One Nation Divided under the Chaebol

by

Recently I came across an intriguing post on the Global Voices website: In 2014, a piece of legislation was introduced in the National Assembly for the purpose of punishing South Korean consumers who shop on foreign websites.

Those unacquainted with shopping in South Korea may be puzzled to learn that products from South Korea’s flagship firms such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai sell at prices often two to three times greater than those charged in the U.S. market. In fact, one of the many disgruntled South Korean consumers quoted in the story points to a South Korean-brand TV selling for roughly $5,900 USD in Korea and $1,550 USD in the U.S.

Naturally, consumers try to find bargains abroad on the Internet, but the government wants none of it, it seems.

For me this issue gets to the heart of the good and the bad of South Korea’s recent economic history and the public’s complicated relationship with the chaebol — South Korea’s giant corporate conglomerates.

On the one hand, firms like Samsung embody South Korea’s status as an advanced, global economic power and thus are a source of national pride. On the other, they represent the deep-seated cronyism of the South Korea political economy and an increasingly calcifying class structure.

The Chaebol: A Short History

The chaebol and their outsized influence on South Korean society are rooted in the country’s development model, which saw the state commandeer society’s economic assets and direct them towards funding the growth and expansion of these economic behemoths. For decades the state maintained almost complete control of the South Korean financial system. This allowed the government’s banking monopoly to depress the interest rates offered to bank depositors (read middle- and lower-class savers) while at the same time lavishing the chaebol with subsidized credit to encourage their expansion into targeted industrial sectors.

However, during the 1960s and 70s this subsidized finance often carried with it the accompanying threat of swift reprisal from the government if production targets were not attained. This mechanism set in motion a process whereby the chaebol pursued an “expansion above all else” strategy that resulted in unwieldy conglomerates operating in a wide array of disparate economic activities.

For example, while people the world over are well acquainted with Samsung’s electronics arm, they may be surprised to learn that Samsung’s insurance branch is the largest life insurance provider in South Korea, with a nearly 50 percent market share, and the world’s twentieth-largest. Samsung also builds apartments, operates hotels and sells clothes.

Unfortunately Samsung and its ilk have yielded a host of dilemmas for South Korean society to this day.

The Chaebol: A Source of Social and Economic Ills

In a cruel twist of irony, it was the very successes of South Korea’s 1980s democratization movement that served to obstruct any meaningful oversight of the chaebol. While the reasons for this are varied, the influence that the wealthy conglomerates were able to accrue in exchange for bankrolling political parties and candidates — paid for with illegally accumulated “slush funds” — certainly stands as one of the more important factors.

The state-chaebol nexus which came to form the backbone of South Korea Inc. has allowed mega-firms to consistently trample over laws and regulations with little or no accountability. Perhaps more critically, the chaebol’s outsized influence on the South Korean political system has made legislative remedies seeking to balance the top-heavy South Korean economy hard.

And as in the case of the proposed legislation that sought to punish domestic consumers for trying to flee an unfavorable shopping environment, the state helps the chaebol retain their dominance over the domestic market.

Ordinary South Koreans increasingly challenge the notion that they should play the chaebol’s doormats and pay inflated prices in the name of patriotic obligation. They are also alarmed by the chaebol’s breakneck expansion into new commercial arenas and by the attendant demise of thousands of mom and pop businesses that provide a large share of employment to those in their 50s and 60s.

The eclectic mix of bakeries and tea houses and restaurants — traditionally sectors dominated by small family-run businesses — are vanishing, killed by chaebol-operated competitors.

Failures of Regulation

Beyond being ‘too big to fail,’ the chaebol have become too big to govern. In 2014, the combined revenues of the three largest conglomerates — Samsung, LG, and Hyundai (the last being Hyundai Motor Group and Hyundai Heavy Industries combined)  — equated roughly 45 percent of South Korea’s GDP. And an ever-growing list of top chaebol executives are pardoned or granted suspended prison terms. President Park Geun-hye pardoned last August SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, who had been serving a prison sentence for white-collar crimes. It’s worth noting that Mr. Chey had been pardoned for a separate conviction on similar charges by the previous president Lee Myung-bak, a former chaebol chieftain himself, of Hyundai Construction.

