Creating a Capable Bureaucracy With Loyalists: The Internal Dynamics of the South Korean Developmental State, 1948-1979

DOI10.1177/0010414010381075
AuthorMyung-koo Kang,Yong-Chool Ha
Published date01 January 2011
Date01 January 2011
Subject MatterArticles
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5Ha and KangComparative Political Studies
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Comparative Political Studies
44(1) 78 –108
Creating a Capable
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Bureaucracy With
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DOI: 10.1177/0010414010381075
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Loyalists: The Internal
Dynamics of the South
Korean Developmental
State, 1948-1979

Yong-Chool Ha1 and Myung-koo Kang2
Abstract
This study explores why South Korea’s top leadership combined a merit-
based principle with region-based particularistic elements in the recruitment
and promotion of career bureaucrats of the Ministry of Commerce and
Industry (MCI) during its industrial takeoff in the 1960s and 1970s. It also
investigates how this recruitment and promotion style was emulated by
business sectors as a way of securing means to penetrate into the MCI. The
authors argue that (a) South Korea’s top leadership utilized region-based
particularistic elements to secure loyalty to the authoritarian leader and
(b) state bureaucrats fell back on the readily available social resources of
the time—informal social ties—to reduce the uncertainty innate to policy
implementation and to achieve short-term policy goals, and this practice
bred the organizational foundation that might undermine the bureaucratic
character of the state—legalism and impersonalism—at the later stage of
economic development.
1University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
2Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, CA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Yong-Chool Ha, University of Washington, Henry Jackson School of International Studies,
Box 353650, Seattle, WA 98195
Email: yongha5@u.washington.edu

Ha and Kang
79
Keywords
late industrialization, developmental state, state bureaucracy, economic
development
Introduction
Creating a capable bureaucracy has been pointed out repeatedly as one
of essential institutional elements to achieve economic development in late
industrializing countries (Amsden, 1989; Evans, 1995; Evans, Rueschemeyer,
& Skocpol, 1985; Gerschenkron, 1962; Johnson, 1982; Kohli, 2004). Since
Max Weber’s articulation on the key characteristics of modern bureaucratic
organization,1 the relationship between organizational rationality of modern
bureaucracy and the development of market economy has been a recurring
theme of debates in political economy (Gouldner, 1954; Silberman, 1993;
Weber, 1978). In particular, studies on East Asian economic growth have
predominantly explored the role of the state, focusing on the rational aspects
of state bureaucracies (Aoki, Kim, & Okuno-Fujiwara, 1997; Cheng,
Haggard, & Kang, 1998; H.-K. Kim, Muramatsu, Pempel, & Yamamura,
1995; Woo-Cumings, 1999). These previous studies have greatly contributed
to scholars’ understanding of the concrete roles of the state in achieving
economic growth.
Many studies, however, have predominantly focused on the rational and
formal aspects of state bureaucracies, not appropriately paying attention to
the bounded nature of rationality and the linkage between formal and infor-
mal aspects of state bureaucracies (Dittmer, Fukui, & Lee, 2000; Hwang,
1996). For example, studies focused on the rational aspects of state bureau-
cracies have approached recruitment issues of state bureaucracy primarily in
functional or technical aspects, and therefore they have failed to consider the
historical and structural conditions of the industrial takeoff and the character
of political regime that drives the economic development. However, various
cases of late industrialization have demonstrated that different historical con-
ditions have shaped different patterns of recruitment of the state bureaucracy
(Dahrendorf, 1967; Rosenberg, 1958; Schneider, 1991, 1993; Silberman,
1993, 1995). All late industrializing countries and their leaders are different,
and thus distinctive, in their modes of securing competent technocratic bureau-
crats. In the end, this depends on their institutional and social traditions, the
availability (or lack thereof) of ideology that can integrate the people, and
regime character. Nonetheless, few systematic empirical studies have been
undertaken on the origins of creating a capable bureaucracy by recruiting

