In This Review

Troubled Tiger: Businessmen, Bureaucrats, and Generals in South Korea
Troubled Tiger: Businessmen, Bureaucrats, and Generals in South Korea
By Mark L. Clifford
M. E. Sharpe, 1994, 357 pp
The Transformation of South Korea: Reform and Reconstruction in the Sixth Republic Under Roh Tae Woo, 1987-1992
The Transformation of South Korea: Reform and Reconstruction in the Sixth Republic Under Roh Tae Woo, 1987-1992
By Robert E. Bedeski
Routledge, 1994, 197 pp
Korea and the World: Beyond the Cold War
Korea and the World: Beyond the Cold War
Edited by Young Whan Kihl
Westview Press, 1994, 371 pp

In South Korea for six years as a correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review, Clifford has written a superb book, which weaves together history, economics, and politics. Unlike most books on this topic, it is based on numerous interviews with key officials and tells many anecdotes that light up the discussion of pivotal events.

In South Korea for six years as a correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review, Clifford has written a superb book, which weaves together history, economics, and politics. Unlike most books on this topic, it is based on numerous interviews with key officials and tells many anecdotes that light up the discussion of pivotal events.

Clifford is particularly interested in the relationship between South Korea's authoritarian politics and rapid economic growth, a subject about which much has been written. But Clifford's provocative view has rarely been stated so well: despite South Korea's recent success in moving to democracy, most of the country's leaders have, at best, a lukewarm commitment to a new way of doing business, and the authoritarian mentality is still alive.

Perhaps even more important, Clifford argues that South Korea's greatest strength and weakness is its decision to follow a "coarser" version of the Japanese model. The model has led to a good deal of international success but increasingly suffers from a self-imposed rigidity. Land policy, the tax system, the dominance of a single political party, and the structure of Korean Firms all echo Japan. But rather than taking Japanese difficulties as a warning, the Koreans are determined to press ahead.

Clifford doubts that Kim Young Sam, South Korea's first civilian president in more than three decades, can live up to his promises of reform. Yet if South Korea continues to follow the bureaucratic, government-dominated approach to economic policy of the past 30 years, it risks running into an economic dead end. But the leap to a more flexible, entrepreneurial economy would entail unprecedented risks, opening the economy to increasing international competition and almost certainly leading to the dissolution of some of Korea's largest business groups. South Korea, Clifford argues, badly needs the same kind of deregulation and liberalization as Japan, but he is very pessimistic that such a transformation will occur.

Bedeski, an Australian political scientist, has also written a solid account of recent developments in South Korea, but he deals largely with the Roh Tae Woo era from 1987 to 1992. Although Bedeski is generally more upbeat about South Korea than Clifford, he agrees that the bureaucratic regime in Seoul, which has sustained economic development for three decades, will encounter great difficulty in liberalizing the political and economic system without undermining its own strength. A more liberal policy toward trade unions, for example, has already raised workers' wages and tolerated hundreds of industrial strikes. As a result, South Korea is less competitive in a world economy of low-cost labor.

The South Korean government must decide what to do about the huge chaebol conglomerates that dominate the business scene. Though it has become a popular demand, dismantling the chaebols would endanger steady economic growth.

Korea and the World is a collection of inconsistent essays on South Korea's foreign policy. One of its most astute chapters was written by Manwoo Lee, a Korean-American political scientist who teaches in the United States, directs an institute in South Korea, and travels frequently to North Korea. Lee confirms Clifford's negative picture of South Korea's domestic scene. He says South Korea is undergoing a painful transition from authoritarianism to democracy and faces the "monumental" task of curing the "Korean disease" -- rampant corruption, lawlessness, and lack of authority. Lee also points out a significant gap between foreign and domestic perceptions of Korea. While Westerners praise South Korea's democracy, South Koreans are increasingly apprehensive about their political, economic, and social troubles. As a result, they are not only losing their confidence but doubt their ability to join the ranks of advanced nations. South Koreans complain most frequently about unearned income, conspicuous consumption, corruption, and political distrust. Lee feels corruption is serious enough to warn that the moral fabric of Korean society is on the verge of disintegration.