Monday, January 24, 2011

Reporting in North Korea: Journalism that carries the death penalty

The only publication written by North Koreans, about North Korea, for consumption by the outside world, is named after a river that flows from the North to South Korea and into the Yellow Sea. Rimjingang’s eight reporters are dotted about the totalitarian state; their backgrounds range from factory work to the civil service. In China they were trained in undercover recording techniques. And then they went home to begin their work. If caught, they surely face death.

Their reports are smuggled back into China, and then to Japan, where the magazine’s publisher, Asiapress, is based.

Rimjingang produced a shocking video ( late last year of a homeless young woman, her face blackened with dirt, foraging on a mountainside. Images of the woman, who may have died soon after, went around the world.
Rimjingang is emblematic of the challenges to the regime of Kim Jong Il posed by technology. Reports can be carried across the border on memory sticks, or transmitted via Chinese mobile phones that pick up signals on the North Korean side of the Yalu river.

Rimjingang, and a publication about North Korean conditions by a Buddhist aid group, Good Friends, have been exceptions. Most of the information that flows is inward, from outsiders countering state propaganda and hoping to foment anti-regime sentiment. Open Radio for North Korea, founded five years ago in America, combines Korean pop with human-rights information.

Open Radio, though, is starting to find ways to work in both directions. A month ago, the station broke the story that a train bound for Pyongyang containing gifts from China for Kim Jong Un, the heir-apparent, was sabotaged and derailed. The source was apparently an official from North Pyongan province, the region in which the incident occurred. Last March Free North Korea Radio claimed to have equipped three North Koreans with satellite phones, which offer a lower risk of detection.

Perhaps the greatest force for change remains pirated DVDs from China. Though not a part of any deliberate effort to subvert the system, they mean that nearly everyone has seen South Korean soap operas and knows how prosperous Seoul really looks. “Fear still rules,” says a defector. “But people know more about the world than you might think.” ◦

Sunday, January 23, 2011

South Korea, home to the world's fourth-largest federal pension fund, becomes more assertive

JUN Kwang-Woo, the boss of South Korea’s National Pension Service (NPS), has a big job on his hands. With an average life expectancy of 80 years, and a birth rate of just 1.15 children per woman—one of the lowest in the world—South Korea is a demographic time-bomb. But the task of ensuring that the country’s ever more numerous pensioners get their monthly payments is complicated by the fact that NPS is what Mr Jun calls “a whale in a pond”.

With assets of 314 trillion won ($280 billion), NPS is by far the largest investor in the country’s domestic fixed-income and equities markets. Listed South Korean firms have a combined market capitalisation of just over 1,000 trillion won. That limits NPS’s investment opportunities at home. What’s more, declining South Korean bond yields are making it harder for the fund to hit its target of a 7% return.

The answer is to put more money into foreign investments. Mr Jun, who spent 12 years at the World Bank, wants to raise the proportion of NPS’s assets invested abroad from 9.8% in 2010 to 12.6% this year, with a rough target of 30% in ten years’ time. As a result South Korean pensioners’ money is increasingly finding its way into international equities and alternative assets. In October the fund joined Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, a private-equity firm, in buying Chevron’s stake in Colonial Pipeline, an American fuel carrier. It has also made trophy property investments, such as the £773m ($1.3 billion) purchase of the HSBC building at Canary Wharf in London and deals in Berlin, Paris and Sydney.

Investments like these, and last year’s purchase of a 12% stake in Gatwick, London’s second-biggest airport, will inevitably change NPS’s profile. It remains a little-known quantity abroad. But this cannot last for ever: by 2015 NPS is expected to have almost 500 trillion won of assets, with 100 trillion invested abroad. The NPS already faces criticism at home for having a “skyscraper agenda”, aimed more at boosting South Korean national pride than at investment returns. Mr Jun rejects any suggestion that the fund is being run for foreign-policy aims: “We are not a sovereign-wealth fund.”

NPS is becoming more assertive at home, too. Many investors reckon that South Korea still shows too little respect for minority shareholders, particularly those who invest the more dynastic of the family-run chaebol conglomerates. Mr Jun refers to corporate governance as a prime factor in the “Korea discount”, which makes South Korean shares the cheapest in Asia on price-earnings ratios and subdues the value of NPS’s domestic investments. As the largest shareholder in many of the country’s listed companies, the fund has plenty of clout and is increasingly ready to use it. The proportion of “no” votes exercised by the NPS at shareholder meetings has risen steadily from 1.2% in 2002 to 8.1% in 2010.

