A perception exists in the US that S. Korea has a much stronger economy than much of the rest of the world. Modern infra-structure, high profits, and booming success. Is there too much hype?
The Korean is not sure if the perception is widely shared among Americans. Just the other day, the Korean got another "North or South?" question -- in real life, not from the blog. In fact, the Korean is nearly sure that a significant portion of Americans, if not the majority, probably cannot locate Korea in a map.
But the point that there is a perception is definitely correct. As shown in the Daily Show clip below, President Obama mentioned South Korea five times in his State of the Union address. The growth of Korean economy feels particularly palpable in America, because leading Korean companies often make final consumer products. The visible flood of Samsung Android cellphones, LG flat screen television and Hyundai cars definitely makes one feel that Korea has arrived. Korea's soft products -- movies, television shows, pop music-- are getting a massive dose of international attention. Major newspapers of America cover Korea-related stories much more frequently than before. Heck, this blog would not be where it is now if Korea did not draw people's attention as much as it does now.
Is there too much hype over this? The Korean's thought is -- maybe a little bit.
Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that the Korean is the biggest fan of Korea's success story. One of the poorest countries in the world (which is actually a nice way to describe a war-torn shithole) that had been a backwater monarchy for millennia turns itself into a modern democracy with world-class economy within 40 to 50 years. Find another country in human history that did what Korea did. You can't.
Is Korea a "stronger economy than much of the rest of the world"? Certainly. Korea's PPP-controlled GDP is either 12th or 13th in the world, ahead of such unquestionably wealthy countries like Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and Switzerland. And Korea did not become this way by leveraging the number of its people or the size of its country, like China or India did. Among the top 15 greatest economies, Korea has the second smallest population following Spain and the smallest land mass. For example, Indonesia has nearly five times Korea's population and 20 times Korea's land mass, but Korea's economy is 50 percent greater than Indonesia's.
And Korea has no signs of slowing down just yet. A lot of countries -- say, Mexico or Argentina -- have experienced dazzling growth in the early going until they plateau at around $15,000 of PPP-controlled per capita GDP. But Korea shattered that ceiling, reaching nearly $30,000 in PPP-controlled GDP per capita at this point. Korea is one of only three OECD member (i.e. an advanced industrialized country) that did not experience negative growth in 2009, as the whole world still climbing out of the global recession. In 2010, Korea's economy grew by sizzling 6.1 percent. In other words, Korea has a greater upside than many other advanced economies.
But while all this is uniquely incredible, one must soberly look at where Korea is now. It's nice that Korea has world's 12th largest economy, but that still means that it has 11 more countries ahead. And the gap between Korea and the top 5 economies in the world (if we suppose the European Union to be a single country) is huge. Japan has an economy that is still three times the size of Korea's. China, more than six times. The U.S. and EU, more than 10 times. Also, there is a real question about whether Korea can maintain its torrid pace of growth for another decade, let alone beyond.
Because the Korean is a massive NBA fan, this "hype" over Korea's economy reminds him of a certain NBA player: Derrick Rose, point guard of Chicago Bulls. Rose came into this season with vastly improved jump shot, which made his spectacular drives to the hoop even deadlier. The Bulls have a sparkling 34-14 record this season, definitely on pace to significantly improve upon their last year's record of 41-41. Because of this, Rose is considered by many to be a legitimate MVP candidate and a front runner of that race by some.
But is Rose really the most valuable player of the NBA? Chicago is only the fifth best team in the NBA. Rose is also a surprisingly inefficient scorer (surprising because of the frequency at which he goes to the rim,) because he elects to shoot a more difficult shot than trying to draw a foul. Rose's defense improved from last year, but really it went from atrocious to salvageable. Yet a lot of people cannot get away from the idea that Rose should be the MVP this season, because they simply cannot take their eyes off Rose's gaudy scoring averages and electric finishes at the basket. People also factor in the fact that Rose has so much upside because this is only Rose's third season, although there is no real guarantee that Rose could get better than this. (For example, LeBron James never really improved from his third year.)
Same with Korea. Is Korea's economy exciting? Yes, as much as Derrick Rose's game is exciting. But we also have to recognize the fact that a lot of the excitement comes from the fact that Korea makes visible, high-tech stuff (the economy's equivalent of SportsCenter highlights) and because Korea seems to have a lot of upside. While one can get legitimately excited by them, one also has to realize where the reality stops and where the bubble sets in.
Just for fun, here is the list of matches between major world economies and NBA players that the Korean came up with:
- India - Monta Ellis, Golden State Warriors. Ellis has some ridiculous scoring numbers, which makes Golden State fans swoon. But those numbers come from the fact that the Warriors play at the fastest pace in the NBA (and therefore have more possessions,) and Ellis chucks up shots like no one else's business. Likewise, India's economy seems awesome, until one realizes that they have a billion people who speak English and are willing to work for cheap.
- Brazil - Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks. Both have excellent economy/game, but are constantly omitted from the discussion of powerhouses/superstars.
- Canada - Chris Bosh, Miami Heat. Standing next to a superduperstar, it is easy to underappreciate both Canada and Bosh. But they are both integral to the success of their more successful partner. Also fitting that Bosh's first team was Toronto Raptors.
- European Union - Boston Celtics. A group of old vets that might be the best if they could work together and their joints don't fail. Kevin Garnett is Germany (formerly menacing), Paul Pierce is Great Britain (steady excellence), Ray Allen is France (used to be good, now good at only one or two things.) Either Italy or Spain could be Rajon Rondo, and Cyprus is definitely Luke Harangody.
- Japan - Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers. There are tons of whispers that Kobe is slowing down because of his age, and at times he does look old and liftless. And then Kobe still throws down an occasional 40 point game to remind everyone who he was. Likewise, there are tons of talks about how Japan is near its demise, except Toyota is still the number one car company in the world and PlayStation still shapes the world's culture. (You have no idea how much this kills the Korean, an avid Lakers fan, to give Kobe to Japan.)
- China - Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic. Those huge muscles! Spectacular blocks! Nightly double-doubles! Those are just as enthralling as China's huge economy and seemingly cutting-edge development. Except Howard has surprisingly skinny legs and shaky post game that no one talks about, like the way no one talks about how much China's economy is leveraging cheap labor or utterly destroying its environment.
- United States - LeBron James, Miami Heat. Both egomaniacs who/which can be totally oblivious to what other people/countries feel, which cause a lot of hate and anger. Both have weaknesses that they totally should not have. (James, total absence of a post game despite having the body of a power forward, the U.S. a miserably bad education and healthcare system despite having the most money in the world.) Yet when push comes to shove, there should be no doubt who/which is the best in the world. And now, the Korean will exorcise this blasphemy by watching Kobe: Doing Work for the 43rd time.