Un-Chan Chung, a former Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea and founder of the Korea Institute for Shared Growth, spoke to a group of attendees at the Munk School of Global Affairs on 30 September 2016. Chung spoke on the topic of economic growth in South Korea. He first introduced the concept of shared growth, to which he has dedicated the later part of his professional life studying.
Chung’s lecture was about the economy of South Korea: a tale of once a war-torn country that rose as an economic power in half a century. However, this was not without consequence. South Korea’s main model of economic growth borrows heavily from trickle-down economics, and has thus caused major discrepancies in income equality.
Chung employed Canadian hero narratives to illustrate the deep personal ties he has to Canada, prominently discussing Dr. Schofield’s contributions to Korea’s socio-economic development. Although the Canadian-trained veterinarian’s move to Korea in the early 20th century did not promise professional prestige, Dr. Schofield dedicated his life for the welfare of Koreans as a bacteriologist at the Severance Medical School. However, his service extended beyond medical assistance: he documented the rapid cultural shifts Korea experienced at the time, and especially the May 1st independence movement of 1919 – through photographs and event journals.
Considering that Korea was under Japanese rule at the time, Dr. Schofield’s criticisms against the Japanese presence created troubles for him. However, he never stopped fighting for Korea’s independence. Dr. Schofield’s passion for human rights in Korea led to his return to the country in 1958 as a state guest. He was later buried in South Korea in 1970 as an honorary representative of the Korean people.
This personal anecdote about the Canadian veterinarian was central to Chung’s experience: Dr. Schofield was his mentor and benefactor. He paid for Chung’s tuition and relayed him important lessons. For instance, embracing a strong sense of justice and contributing to the welfare and growth of Korea were values Dr. Schofield imparted on Chung. They inspired Chung to train an economist to improve South Korea’s economic growth and income equality.
His proposed solution was shared growth. As an example, Chung referred to Hillary Clinton, who has campaigned on the promise of creating an “inclusive economy”, which aimed at creating opportunities for all. This is at odds with the popular belief that shared growth entails a redistribution mechanism that takes from the wealthy and gives to the poor.
Current strategies to address inequality in South Korea’s economy are limited to financial support. However, it will soon be complemented by a series of institutional reforms. In a 2015 Harvard International Review (HIR) article, Chung pointed out the influence the extremely wealthy could exert upon the government to drive policies of their interest. Because of this, Chung called for integrating Korean corporations’ for-profit activities along with social responsibility. These efforts can be beneficial to both parties because they ensure more welfare and purchase power for the consumer bases – which, in turn leads to more consumption, and therefore, more profits for the wealthy.
Considering his political career, Chung’s approach to the shared growth model is highly academic. In a March 2016 interview with South Korea’s Joon Gang Daily, Chung acknowledged that two similar plans were being pushed in the South Korea’s National Assembly: the People’s Party’s “fair growth” and the Minjoo Party’s “economic democracy” plans. While they are both in align with the shared growth model, this model appears to encompass a larger scale of actors – involving small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and conglomerates, and the rich and the poor. These two notions are more centred on reforming the way Korea’s conglomerates conduct their business affairs, either by targeting fair trade or through price cutting to bridge gaps between SMEs and conglomerates. Although Chung was invited to work with both parties to advocate for shared growth, he has decided to focus on a more research-oriented, academic approach towards the shared growth model.
Although Chung’s explanation on shared growth focused on South Korea’s case, he pointed out that this model is being applied to other Asian countries that experienced rapid economic development. Chung referred to China as an example that is currently undergoing extreme income polarization and intense external growth through trade – a country that might find such model useful in the future. At the end of the lecture, Chung’s reiterated his commitments to equal distribution of growth from his personal experience with Dr. Schofield. This Canadian veterinarian served as a central link between Korea and Canada.
Helena Najm is a 4th Year student studying Health & Disease and Human Geography at the University of Toronto.