Addressing South Korea’s demography will take more than decent returns. Plans to increase the retirement age beyond 60 will help. Dramatically increasing immigration, or encouraging married women to return to the workforce, would make a big difference, too. In the meantime NPS needs to keep flexing its investment muscles. ◦

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

U.S.-South Korea Trade Pact: A Turning Point for American Exports?

Last March, when President Obama announced his National Export Initiative, aimed at doubling U.S. exports by 2014, critics argued that this ambitious goal was unrealistic. The President wasn't really serious about trade, they said; he was just trying to appease the business community. After all, since taking office the previous year, he had turned his back, the critics maintained, on opportunities to push through Congress the Bush-era trade pacts that the United States had earlier signed with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

Those deals were simply too unpopular with Congressional Democrats, according to the naysayers, and Obama wasn't going to risk his political capital pursuing an agenda fostered by his predecessor. The critics remained unimpressed after the United States posted a 22% growth rate for exports for January through September 2010. Sure, those numbers looked good, they said, but only in comparison with the dismal results of 2009. In November, the criticism seemed to be confirmed at the G20 Summit in Seoul, when the United States and South Korea failed to announce a revised, politically acceptable version of their 2007 pact.

Now it seems as if the pessimists may have been wrong all along. Much to the surprise of many who had given up on the issue, the U.S. and South Korea finally reached agreement on a revised pact early in December. If, as many anticipate, the deal is approved by the new Congress next spring, it will be by far the largest U.S. trade pact since NAFTA went into effect in 1994. No longer a small, struggling market, South Korea imports $250 billion in manufactured goods from the rest of the world each year. Its industrial market is much larger and more sophisticated than that of other partners in recent U.S. free-trade pacts.

For U.S. exporters, the deal is "huge news," says Charles Dittrich, vice president for regional trade initiatives at the Washington-based National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC). "We have turned a corner -- it means another $11 billion in U.S. exports annually," he notes, citing an analysis by the U.S. International Trade Commission. "The Obama administration has seized the moment and the opportunity."

Calling the deal "a win-win for both sides," Laura Baughman, president of Trade Partnership Worldwide, a Washington consultancy, notes that the pact will go beyond merchandise exports and spark demand for a significant volume of U.S. services in such areas as banking, software and tourism. "In economic terms, this is by far the most important [bilateral] free-trade agreement" to date, she says.

A great deal is at stake beyond Korea. Approval of the pact could open the door wide to approval of the two other long-delayed U.S. bilateral free-trade deals -- with Colombia (signed by both governments in 2006) and Panama (2007). It could also fuel support for even more ambitious U.S. trade initiatives, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would add Malaysia, New Zealand and Vietnam to an Asian Rim free-trade area of U.S. partners that already encompasses Australia and Chile.

While the Obama administration failed to act on the three pending agreements from the Bush years, some of the country's largest trading partners were aggressively moving forward with their own pacts, threatening the long-term competitiveness of U.S. exporters in many key markets. For example, the European Union signed its own pact with South Korea, and the EU is currently negotiating deals with Argentina, Brazil, Canada and India, among others. Meanwhile, China is negotiating or planning to negotiate bilateral agreements with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Australia, Costa Rica and India -- but not with the United States. And Japan is negotiating with Australia, the Gulf Cooperation Council, India and New Zealand. The list goes on.

The potential reverberations of those free-trade agreements could be very harmful for U.S. exporters if the U.S.-Korea deal doesn't go through, says Rob Mulligan, who heads the Washington office of the U.S. Council for International Business (USCIB), which represents U.S. companies at the International Chamber of Commerce.

Even the timing for approval is of the essence, says William Reinsch, president of the NFTC. The pact needs to go into effect before July 1, when the EU-South Korea deal becomes effective, or the latter pact will set key technical standards for trade between the United States and South Korea.

