Policymakers and investors should take heed to the undercurrents and flashing amber lights.

Hak Bin Chua, Regional Co-Head Macro Research, Maybank 

Book Reviews

Foreign Affairs (January/February 2023) by Barry Eichengreen, George C. Pardee and Helen N. Pardee Professor of Economics and Political Science at UC Berkeley 

Book Presentations

Stanford University, Shorenstein Asia-Studies Center, Nov 2, 2023. 

UC Berkeley, Insitute of East Asian Studies, Sept 8, 2022 

National Taiwan University, May 19, 2022

Academia Sinica, Taiwan, May 17, 2022

University of London, SOAS Centre of Korean Studies, April 29, 2022

DePaul University, April 22, 2022

Central Bank of Republic China (Taiwan), April 19, 2022