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Income Maintenance in Korea : Conservative Social Policy through Economic Change

Browne,EdwardJohn (GRADUATE SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, SOGANG UNIVERSITY)

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A particularly salient socio-political and economic issue in contemporary Korea is the degree of income maintenance provided for the poor and unemployed by the national welfare system. Underpinning this is the relatively low degree of coverage afforded to these groups and rising income disparities. ...
A particularly salient socio-political and economic issue in contemporary Korea is the degree of income maintenance provided for the poor and unemployed by the national welfare system. Underpinning this is the relatively low degree of coverage afforded to these groups and rising income disparities. This thesis looks at the economic factors which have been responsible for this trend, and seeks to understand why there have been limited steps taken in the way of expanding the social safety net to redress it. In order to do so, it looks at Korea’s conservative governance throughout its period of rapid economic development and how social welfare was conceptualised during this time. Using a path-dependency approach, it seeks to demonstrate that while changing global conditions for fostering economic competitiveness and labour market conditions led to the abandonment of ‘developmental’ approach in favour of economic liberalisation and in turn democracy, there remained a consistency in how social welfare was conceptualised as something to be framed around creating work incentives and supporting economic growth by influential forces within the Korean political economy. As such it is argued that established norms and structural preconditions can primarily explain the current paradox of rising income inequality and limited welfare state expansion. Although Korea has been through a decade of progressive leadership from 1998-2007, the structural obstacle of coalitions favouring growth over redistribution remains significant in the bargaining outcomes of corporatist and democratic governance.