What's more, the fate of the pact has national security implications, says Brian Pomper, a partner at the Akin Gump law firm in Washington, D.C. and a former trade counsel for Sen. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat who heads the Senate Finance Committee. With a nuclear-armed North Korea once more threatening military conflict, "some may wonder how can the United States give South Korea a stiff arm" by rejecting the deal? South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak has been widely criticized at home for his weak and indecisive response to a recent artillery attack by North Korea. If Congress rejects the deal, it will be a slap in Lee's face. So beyond economic considerations, Pomper says, "this [deal] is the sort of symbol of U.S. leadership in Asia that many other countries -- who are looking at China with a nervous eye -- have been [seeking]. It is reasserting American interests in Asia. The President has put his reputation on the line."

What People Tell the Pollsters

But is there, in fact, sufficient political support for such a pact in the United States? Will Democrats, independents and Tea Party followers suspicious of globalization oppose the pact because of their ideological objections, or fears that their constituents will hold it against them in the 2012 elections? Although the new text of the Korea pact won quick approval from the United Auto Workers union -- because it eliminates tariff and non-tariff barriers to U.S. auto exports to South Korea -- it was quickly rejected by Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. Trumka argues that the agreement's provisions for investment and government procurement "will encourage off-shoring" by multinationals rather than maximize opportunities for U.S. job growth. Even under the revised treaty, both U.S. and South Korean workers would "continue to face repeated challenges to their exercise of fundamental human rights on the job -- especially freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively," he adds.

Pomper says many Americans tell pollsters they support stronger exports, but they don't necessarily link such a desire to bilateral or multilateral agreements that improve access to foreign markets. In other words, exports are not automatically linked with job growth in the U.S. mindset. Lately, the tide of public opinion has been turning even further against free-trade pacts among many independents and conservatives who traditionally back other kinds of initiatives -- such as lower corporate and individual tax rates -- that expand opportunities for businesses. Free traders have reportedly done a poor job of explaining how these pacts can promote U.S. jobs by opening up markets. That's the key connection that supporters are promising to make this time around. One such supporter is Frank Vargo, vice president for international economic affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), who notes that manufacturing exports to South Korea supported 230,000 American jobs in 2008, the last year for which statistics are available. And that's, of course, before the new pact adds to the export flow.

Vargo and other supporters have a lot of work to do. For one thing, not everyone believes in such numbers. In a recent Pew Research Center poll, "two-thirds of Tea Party people say that free-trade agreements lead to job losses, and this belief is starting to affect the Republican Party," says Pomper. "The Tea Party is a form of populism, and I am nervous that this view will start to filter up."

More broadly, most Americans tell pollsters that trade is fine when it is with countries that are widely viewed as friendly, but not necessarily with others. In the Pew poll, 76% of the respondents said they favored trade with Canada and rated that country highest as a trading partner. More than 50% of respondents were also positive about the benefits of trading with Brazil, the European Union and Japan. But fewer than half of the respondents -- only 45% -- had a positive view of trade with China and South Korea. Why were so few Americans positive about South Korea, a longtime military ally of the United States? Pomper says pollsters believe the explanation is that "many Americans are geographically challenged," confusing South Korea with North Korea, which attracts a lot more attention in the mainstream media.

Overall, only 33% of the respondents said that trade agreements have been "good for the U.S." Some 44% were opposed to them, and 46% said that they had been hurt personally by the agreements. In the October Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll, 53% of respondents said that free-trade agreements have hurt the country, up from 46% in 2007 and only 32% in 1999. Even very-well-educated, upper-income people are now more likely to oppose free trade, according to the poll. Among those earning $75,000 or more, 50% said that free-trade pacts have hurt the United States, up from 24% in 1999.

The Tea Party Factor

During the fall election season, some Democratic and Republican candidates sought to leverage widespread xenophobia and fear of globalization by suggesting that their opponents had supported free-trade measures that wound up "exporting jobs" to China. David Spooner, a former U.S. trade negotiator who is now an attorney at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey in Washington, D.C., believes, however, that both parties had only limited success with such appeals. Spooner, a Republican, notes that Republican Rob Portman, the U.S. Trade Representative under President Bush, won his race for an Ohio Senate seat by a wide margin despite the fact that his opponent hammered away that Portman, during his tenure as Trade Representative, had supposedly sold out U.S. manufacturing jobs to China.