In perhaps an apt demonstration of the rather cavalier attitude of the South Korean business community toward the rule of law, a Forbes article relayed the pro-business South Korea International Trade Association (KITA) perspective that it was “a little disappointing that the scale [of pardons] was smaller than expected.” They meant that other convicted chaebol leaders besides Chey should have been pardoned as well.

President Park Geun-hye’s call in 2012 for ‘economic democratization,’ more than two decades after Kim Young Sam won the presidency with a campaign centered on the exact same pledge, serves as an indication of how elusive meaningful reforms remain. Legislation passed in 2013, to curb dubious business practices of the chaebol, was derided as a “paper tiger” by watchdog groups who argued that the compromises needed to secure passage had rendered it toothless.

Local bylaws that compel large retail chains to close every other Sunday are another symbolic measure to ensure the vitality of small businesses in the face of the daunting challenges presented by chaebol expansion.

Arguments for the Chaebol-Centric Economic Policy

Still, I find it somewhat admirable that prominent business people are, in however limited a way, held to account for their crimes. This is not the case in many fast-developing countries. And in spite of the dour assessments above, South Korea is rightfully lauded for accomplishing an elusive goal that so many nations have set out to achieve and few have pulled off: rapidly moving up the value added chain and going from a producer of trinkets and T-shirts to one of reputable cars and smartphones in a just a few decades, all through willful strategizing.

The most important thing the South Korean government did was to keep the control over productive assets largely in South Korean hands, often purchasing technology licenses or forcing foreign investors into joint ventures with South Korean firms rather than letting large multinationals come in and run amok in the domestic marketplace. This allowed the state to bolster firms seeking to move into producing higher value goods.

Second, the South Korean government should be lauded for tactfully fighting off U.S. political pressure for rapid liberalization. These pressures began to mount in the mid-80s and were often backed-up with threats by U.S. trade envoys of severe reprisals. Perhaps the South Korean government’s approach to handling U.S. economic demands is best described as ‘bend but don’t break.’ Total capitulation to U.S. entreaties could have gutted Korea’s nascent auto and electronics industries, which are now major global competitors to big American companies.

South Korean Nationalism: The Glorious Past over the Problematic Chaebol

But the chaebol still present a conundrum for South Korean society. They are simultaneously national champions, the purveyors of South Korea’s image as an economic powerhouse across the globe and the symbols of an unequal and unfair society where the roads to social advancement are becoming narrower and narrower. The frailty of small- and medium-sized businesses ― by far the largest source of middle-class employment ― and their lack of access to affordable credit are further consequences of South Korea’s chaebol-centered development model.

To be sure, a great deal of the societal hand-wringing over the chaebol’s role in South Korean society is rooted in a battle over political history. While my analysis primarily focused on economics and the chaebol, interpretations of South Korea’s recent political history, namely the military dictatorships of Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan (1961-1988), form another primary cleavage among the South Korean public. Was Park a strong leader who ushered South Korea into the club of wealthy economies with his vision and determination, or was he a repressive dictator who murdered and imprisoned those who dared oppose him all while nurturing his cronies in the business world?

Anyone who has spent some time residing in South Korea is aware of the deep national pride that courses through most of its citizens, and how often they are willing to regale you with historical anecdotes, facts, and figures meant to impress Korea’s greatness upon you. Given my particular scholastic proclivities, I’ve always found it remarkable how often South Koreans eschew touting their quite momentous economic rise in favor of extolling the Korean Peninsula’s four seasons, the turtle ship that defeated the Japanese navy in the 16th century, the ancient Silla Dynasty or King Sejong, the revered 15th-century inventor of the Korean script.

