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Dreaming of a Laissez-Faire Korea: Protestant 'Self-Reconstruction' Capitalists, 1910s-1990s Open Access

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Other title
Subject/Keyword
Korea
Korean
modern
history
South Korea
South Korean
self-reconstruction
economic
liberalism
Protestant
Protestantism
ethical
Christianity
laissez-faire
capitalism
capitalists
economic development
developmentalism
developmentalist
state-led development
economic thought
neoliberalism
profitability
diversification
conglomerate
business group
1997 Asian Crisis
marriage
corporate philanthropy
trust
export-led growth
Korean-American
Ilhan New
nationalism
chaebol
Sŏ Chae-p’il
Chŏn T’aek-bo
Park Chung Hee
Daesong
Byucksan
HanGlas
Billy Graham
Han Kyung-Chik
Soo Keun Kim
I.D. Kim
Choi Tae-sup
Lee Myung-bak
President
U.S.
American
CBMC
KCBMC
Korea Christian Businessmens Committee
Christian Businessmens Committee
Cold War
Hyundai
Type of item
Thesis
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Gold, Brian R
Supervisor and department
Dunch, Ryan (History and Classics, East Asian Studies)
Baker, Donald (East Asian Studies, University of British Columbia)
Examining committee member and department
Samson, Jane (History and Classics)
Jay, Jennifer (History and Classics)
Szostak, Rick (Economics)
Schmid, Andre (East Asian Studies, University of Toronto)
Department
Department of History and Classics
Specialization
History
Date accepted
2014-09-29T13:15:22Z
Graduation date
2014-11
Degree
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Doctoral
Abstract
This dissertation traces the evolution, survival and re-emergence of a Korean ‘self-reconstruction’ capitalism from the 1910s to the 1990s. Self-reconstruction capitalist thought and practice kept alive in the ‘margins’ the only tradition of classical economic liberalism in modern Korean history, one inextricably mixed with Korean and American Protestant ethical thinking. It provided a laissez-faire capitalist model that stood in contrast to the developmental state-led capitalism used first by the Japanese colonial government and then the South Korean state to enact the ‘economic miracle.’ Because of its Protestant background it overlapped with but differed significantly from the neoliberalism that has prevailed in South Korea since the 1997 Asian Crisis. Following a laissez-faire capitalist model, self-reconstruction capitalists consciously diverged from developmental state business and social practices. These divergences included seeking profitability, business focus, independence from government loans, and allowing their offspring to marry outside the elite. In contrast the developmental state encouraged maximizing revenue, business diversification, reliance on government-backed loans, and, socially, intermarriage within the business and political elite. Self-reconstruction capitalists were the first Korean capitalists to implement employee stock sharing plans, and corporate philanthropy. They were also the first to advocate export-led growth, and the value of societal ‘trust’ as essential to economic development. Using archived materials and interviews with their peers conducted in both Korea and the U.S., Chapters Two and Three covers the lives and careers of the two first generation self-reconstruction capitalists. Chapter Two focuses on Ilhan New, the Korean-American founder of Yuhan Corporation. New was one of the first major capitalists in Korean history, and the protégé of the early major nationalist Sŏ Chae-p’il. Chapter Three focuses on Chŏn T’aek-bo, the ‘forgotten father’ of South Korean export-led growth who won the first national awards for top exporter in the 1960s five years in a row. Despite this, as an impediment to the developmental state, he was the first capitalist divested of his business empire by military dictator Park Chung Hee. Using archived materials and interviews with their peers and children conducted in both Korea and the U.S., Chapter Four traces the ties and interactions among a sub-section of the business elite in South Korea through the 1960s to the early 1980s. This sub-section was the second and third generation of self-reconstruction capitalists, who founded and sustained some of the largest and most influential business groups in the country, such as Daesong, Byucksan, and HanGlas. It describes the differing fates of their enterprises in the face of the 1997 Asian Economic Crisis as tied to their pursuit of self-reconstruction capitalist business practices. This chapter also examines the important role played by the Korean Christian Businessmen’s Committee (KCBMC), which reached its zenith of influence in the 1970s. The KCBMC and its American parent organization argued that laissez-faire Protestant businessmen were the most ethical humans alive, and therefore the ‘natural’ leaders of Korea. Joining the KCBMC in the 1970s as a rising ‘star’ in the Hyundai group, Lee Myung-bak took this lesson to heart. As South Korean President from 2008 to 2013, Lee pursued the ‘dream’ of a laissez-faire, classical liberal Korean economy. Although his attempt ran up against the realities of a now neoliberalist South Korea, Lee’s administration provides a fitting epilogue for this study, by pointing to the re-emergence of self-reconstruction capitalism, an alternative strain of economic thinking and business practice that was little-noticed during the decades of developmentalist supremacy, yet persisted from the 1910s into the twenty-first century.
Language
English
DOI
doi:10.7939/R3H41JS3N
Rights
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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