With Portman now in the Senate and other pro-trade Republicans in key positions -- such as new Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Majority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia -- it is tempting to believe that both the House and the Senate will quickly push through the Korea agreement and then move on to Colombia, Panama and other trade pacts. But everything hinges on the ability of the President to assert his leadership on the Korea deal. "The President has demonstrated leadership," says Dittrich, "and we have no reason to think that he won't continue to do so." The battle over the Korea agreement seems likely to pit Obama on one side -- along with pro-trade Republicans. On the other side will be anti-trade Democrats and Tea Party Republicans.

Many leaders of the business community fear that the Tea Party will undermine their efforts to promote pro-trade initiatives by shooting down this deal and others. "You can't assume, as in the past, that a Republican Congress is entirely pro-trade," says USCIB's Mulligan. "The Republicans have developed this populist tinge, and they are focusing on the China trade" as a key target.

Although they are Republicans, Tea Party supporters voiced views in that recent Pew poll about trade that were "by a wide margin" more hostile than that of the average American, notes Pomper. Only 24% of Tea Party supporters said trade agreements were good, and 63% said they were bad, reflecting their widespread fears that the United States signs away its sovereignty whenever it joins such pacts. And, as noted earlier, two-thirds blame the pacts for job losses. If that poll is accurate, the Tea Party faithful could wind up being less supportive of free trade than the general public. Spooner, the Republican trade negotiator, is somewhat optimistic that the Tea Party people will ultimately bend in support of pro-trade initiatives, provided that more pro-trade Republican leaders like Boehner and Cantor pressure them firmly.

"The Tea Party is a bit all over the place," notes Gerald McDermott, a professor of international business at the University of South Carolina's Darla Moore School of Business and a former Wharton professor. "On the one hand, it has a very libertarian feel to it," supporting free markets and small government, and arguing for an investigation into the powers of the Federal Reserve Bank. On the other hand, "they have an 'us-them' mentality that doesn't fit well with trying to do trade." The key question, notes McDermott, is "at what point does their populism run up against their libertarianism? Their reaction to government has been induced by the domestic economic crisis. The notion that elites and the federal government have signed free-trade agreements with other elites [from other countries] could run up against the ideology of free trade" that has been a foundation of Republican economic and foreign policy for decades.

For his part, NAM's Vargo is optimistic about the Korea trade pact, but reluctant to view it as a panacea. "To double exports from 2009 over a five-year period, we would need average annual growth of 15%. I don't see why we can't hit the 15% growth rate." Free-trade deals like the new one with Korea --- and others to follow -- will help, he notes, but trade pacts alone won't be enough to achieve more ambitious long-term goals for U.S. exports, such as narrowing the trade deficit with China and restoring U.S. competitiveness in many high-value manufacturing sectors. Says Vargo: "We also need more export promotion, more export financing and a better way of managing our export controls." ◦

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Cultural Exchange: In South Korea's entertainment industry, exploitation remains an issue,0,6986036.story

By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times

January 9, 2011

She was a young actress with designs on mega-stardom. But to realize her dreams, Jang Ja-yeon was resigned to take her place in the seamy realm of the South Korean sexual casting couch.

In the end, the disgrace proved too much. In the seven-page note she wrote before her March 2009 suicide, the 27-year-old TV sitcom regular described how her manager forced her to have sex with industry VIPs such as directors, media executives and CEOs, many of whom she cited by name.

Jang's death stunned this nation transfixed by celebrity and all its trappings. Since 1990, a half-dozen TV and film actresses have committed suicide over the stress that comes with success in South Korea. The aftermath of Jang's suicide triggered a federal government investigation into "slave contracts," in which young talent, mostly women, become locked into exclusive contracts by their agents requiring them to work long hours for low pay, receive unwanted plastic surgery and, in Jang's case, turn to prostitution.

Nearly two years after her suicide, critics say, little has changed in the cutthroat "Korean Wave" of TV, film and music that each year draws thousands of young hopefuls ready to endure whatever it takes — including sexual abuse and exploitation — to make it big.

While the film and music businesses in such nations as India and the U.S. can also be shady, scholars worry over the perverse treatment of women in South Korea's relatively small but growing entertainment industry, which is making a cultural impact throughout Asia and the West.

An April 2010 survey conducted by a human rights group here found that 60% of South Korean actresses polled said they had been pressured to have sex to further their careers. In interviews with 111 actresses and 240 aspiring actresses, one in five said they were "forced or requested" by their agents to provide sexual favors, nearly half said they were forced to drink with influential figures, and a third said they experienced unwanted physical contact or sexual harassment.