To my mind, its recent history – the transformation from an abjectly impoverished nation into a prosperous society featuring global powerhouses like Samsung and Hyundai – is nothing short of miraculous. However, upon deeper thought, when one considers the painful history and current angst bubbling beneath the surface of the chaebol’s successes, maybe the focus on the events of long-ago reflects a universal human tendency to see ourselves through the lens of a simpler, purer, and far less complicated time than the messy reality of today.

 

Cover Image Source: Arizona MUNdi

Comments

comments

Kevin Hockmuth is an assistant professor of political science and Korean studies at Akita International University in Japan. He received his Ph.D. from Temple University in 2015. His research focuses on the South Korean political economy and political contestation over economic reforms.

  • Stephen Bourgogne Allard

    The Chebol’s mentioned in this article are now seeing further reductions
    in their overseas profits for the 14th month in a row. Real estate asset
    prices in even Gangnam are now beginning to fall even as these firms and their
    construction arms continue to build ever more “forest” housing projects
    all over the nation.

    This article misses a very important economic reality that effects consumer prices in Korea. The targeting of Chinese tourists has upended the pricing of department store goods. Additionally, tax refund programs have been designed to entice plane loads of Chinese tourists to come to Korea and spend with out paying for the infrastructure necessary to get to Seoul, Busan, Paju and Bu Yeo among other shopping destinations. This on top of high licensing fees attached to foreign branded import price tags make for ridiculous pop retail pricing.

    It is very easy to avoid paying the highly inflated prices that are on offer in Korea. You need to do your homework and know about how technology works and is changing rapidly in order to beat the system.

    It is only the very (high salaried) Chaebol firm employees who are paying these outrageous prices for goods inside Korea. If you work for one of these firms in Korea, you must pay these prices to keep your employer happy (and solvent). Korea Inc. games the capitalist system in their favor in ways that are so sophisticated that no other competitor can possibly duplicate.

    • Kevin Hockmuth

      Thanks for the comment. I agree with many of your points, beyond consume goods, Chinese customers are increasingly being relied upon to prop up the over-saturated higher-end housing market in places like Jeju and Busan (it will be interesting to see what, if any, effect the downturn in China will have on this. Also a good point about the chaebol employees being ‘expected’ to buy the firms produced. That said, I lived in Korea for quite some time and on more than several instances went with my family (who is decidedly not of the chaebol set) to purchase major electronic good at stores like Hi-Mart and the like. The prices where exceedingly high for the things we bought, such as washing machines and air conditioners. To be sure, it is anecdotal evidence but again after years living in Korea I found egregious prices levels at places like High Mart, Homeplus, etc where the clientele is likely well over 95% Korean. The vertical monopolized (manufacturer>retailer) supply chains are certainly another big part of the story. One final thought is that there has been a lot of coverage recently about the practice of small franchise owners being ‘coerced’ into buying excess goods they cannot sell, many of whom are far from wealthy and often being forced into debt to meet these purchasing expectations. Thanks again for your thoughtful comment.

  • Leith Media

    One thing Koreans will almost NEVER acknowledge is the contribution of the Japanese colonial period to later economic development. The period of Japanese rule while brutal saw the native population double in size. The decrepit social and political structures of the Chosen dynasty were forcefully removed. Mass education, mass literacy and modern healthcare was introduced by the Japanese. While the Japanese restricted higher education only to a privileged few Koreans, a small nucleus of trained managers and technocrats did emerge. For example, without Park Chung Hee’s experience in the Japanese military he would have just been another Chosen dynasty peon from a peasant family. Could history have turned out differently if the Japanese didn’t take over Korea for 35 years? It’s all speculative history.

