So warns Daniel Altman in Foreign Policy (a piece mentioned in the Chosun Ilbo editorial linked below):
Korea is next in line to face these challenges. Like Japan’s economy and the keiretsu, Korea’s economy is dominated by a handful of chaebol — enormous conglomerates that cover many industries (excluding banks) and whose share of GDP, after climbing steadily for the past 10 years, may be higher than 75 percent. At the very moment that Korea needs dynamic small and medium-sized businesses to flourish, the private sector as a whole is becoming more dominated by lumbering oligopolies.
In addition to the chaebol’s dominance, Koreans should be worried about the state of their underlying economic institutions. Academics and think tanks rate South Korea’s level of economic freedom, the robustness of its property rights, and its protection of equity investors below those of Japan, Taiwan, and many other wealthy countries. Although the day-to-day processes of doing business may be relatively easy in Korea, its economic environment offers few advantages to a small contender pitted against much bigger players.
Other traditional gripes about the East Asian powerhouses also apply to Korea. Its business culture has Confucian roots, so seniority and personal networks can mean more than merit and written contracts. Its education system emphasizes memorization, instills a pressure to conform, and mainly prepares students to work as cogs in big corporate or government machines. Its creative class is underdeveloped by international standards, and its culture is reticent about new ideas and new people, though immigration has ticked upward thanks to the policies of former President Roh Moo-hyun.
It’s not all bad, Altman notes—Koreans work hard and love a good national project, their research facilities are productive, the education system gets results, and best off all, they’ve got Japan to provide a cautionary tale.