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Socioeconomic Polarization and Personal Well-being under Neoliberal Restructuring:Implications of South Korea since the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis

a PSC Small Fund Research Project

Investigator:   Sun-Jae Hwang

The disproportionate impact of economic crisis on personal welfare is not only a function of individual socioeconomic circumstances but also of coexisting social structures. South Korea, since the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, has substantially transformed itself from the dirigiste developmental state into the neoliberal state in which the disproportionate impact of the market force is primarily defined by the differential individual circumstances rather than the institutional regulations. Although South Korea has successfully become a liberalized economy by any international standards and fully integrated into the global market with a steady economic growth since the watershed event in 1997, the social cost of the fundamental transition to the new political economy has also been significant. In particular, with the dissipating government support and institutional regulations in favor of free market operation, the level of inequality and polarization in Korean society has substantially increased to the unprecedented level while the benefit of the global integration and economic growth has not been shared equally across social strata - As also shown in other early adopters of the neoliberal practice such as the U.S. and the U.K since the late 1970s, the rising economic tide of South Korea for the last decade did not lift all boats but the selected few. In this regard, I study the decadal experience of South Korea since 1997 to examine the long-term impact of the AFC and the concurrent neoliberal restructuring practice in the context of neoliberal globalization, specifically focusing on its social consequences for personal well-being.

Funding Period: 09/01/2007 to 12/31/2008

Country of Focus: South Korea

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