    Although most of the Japanese-built industrial infrastructure was in the North and largely destroyed in the war, the intangible human capital emerged largely intact. It has become a worn cliche to say that South Korea rose from the ashes of the Korean War, as if Korea was emerged from the feudal era in the 1950s. The factors that helped fuel rapid Korean growth were: 1) foundations for modern society laid during the Japanese colonial period 2) American aid after the war in the form of direct aid, technology transfers and access to the American market. Many Korean construction companies got their start working with the US Army Corp of Engineers 3) and finally the guided crony capitalism policies of successive postwar Korean regimes

    • Kevin Hockmuth

      Some really good points to be sure, I stayed focused on the domestic component given space restrictions, but the international factors you raised were certainly of important to account for. In terms of the legacy of the colonial era. I have read Carter Eckert’s fantastic book on the subject of the colonial era and post-war Korean Capitalism and I found his arguments to be compelling for sure. Alternatively, Stephen Haggard, David Kang, and Chung-in Moon (as with Eckert, all Korean politics/history scholars of the first order) published a very good critique of those arguments in World Development (1997, v. 25, n.6). All as to say, some of the best minds on these matters have reached differing conclusions which more than anything demonstrates how hard determining the causal chain in these complex social phenomena really is.

      Thankfully, my work need not make any definite determination on such matters and I have benefited greatly from research dedicated to both schools of thought. I would agree too, that though it was highly unpopular among the populace, the normalization in 1965 certainly did play a significant roll in boosting the economy as Japanese capital flowed in. Further, Park Chung Hee made it rather clear that he saw the Japanese model of rapid industrialization as the one he wished Korea to follow, of course in-practice the Korean version adopted its own particular idiosyncrasies. One final thought, I can only speak for myself, but I have known and worked with more than several Koreans who would certainly acknowledge some legacies of the colonial era did contribute to South Korea’s industrialization. This is not to say that they do not view the colonial era with distaste. Thanks again for adding your insights to the discussion.

      • redwhitedude

        Koreans and Japanese do share a lot of similarities in how they operate. Both Japan and Korea socially, and politically function in a very top down manner, as in orders coming from the very top through layers of what amount to be yes men. A lot of the people who worked in government for the ROK post colonial era were in fact collaborators such a Park.

    • redwhitedude

      It’s true that the first exposure of western things for a lot of Koreans was under Japanese rule but is it wholly attributable to that. I doubt it. The Japanese pretty much deliberate kept Koreans out of key positions such as high ranking positions in industry, and government. If you look at 1945 and what state the country was left it was sorely lacking skilled personnel. The Japanese were the engineers who kept the factories humming, in the north the soviets brought their own engineers so that the factories could continue to run. Sure it is somewhat attributable but not wholly. Japan acted as a conduit from which western ideas, concepts and ways of doing things were packaged and imported into Korea. The most obvious example as you pointed out Park Chung Hee drew inspiration on his economic policy from the westernization of Japan.

      • Leith Media

        Certainly Korea’s swift rise is not “wholly attributable” to the foundations laid by the Japanese colonial period, I used the word “contribution.” I was just countering the popular narrative that S Korea rose from the ashes of the Korean War from zilch, nada, as if everything was built from scratch. The hard infrastructure of bridges, roads, factories were practically built from scratch, but soft infrastructure such as the legal and educational system was created during the Japanese colonial period and carried over.

        The example of Park Chung Hee was to show that he was one of many ordinary Koreans who received career training and opportunities from the Japanese. Under the Chosun dynasty he would have been an ordinary peon living the life of a farmer

      • redwhitedude

        That is another thing about Park, his family was so poor. He made a decision based on lively hood rather than nationalism. In fact a lot of the comments that paint the colonial period positively has more to do with these people having access to something better than being a poor farmer living on the edge of subsistance. Compared to that even a low level bureacrat, police and/or military is God sent even if you get mistreated, discriminated and have no prospect of advancing to really high positions.

