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Developmental states and serendipitous outcomes: A comparative study of economic growth, income inequality, and human well being in Mexico and South Korea

Isha Sharma, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Mexico and South Korea share many structural features, yet exhibit diverse patterns in income inequality and human well being. Between 1960 and 1990, the South Korean economy grew rapidly, retaining relative equality in income and enhancements in mass well being, while, in Mexico, in spite of impressive rates in economic growth for decades, income inequality remained substantial. The hypothesis of this study is that state autonomy is key to understanding economic and social outcomes in Mexico and South Korea. States that are autonomous from both internal and external coercion have the potential to enact growth-oriented and more equitable policies. Economic growth and income equality in peripheral countries are contingent upon the state, the internal class structure, and the world economy. Peripheral states that are free from undue pressure from the ruling class and core countries can exercise relative autonomy, and then have the potential to achieve both growth and equality. However, most peripheral countries are like Mexico, which, because they do not enjoy relative autonomy from the ruling class and global capitalism are unable to achieve economic growth and equality mutually. As a consequence of Japanese colonization, South Korea inherited a strong state and underwent a genuine land reform program, leading to a weak and unorganized agrarian elite, which remained ineffective in challenging state policies. In the 1960s and 1970s, South Korea assumed a crucial political position as a bulwark against international communism in East Asia, which further enhanced state autonomy. Both Japanese colonialism and the Cold War shaped South Korea's political economy. Mexico, on the other hand, remained vulnerable to both international capitalism and its internal elite class. Though Mexico underwent a long period of revolution, the class structure remained unchanged, and Mexico never attained a level of political and ideological importance to the United States, remaining vulnerable to U.S. economic interests. Unlike the South Korean state, the Mexican state failed to escape internal and external coercion, and was unable to achieve relative autonomy from international capitalism and its internal elite class, and thus was unable to effectively mandate policies that were beneficial for growth and equity.

Subject Area

Social structure|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Sharma, Isha, "Developmental states and serendipitous outcomes: A comparative study of economic growth, income inequality, and human well being in Mexico and South Korea" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3110552.