March 7, 2006

Teodoro and South Korea

Today's Tal Cual editorial brought a smile to my face. Fresh from a trip to South Korea, Teodoro Petkoff develops a serious reflection on development strategies, and begins to sketch out the policies that could address Venezuela's deep structural problems.
Emerging from the abyss
In 1950 South Korea had a per capita income below $100 per year. At the time, ours was around $3,000. Today, the income per head in that Asian country is about $15,000 and we are, if we exclude the recent oil windfall years, more or less where we were half a century ago. Since then, Korea has had to overcome the devastating consequences of the three years of war that set its two halves against one another, and now operates as one of the small powers of the world economy.

Without oil, without iron, without bauxite, it has a cutting age heavy naval industry which puts out the largest ships that travel the world's seas; its automotive industry is world class and Korean cars travel every road in the world; its electronics industry is among the best in the world. Incidentally, South Korea spends 3% of its GDP on science and technology.

That's one of the secrets of its success. Its stunning infrastructure and the millions of homes built at an astounding rate speak of the country's dynamism, where poverty levels are also among the lowest in the world.

It's worth pointing to the sense of nationhood, of national purpose, that gave continuity over decades to an economic policy based on a strong state, a disciplinary state, that set out great national goals and set out the means to achieve them, stimulating that which became, over time, a powerful private sector, guided by state policies towards the world market. South Korea faced up to globalization and did it with particular success.

No doubt there are problems, but the contrast between what happened in that small Asian country and what has happened in ours over the last half century is too striking not to spark in depth reflection about ourselves. Especially now, when our country, again flooded with unimaginable financial resources, heads once again towards wasting an opportunity to overcome our backwardness, poverty and weakness.

A trip to South Korea reaffirms our conviction that if others can take on the road to development, it is within our reach also. But first of all, we need a sense of national purpose, an encompassing accord that sharpens all our strengths and takes advantage of our immense possibilities.
In this editorial, Teodoro shows himself as a transformational thinker - not someone who'll be content with tinkering around the edges of povert or managing our abysmal backwardness, but someone with a vision to transform the country into a radically different, more prosperous, more human place. Thinking about South Korea, thinking about what it takes to turn a poor country into a rich country is what we need to resist the tyranny of low aspirations, to the depressing myopia of revolutionaries who aspire only to redistributing too small a cake rather than working to generate enough wealth for all. Even posing the question in these terms is a radical departure for a Venezuelan politician, and a necessary one at that...