South Korea's high minimum wage made its export-dependent economy more resilient.
The liberal Moon Jae-in
문재인 administration steeply increased
the minimum wage, raising it by 41.6% over its five years from 2018 to
2022. The raise provoked outcry from businesses, pushing the
conservative Yoon Suk-yeol
윤석열 administration to hold back the minimum wage increase despite high inflation. (See previous coverage
, “The Triple Quandary.
Yet the wage increase, including minimum wage hike, is precisely how South Korea has historically managed to avoid Japan
-like stagnation. While the Japanese economy slogged through the “Lost Decades”
since the early 1990s, the South Korean economy continued its steady growth over the past thirty years, surpassing
Japan’s PPP-adjusted per capita GDP in 2018, although the two economies
have similar structures of being export-oriented and having a
bifurcation of highly efficient hyper-modern manufacturing companies
existing side-by-side with an inefficient and unproductive service
According to Richard Katz
, senior fellow of the Carnegie Council for Ethics of International Affairs, South Korea avoided
Japanization by having wages rise along with economic growth,
preserving the strength of domestic demand. South Korea’s minimum wage
is 62% of its median wage; Japan’s, only 45%.
private demand is strong, Korea is far less vulnerable to global shocks,
even though Korea’s trade:GDP ratio is twice Japan’s”, wrote Katz in Toyo Keizai, a
business and finance-focused Japanese publication. “Countries less
vulnerable to macroeconomic shocks enjoy faster average growth over the