Letter: Ending corruption in South Korea

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From Mr Sung-Kyu Lee

Sir: As a Korean student, I am partly in agreement with James Fenton ("Pitiless corruption and national shame", 3 July): "corruption and greed must be to blame" for the collapse of the Sampoong department store in Seoul.

According to his appropriate argument, this tragedy is the price of the deep-seated corruption, which is pitiless and costly. But I don't agree with the implication that corruption is the only way to achieve economic progress. It is widely held that the Korean miracle is the outcome of Korea's diligence, perseverance and blood-and-tears endeavour - and not only corruption or government-business collusion.

In his insightful book Asian Drama (1968), Gunnar Myrdal warned of the possibility that corruption and its risks might appear in the process of economic development in South-east Asian countries. The excessive "economic dynamism" of the Korean economy, for two decades, has inevitably ended up with a lack of "spiritual infrastructure", which should have developed with the economic miracle. It is possible that the monster of the economic miracle will undermine the potential economic prosperity. Indeed, is the Korean economy becoming the "Frankenstein economy"?

Korea should now concentrate on the real enemy - corruption. South Korea needs to eradicate both the pitiless economic corruption and the inefficient political corruption. I think we will continue the economic progress and make a new economic miracle as long as Korea has a strong will to economise. Earlier, Myrdal made the point with foresight:

Before the power structure has been changed by evolution and democratic revolution, it will be difficult to decrease corruption.

Yours faithfully,

Sung-Kyu Lee

Department of Economics

University of York

Heslington, York