Though two of Jang's former managers were each sentenced to 12 months in jail last October for extortion, nearly two dozen executives named in the actress' suicide note — now known as the "Jang Ja-yeon paper" — were never charged.

Other cases have surfaced. A government review panel in Seoul recently ruled that many entertainment contracts illegally infringe on performer privacy and limit an individual's ability to change agencies.

Critics say the entertainment industry scandal runs to the very roots of Korean culture, in which powerful authority figures, beginning with the military regimes overthrown a generation ago, feel unchecked in their dominance.

"Nowadays in South Korea, money really does matter," said Lee Myoung-jin, a sociology professor at Korea University in Seoul. "To cash in on stardom and wealth, young people do whatever their agents say. There are people out there taking advantage of the situation. It's a tragedy."

Jang's life story plays out like a TV soap opera, the venue of her first success. Orphaned as a child when her parents died in a car crash, she set her sights on the movie industry. After making her debut in a 2006 television commercial, Jang's first big break came when she landed the role of a vindictive schoolgirl in the popular TV soap "Boys Over Flowers."

But off-screen, her life was anything but rosy. In her suicide note, the actress described being at the mercy of studio bosses who forced her to have sex with clients and once to serve drinks on a high-roller golf trip to Thailand. "I was called to a bar and pressured to accept a request for a sexual relationship," she wrote in her suicide note.

When police later raided her manager's office, they discovered a shower and bed in a "secret room" they believe was used for Jang's forced dalliances. After the actress asked to terminate her contract, she was allegedly threatened and beaten, according to her last note. On March 7, 2009, Jang called her sister to lament of her "overwhelming stress." Hours later, the sister returned to the family home to find Jang's body hanging from a stairway banister.

In a newspaper op-ed published days after Jang's death, a former national broadcasting official cited the immense pressure on celebrities to keep in the public eye. He said those "who do not make frequent appearances are treated as losers. To avoid this, they often have to go too far."

The governmental Fair Trade Commission met in July to investigate the "slave contract" phenomena after three members of the now-disbanded male pop-idol group called TVXQ filed a lawsuit to end a 13-year exclusive contract with their manager. The panel ruled that the management's contract was illegal and suggested an ongoing problem in the industry.

A former English tutor for the popular South Korean pop band Wonder Girls also claimed last year that members were mistreated during a North American tour — kept in isolation and denied medical treatment. The band has denied the claims.

But Jang's suicide hit hardest. Even 22 months after Jang's death, bloggers still rue the death of a fragile celebrity many believed was destined to become one of South Korea's biggest movie stars. When she took her life, Jang was awaiting the release of her first two films, which were later both well received. In the first two days after her death, nearly 1 million fans visited her website.

Activists say there are probably other actresses like Jang caught up in the secret web between power and celebrity in South Korea. But they don't expect the situation to improve soon. Many actresses, they say, fear reprisals as well as public shame if they come forward.

Said Lee Eun-sim of South Korea's sexual violence relief center: "Jang's death was the tip of the iceberg." ◦

Friday, January 07, 2011

K-pop Video: Korean Music Video with Surprise Ending


South Korea Makes Quick Economic Recovery


SEOUL, South Korea — When the global financial crisis struck more than two years ago, customers disappeared from the Dongdaemun market, a cramped maze of clothing and fabric shops in the shadow of a medieval city gate. But in contrast to the economic conditions in the United States and Europe, business quickly rebounded here and in the rest of this vibrant, technology-driven nation, a resilience that many South Koreans attribute to their bitter experience of having survived an even worse downturn, the currency crisis of 1997.

“This time didn’t feel so much like a real crisis,” Kim Soon-nam, 70, said as she surveyed customers from her small stall, which is filled with running pants and brightly colored dress shirts. “It was hard back then, but that hardship made me stronger.”

The Asian currency crisis is known popularly here as the I.M.F. crisis because the danger of economic collapse forced South Korea to swallow a tough bailout package from the International Monetary Fund that closed big banks and industrial companies, led legions of workers to be laid off and prompted citizens to donate their gold to the national treasury. It was a collective trauma that is remembered here on the scale of the Great Depression in the United States.