    • Jung Park

      During the war, the cultural exchanges can and do happen. Educational system was set up to teach Japanese language and to abolish Korean identity/history/language. Japan did not create an educational system in Korea in some altruistic fashion trying to educate Koreans about Korean history, language, art, science, etc. British say that Romans gave them aqueducts. I see these as a byproduct of war. You sound as though Korean should be grateful to Japan. You should also acknowledge how much US propped up Japan if you want to talk about Koreans. Do Japanese feel grateful toward Americans? Or was that just a byproduct of losing a war? This article is about Korean Jaebol, its origin, its inner workings, and its pros and cons. Please be courteous to other readers who are interested in learning about the subject matter, not about the war between Japan and Korea.

      • Leith Media

        What war between Japan and Korea? Japan took over Korea by defeating Qing China and then the Russians. Please be courteuos to other readers and know your history before posting nonsense.

        I’m just responding to the cliched and well-worn notion that the Korean economy magically grew from Third World poverty to developed country status out of nothing. Even the original article talks about this rise as “nothing short of miraculous.” Another misconception is that Park Chung Hee and the chaebols were the sole agents of this transformation. My point is that the foundations for modern society were laid in the Japanese colonial period. It’s true the colonial Korean economy was developed to serve the Japanese mother country. Nonetheless, the Japanese built factories, infrastructure, schools and importantly, trained and educated a small core of technocrats and skilled laborers.

        Who knows, maybe in some alternative universe the Chosun dynasty retained its independence and sent its brightest sons to the West to learn science, engineering, law, politics, military science and modernizes Korea and later defeats Japan. Sorry, but that never happened. The US ended Japan’s rule over Korea by sending the IJN to the bottom of the ocean and dropping a couple atom bombs.

        I’m not asking that the Korean people show gratitude to the Japanese for ending the feudal and backward Chosun dynasty or the Americans for providing military security to the Koreans for almost 60 years after the end of the Korean War.

      • Jung Park

        I just outed you. You are a troll, a Japanese propaganda machine. Not interested in what you have to say. I saw you many of your handy work at New York Time disguised as a Korean name promoting Japanese Conservative Nationalist views. Now Leith Media? No thank you.

      • Leith Media

        I just outed you. You are one of those ajusshis that sells 3000 won trinkets on the Seoul subway.

    • Jung Park

      This is what is going on in current Japan now. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-detention-special-report-idUSKCN0WA1WG

      There is something else to consider. I am not a historian but my logic says that if Korea kept the educational system that Japan used, maybe there were more impending issues to deal with (who will be in power, how to govern, how to build economy) and just left it there. Why change the fence if it is not broken, rather than it was some sort of superior educational system Japan had.

      • Leith Media

        An article about one person who had a medical emergency in a Japanese immigration detention center? Okay, what’s your point?

      • Jung Park

        You tell that to the journalist who reported the News. I see it as though Japanese ways of doing business. Not telling the truth. If you do not want immigrant, tell so. Do not just kill people.

      • Leith Media

        So you think the Japanese killed this immigrant on PURPOSE because they didn’t want him in their country?

      • Jung Park

        You tell to the family who lost her husband and a father that one life does not mean anything. You have a real good career ahead of you in a Japanese embassy in the globe.

      • Leith Media

        Answer the question. Do you think the Japanese killed this immigrant on purpose?

  • Leith Media

    One rather inequitable aspect of the chaebol culture in Korea is the outsize influence the founding families have on their companies, even though they may only have a 3 to 4% stake in them. They manage to achieve this level of control through opaque cross shareholding structures and the general consensus that “what is good for the chaebol is good for Korea.”Last summer’s battle between the American investment fund Elliott Management and Samsung illustrates this attitude. Elliott’s position was that Samsung made some shady stock moves that benefited the Lee family at the expense of the smaller shareholders. The Korean national pension fund which held a good chunk of Samsung shares ended up siding with Samsung and approving the merger between Samsung and Cheil. Because of such examples, South Korea ranks low in corporate transparency.

