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[Opinion] The Secret Behind Rapid Growth

Posted May. 24, 2008 08:56,   


What would be the core element in economic growth? According to the World Bank, which asked 21 world-renowned experts to carry out a research to find the answer, the most important element is leadership. They studied a total of 13 countries, predominantly Asian countries such as Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. These countries achieved an average annual economic growth rate of over 7 percent for more than 25 years after World War II.

The World Bank`s annual World Development Report (WDR) released on Wednesday notes that Korea, which was one of the poorest countries in Asia in the past, has become a nation as rich as Slovenia, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The report also points out that, among the 13 countries, Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore have joined the ranks of developed countries or at the threshold of becoming a developed country. But Brazil has lost its growth momentum due to a leadership vacuum in the 1980s and 1990s. The report does not provide specific examples on successful leaders, but it is interesting to see the World Bank stress the importance of leadership.

However, Robert Solow, recipient of the Nobel Prize in economics, argues that growth can be achieved when a leader is able to make the people unite and convince that the benefits of growth will be evenly distributed, underscoring that outstanding leadership cannot lead to economic growth without public support.

Danny Leipziger, World Bank`s vice president for Poverty Reduction and Economic Management, also says that there is no wonder drug or paradigm that can guarantee long-term growth, as leadership itself does not possess magical powers.

Perhaps, the research team was looking closely into leaders who helped their countries achieve a dramatic growth rate during their long hold on power, such as former Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew, former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui, and former Korean President Park Chung-hee. Their contribution to economic growth should not be underestimated, but the era of dictatorial leadership is over.

Today, leaders are required not only to convince the people, but also move their hearts with “democratic charisma.” Recent controversies over the appointment of the new administration’s cabinet members, the cross-country canal project and American beef imports have shown us once again how important it is for a leader to win the hearts of the people through dialogue.

Editorial Writer Yook Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)