Peter Underwood Is Too Korean

22 May

Peter Underwood Evan Ramstad posts the final part of his interview with Peter Underwood, and, even if I find myself in rapturous agreement, I have two quibbles.

I wish Underwood has explained just a little bit how South Korea and Taiwan diverged in their developmental paths. Both Cold War Potemkin-statelets experienced horrendous state violence committed by authoritarian governments, both reorganized agriculture, to boost industrial growth, and both suffered from civil wars. It’s important to appreciate the Taiwan Miracle, to evaluate the short-sightedness of the Park Chung-hee’s strategy.

And, I have to repeat it, what makes South Korea what it s today, is the result of ideological opposition, in the form of the Gwangju Uprising. And, for that reason, Underwood’s concluding remarks didn’t sit well with me.

I conclude positively and optimistically, partly because that’s what you need to do to sell a book but mostly because I believe Korea has a good future. Korea has overcome all of the obstacles that the world has thrown at it in the last half century. I do say, of course, that the only way to do that now is to adopt some of the principles that I’m proposing.

It’s not about textbook principles, or authoritarian strategies. It’s about competition, ideologically, economically, politically, without violence hopefully, but never preordained or engineered by any kind of aristocracy. I like what Underwood has to say, but South Koreans don’t need to replace the chaebol nobility with his pontification.

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