Working Paper
How Can Korea be a Role Model for Catch-up Development?

A ‘Capability-based View’

There is some scepticism about Korea as role model of development as the Korean model involved a considerable degree of state activism, unacceptable in today’s global environment. This paper propose a ‘capability-based view’ of the country’s catch-up development, arguing that the real lesson from Korea is not the role of government but the fact that it was able to strengthen the capability of firms, thus inducing sustained growth for several decades. This paper points to the mid 1980s as the critical juncture in this process of capability-building, as the Korea emphasized in-house R&D in private sectors, pushing the aggregate R&D/GDP ratio to the threshold level of 1 per cent or more. This led to another core aspect of the Korean model—continuous upgrading within the same industries as well as advancing successive entries into new promising industries. The paper argues that without capability-building, devaluation or standard trade liberalization alone cannot bring sustained catch-up as these often result in short-run, albeit temporary, export booms. The study analyses how Korea utilized various access modes to learning and knowledge to enhance its technological capabilities, and concludes with a discussion of the transferability of the Korean lessons to other countries.