80
Comparative Political Studies 44(1)
competent personnel and making them loyal to the committed goal of eco-
nomic development.
To fill this gap, this study explores the internal dynamics of South Korea’s
(hereafter Korea) state bureaucracy—specifically the Ministry of Commerce
and Industry (MCI)—from the late 1940s to the 1970s, focusing on the period
of the industrial takeoff in the 1960s. It also investigates how this recruitment
and promotion style was emulated by business sectors as a way of securing
means to penetrate the MCI. We argue that (a) South Korea’s top leadership
utilized region-based particularistic elements to secure loyalty to the authori-
tarian leader; (b) creating a loyal bureaucracy, dependent on the will of the top
leader, was as significant as creating a capable bureaucracy by recruiting com-
petent personnel based on merit-based principles; and (c) state bureaucrats fell
back on the readily available social resources of the time—informal social
ties—to reduce the uncertainty innate to policy implementation and to achieve
short-term policy goals, and this practice incubated the organizational founda-
tion that might undermine the bureaucratic character of the state—legalism
and impersonalism—at the later stages of economic development.
Literature Review: The Korean
Developmental State
Bureaucratic autonomy. The developmental state model assumes the auton-
omy of the state and bureaucracy as a necessary condition to achieve long-
term profits by strategic intervention (Johnson, 1982).2 Following this claim,
with respect to the Korean case, scholars who have supported the positive
roles of the developmental state in economic growth have often described the
Korean bureaucracy as being a unitary and internally cohesive actor that com-
mands, manipulates, and disciplines the business sector in line with clearly
defined objectives and preferences (Amsden, 1989; Chang, 1994; B.-S. Choi,
1991; Jones & SaKong, 1980; E. M. Kim, 1997; Woo, 1991).
We should note, however, that the historical reference of Johnson’s formu-
lation on the autonomy of state and bureaucracy is based on Japanese history.
Although Korea’s late industrialization was much influenced by colonial rule
(1910-1945), the colonial imprint was not the determining factor of creating
a capable bureaucracy and the industrial takeoff in the 1960s.3 In the Japanese
case, the autonomy of state bureaucracy was created through the turbulent
and uncertain political environment of the Meiji period, especially from 1868
to the early 1880s (Silberman, 1967, 1970; Spaulding, 1967). During this
period, Meiji leaders had to define the new role of the emperor as the symbol
and embodiment of public interest while dealing with the nascent party

Ha and Kang
81
oppositions. Under the circumstances, the Meiji leaders tried to resolve the
publicness “by avoiding a bureaucratic role that depended for its legitimacy
on the personal will of an emperor or its accountability to a popularly elected
body of officials” (Silberman, 1995, p. 159), and education was selected as
an objective merit-based criterion to avoid charges of patronage and self-
interest (Spaulding, 1967).
In contrast, in the Korean case, top leadership was a critical factor in secur-
ing bureaucratic autonomy from the influence by politicians and business
elite, and it constructed a leader-dependent bureaucratic structure. Therefore,
bureaucratic autonomy could be heavily constrained by the personal will of a
top leader, and bureaucratic accountability to the public could be swayed from
the top-down political influence through the top leadership. Moreover, as we
will see in a later section, from the initial period of industrial takeoff, the
Korean government was dependent on the business sector. Nonetheless, few
studies have been conducted that show how such an internal cohesiveness and
autonomy can be created and trace the historical dynamic change of the
bureaucratic cohesiveness and autonomy.
Embedded autonomy. Bureaucratic autonomy is not sufficient for successful
policy implementation. A developmental state should secure a high level of
policy autonomy from the special interests of various economic and political
actors in the decision-making process, but for effective policy implementa-
tion, it should be well connected with socioeconomic actors through both for-
mal and informal social networks. Focusing on this aspect, Peter Evans (1995)
argued that the autonomy of the developmental state should be “embedded in
a concrete set of social ties that binds the state to society and provides institu-
tionalized channels for the continual negotiation and renegotiation of goals
and policies” (p. 12). In practice, however, it is an elusive task to maintain
both policy autonomy and close ties with private actors. Like two sides of the
same coin, a close government–business relationship can decrease the transac-
tion costs of economic and social activities resulting from market uncertainty,
but it can be developed into clientelism as well (Maxfield & Schneider, 1997).4
Therefore, a key issue for analysis is not whether there existed an embedded
relationship but what...

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