But South Korea was able to bounce back and resume the soaring growth rates that have enabled its gross domestic product to double since 1998, catapulting South Korea into the ranks of the world’s wealthiest nations. The latest surge began within months of the financial panic of late 2008 and has continued in every quarter since, according to the Bank of Korea, with the South Korean economy now ranking as the 15th largest in the word. The nation’s capacity to emerge from not one but two debilitating financial crises without prolonged stagnation is drawing attention in a world that suddenly needs economic role models.

“Korea has many differences with the United States, but they certainly did financial reform right,” said Barry Eichengreen, a professor of economic history at the University of California, Berkeley. “Korea under the I.M.F. did radical surgery.”

Economists are quick to caution against making sweeping comparisons between South Korea and the United States. In the late 1990s, South Korea suffered from a “crony capitalism” in which banks lent too freely to corporate customers, while the United States’ financial troubles are rooted in excessive borrowing by individuals. South Korea remains a developing, manufacturing-led nation that is still catching up to the postindustrial economy of the United States.

The dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency also gives American policymakers options that were not available in 1997 to South Korean officials, whose most immediate problem was a collapse in the value of their currency, the won.

Still, economists say, South Korea’s hard-landing approach can offer pointers to the United States, especially at a time when Republicans have taken over the House of Representatives with vows of “restoring fiscal sanity.” One such lesson, they say, is to avoid relying too much on stimulus spending and to make painful structural changes so that the economy can find its natural bottom and resume its growth. Another is to make the changes quickly and decisively to restore the public’s faith.

“Sooner or later, the U.S. must make some cruel choices,” said Chung Duck-koo, who was a Finance Ministry official during the 1997 crisis and is now a professor at Korea University. “Making them sooner is the best way to restore confidence.”

In 1997, the Korean economy almost collapsed under the weight of profligate corporate borrowing and a growing trade deficit and was forced to accept a $60 billion bailout from the I.M.F. The package pushed South Korea to shut down excess production capacity, causing the collapse of 14 of the nation’s large industrial conglomerates, like the once formidable Daewoo group. The survivors, like Samsung Electronics, emerged with less debt and healthier balance sheets.

Mr. Eichengreen and other experts said the most noteworthy changes came in South Korea’s then-crippled banking industry. The government closed or restructured 12 of the 32 largest banks and spent about $60 billion to write off bad loans and replenish the cash reserves of the remaining banks. The Korea Asset Management Corporation, a public fund, bought about two-thirds of the problem loans on the banks’ books, freeing up capital to restart a virtuous cycle of lending.

By contrast, analysts fault Washington for keeping many struggling banks afloat after the subprime-lending fiasco and for failing to clean up enough of the mortgage-related securities that are clogging the American financial system.

“Korea did a better job of moving quickly to clean up its banking system once and for all,” said Naoko Nemoto, a banking analyst in Tokyo for Standard and Poor’s. Ms. Nemoto, who wrote a book on the South Korean reforms, compared the South Korean response with that of her native Japan, where officials’ reluctance to close “zombie” corporate borrowers contributed to the country’s economic stagnation since a financial crisis in the early 1990s.

Ms. Nemoto and other analysts say that the United States should resist the temptation to mimic Japan’s reliance on quick fixes. South Korea’s central bank was forced to raise interest rates during the 1997 crisis to shore up its currency and restore investors’ confidence.

The higher rates were unpopular because they helped cause the hard landing that forced 1.4 million Koreans, about 7 percent of the work force, out of their jobs. But South Korea’s ability to endure such hardships and bounce back points to another lesson: the need for a sense of shared national purpose and willingness to sacrifice. South Koreans rallied to help their nation, spending less, saving more and learning to be more competitive.

“Nobody was buying back then, so I slept less, worked harder,” said Ms. Kim, the stall owner in the Dongdaemun market. “And I saved and saved and saved.”

Economists say the United States needs a similar national consensus to reduce borrowing and to invest more in education and other ventures that will raise productivity, which they say is the only way to regain a sustainable growth rate. Some worry that the United States may have missed its best chance, now that the worst of the public’s crisis-inspired worries have subsided.

“Our commitment to education and our diligence were what helped Korea in 1997,” said Kang Man-soo, who served as vice minister of the Finance Ministry during the 1997 crisis. “The U.S. needs to get back to basics.” ◦