The most fundamental global social and economic issue of the 21st century is likely to be the same as it has been for much of the 20th century, namely how the world's poor nations and regions can match the general level of economic development that characterizes the world's rich nations. In the 19th century and the the first half of the 20th, a profound gulf opened between the industrialized societies, all of which were at that time European or settled by Europeans, and the rest of the world's peoples, who remained in a largely agrarian, premodern economic regime.
Japan was the first nonwestern society to become first a political Great Power, and by the 1960s an emergent economic Great Power as well. In the course of the 20th century, several Latin American countries also reached an intermediate level of development, not yet quite rich and modern, but no longer entirely poor and backward. However, it was in East Asia, most notably South Korea, that the most remarkable development transition was seen; countries that had been among the world's poorest as recently as the 1950s were by the 1980s approaching full parity with the developed world. It is accordingly these countries that have attracted great attention for their development experience and the lessons it may offer for other developing regions. The following discussion will be devoted to an evaluation of the Korean development experience, in particular comparison to that of Latin America.
The economic strategies followed by South Korea and other East Asian emergent industrial powers have shown a fairly consistant pattern of difference from those followed in Latin America.
Three historical patterns of developing-country growth
can be distinguished: an import-substitution trajectory, characteristic of Mexico and Brazil and several other
large LDCs; an export-led growth trajectory, of which
Korea and Taiwan and the most successful cases; and a ...