    • redwhitedude

      If you take that and make it broader point, then it is not surprising that Korea has very mediocre ratings in the Corruption perception index. Another point is cases of blatant disregard for things such as respecting maternity leave and other labor laws. I find lack of principles on the part of Koreans. They really should listen to criticism like this because ultimately Koreans would benefit the most in Korea since it is a country filled with Koreans. On the Elliot case, I remember reading an editorial that made this sound like it was a jewish plot against Korea since Paul Singer was a jew supposedly. I just wish they’d tone down their touchy nationalism and focus on problems rather than gloss it over with flag waving.

  • Jung Park

    I read this article about S Korea a couple of days ago. Not directly linked to Jaebol but it is about what power can do. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/06/world/asia/defamation-laws-south-korea-critics-press-freedom.html

  • Jung Park

    I was surprised to see Seoul being listed as one of the expensive places to live. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/the-most-expensive-cities-in-the-world-to-live-155929945.html

    • Leith Media

      What does this have to do with chaebol?

      • Jung Park

        It supports the view of the author perhaps why things are expensive in Seoul. Your knee jerk reaction is similar to KKK and Nazi party in German. You are nothing but a troll who represents extreme neoconservative Japanese party. What is so sad is that you pretend to be Korean in New York Time represent pro-Japanese view.

      • Leith Media

        Why don’t you do some research before spewing nonsense. The Yahoo article references a survey from Economist magazine: http://www.eiu.com/public/topical_report.aspx?campaignid=WCOL2016. The Economist tends to cater to their readership of businessmen and technocrats from Western societies. Thus, their price index survey includes “domestic help, private school and home rents” in addition to the prices of daily necessities.

        WHO do you know in Seul that has nannies and cleaning maids and send their children to private schools?

        When housing costs are compared, it compares apples to apples: a spacious, up to date living space with Western amenities. For example, a Gangnam apartment renting for $3000 month. There are plenty of cheaper living spaces in Seoul, from $300 month goshiwons to older villas in cheaper neighborhoods.

        Yes, some things such as Samsung laser printer cartridges and Hyundai cars are expensive but quoting the Economist article to support your position is very indirect and confuses the issue.

      • Jung Park

        I do subscribe to The Economist. Their articles are well researched in terms of providing a quantitative data. I am perfectly well aware there is a gap between rich and poor in Seoul. There is nothing new there. So is New York, So is Tokyo. So is any other big cities in the world. And only cites will get bigger over the time. Because I said I am not a historian does not mean I am not a student of history. I said it out of respect whose profession is a historian who spends bulk of their time researching many different sources and sift through ideas and fact checks to come up with one’s own view in the context of others. You are just too busy banging your drum and you do not seem to grow as an intellectual person.

      • Leith Media

        You seem well versed in the art of fighting without fighting. Can you defeat the Japanese School singlehandedly?

  • Jung Park

    I do not see too much difference between Jaebol and Boeing, for example, in America. A big corporation moves to a state that offers a huge corporate tax deduction, no labor union, the minimal state rules and regulations for building expansions, etc. In DC, there are about 20 lobbyists representing a pharmaceutical industry to a congress person. The profit margin of giant pharmaceutical companies is pretty good. The price of drugs can be very expensive for the consumers. In the past, the capital gains tax was reduced to 15% and someone like Mitt Romney (old news) paid 15% on his earnings from his investment, not a higher income tax. However, what I do not see in America is the customers not allowing to do a compare shopping. The Americans also pay more for the goods made in America due to a higher wage and the cost of living (not to the level Koreans have to pay) but there is an alternative to buy the goods made elsewhere for less.

    http://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-aerospace/inside-boeing-south-carolina-puget-sound-plants-rival-no-longer-playing-catch-up/

    We are living in a very peculiar political and economic climate that a gap between rich and poor is widening. Extreme views are rampant. Perhaps the pendulum will swing the other way soon.

