Demystifying the Park Chung-Hee Myth: The Critical Role of Land Reform in the Evolution of Korea’s Developmental State
35 Pages Posted: 6 Oct 2014 Last revised: 23 Sep 2016
Date Written: April 1, 2016
The developmental state literature emphasises the importance of state autonomy and capacity, with a particular focus on the Weberian type of meritocratic bureaucracy. Existing studies of South Korea’s economic development generally credit Park Chung-hee for establishing such a state. I question this common wisdom with careful process tracing of the development of a meritocratic bureaucracy in the country. My findings suggest that the contrast between the predatory Rhee regime (1948–60) and the developmental Park regime (1961–79) has been exaggerated. Meritocracy in South Korea’s bureaucratic recruitment and promotion systems developed gradually over several decades, including during Rhee’s regime as well as the short democratic episode (1960–61). What then explains the evolution of a developmental state in Korea? Land reform contributed to not only creating social structural conditions favorable to state autonomy but also promoting the development of a meritocratic bureaucracy by propelling the rapid expansion of education and by mitigating the extent of political clientelism.
Keywords: Korea, developmental state, Weberian meritocratic bureaucracy, land reform, Park Chung-hee
JEL Classification: N45, O15, O17, O53
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation