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

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

By Jaejoon Woo

Oxford University Press, 2022, 656 pp.

With a per capita GDP of roughly $34,000 and prominence in a range of high-tech sectors, South Korea is one of the great economic success stories of the twentieth century. Yet many Koreans are profoundly dissatisfied with their country’s economic performance and pessimistic about its future. In this careful and comprehensive volume,Woo reviews the Korean economy’s history while focusing mainly on current problems and their likely solutions. He depicts a society troubled by a large income gap between rich and poor, where future prospects are dimmed by unfavorable demographics and declining productivity growth. Households contend with high levels of debt, job insecurity, pervasive youth unemployment, and old-age poverty. Rising sociopolitical polarization has frustrated the efforts of successive presidential administrations to address these problems.The country is squeezed economically by Chinese competition and geopolitically by North Korean belligerence. Woo provides not a polemic but rather a careful, painstakingly documented analysis of these issues. If he is less than successful at pointing a way forward, it is not for lack of trying.