    • Kevin Hockmuth

      “I do not see too much difference between Jaebol and Boeing” agreed, As an American I would say that I would hold that even if these cases in Korea often end with pardons or ‘suspended sentences’, they are in many ways comparatively harsher than the U.S. where the mass financial fraud perpetrated by major financial institutions has yielded nil criminal prosecutions. The corporate fine is the U.S. version of the ‘suspended sentence’.

      • Jung Park

        I was interested in identifying the patterns of big corporations exercising or using their power. Thanks for seeing that. I treat Jaebol as a variation of the theme (capitalism) with the similar ways of achieving power (slush funds vs lobbyists), exercising power and squeezing ordinary people who are not part of the wealth sharing (drug prices vs wash machine price). A common belief is that the price of a good rises until a market cannot bear. Are we there, yet? As an American it is disturbing to see how anemic state governments (Louisiana, S. Carolina, ??) have become and how powerful these big corporations have become. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-louisiana-budget-politics-insight-idUSKCN0WA2OG
        No labor union in South Carolina brings me back to the time of Rockefeller, Carnegie and Morgan. Since some of the laws have passed for 1% of wealthy people and already have acquired and continuing to acquire more wealth, how do we put a pause to that? Good discussion topic, I hope.

      • Jung Park

        Just a thought. To understand Jaebols to people who are not familiar with it, including myself, I think it might be easier to talk about its business model first and its connection to the government (historical origin) subsequently. Jaebols has a business model that its growth is diversely invested in many different business sectors. Most people cannot imagine Starbucks making investments in bio-technologies. But, GE has done different things in different sectors over the years by trying different business models to grow. Microsoft purchased the start ups who might be their competition. Jaebols, on the other hand, it seems like just grew bigger and bigger. Anything grows too big loses its agility to adapt in a different environment, a current business model that is. Once you legitimize Jaebols with its business model, it creates an environment for more constructive discussions and criticisms. Then, one can bring up a government’s responsibility to its people. A strong government is needed to set the boundary of a big company operating under a capitalism. A strong government does not mean business unfriendly. Just setting the limits when a big conglomerate goes too far to extract profits from ordinary citizens. Invention and commercialism of a washer have liberated women from arduous transitional role all over the globe (not so much in Africa, yet). I hope it is men who are washing the clothes for the family who cannot afford to purchase a washer. Lastly, nationalism exists when there is a need to hide social and economic problems. Look at Putin and look at Trump. Just an observation and just a thought.

    • Stephen Bourgogne Allard

      The difference between a firm like Boeing and the Chaebol firms is: who owns the stock, and who makes board level decisions on how to spend the profits. This is where the difference gives Korean conglomerates their unique DNA among global firms that are fighting over market share. Because of the nature of family control of national economic livelihood as is the case in Korea, its Chaebol firms have very unique cultures that are responsible for prices at the retail level for Korea’s citizens and prices for foreign consumers overseas.

      A firm like Boeing has a completely different stock ownership structure and a much wider sampling of interest, political and government DNA in its corporate makeup without the model of family at its ownership roots. Yes, both can choose to build a factory anywhere they choose and take advantage of cheap labor and tax incentives, but because of the unique family control mechanism inside of Korean firms, this allows I would argue an even higher level of trust, control and power to control events and outcomes unlike a firm like Boeing which has a much more diverse group of stock holders and decision makers.

      In many ways Korea still operates in the feudal way Europe did centuries ago (this has been said before many times). Minions are there to serve the needs of the families who own the national economy. Minions who cannot afford to pay the high prices that Chaebol employees must pay in order to keep the corporate model growing must either do with out, or get what they need through other more creative channels. Buying a home, a car, a smartphone, a refrigerator or a dress is completely different than buying a 737 jet airliner, hence the difference between Korea Inc. and Boeing.

      A look into how Chaebol families structure their stock issuances and how they are able to hide behind layers of opacity that befuddle the Korean legal system give them their unique power and control over their employees, their products, their profits and their prices at retail. Korea is very good at hiding and concealing. This is one of their corporate weapons that give “family” a new meaning.