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September 18, 2012


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Sounds like a fascinating trip! The comparison between infrastructure spending in the U.S. and South Korea isn't really a fair one. It all comes back to scale. Think about how much smaller and closer together everything is. High speed rail between most U.S. cities would be exponentially more expensive. Likewise for Internet infrastructure: running fiber optic cable throughout the U.S. would be a job of unimaginable difficulty. Finally, the reason Korea can afford to spend relatively less of its income on their military is that they have a big, powerful ally in the U.S. In fact, our military spending "subsidizes" most of Europe in the same way.


Korea is a developped country because tyhey worked hard AND are not against the idea of developpment shared by each and every one. Not because of the US military presence... A country cannot develop that well because of the presence of military bases.
Which stand for Europe too. Most European countries do well without the American Occupation (as nicely said by an US Marine I knew...) As far as I know it'S not the US soldiers who build the German highway or the French hidhspeed railways.
Please stop thinking that other countries have no value without the US.


Welcome back! Ben beat me to the punch about the military spending. At the same time, I think the vastness of our countries is an obstacle of perception. If we thought in "Korean-sized" chunks of communities I wonder what would be possible.


Just a quick note to Emma, South Korea is not yet considered a "developed" nation, despite everything Barry listed here. It still boggles me that it isn't, but when you go out to the countryside, it's like a whole different country. Some places still use oxen to plough fields.

Otherwise, I think population density is a factor, and very cheap labour. A lot of people work for $3-5 dollars an hour.


Ben is completely right; the reason Korea can spend so little (relatively) on military defence is because it is heavily, massively, subsidized by the US.

(But the fact Korea doesn't pay for it's own defence didn't stop the Korean President last month visiting an unihabited island jointly claimed with Japan and saying that keeping it Korean would be "worth sacrificing lives for". Whose lives one has to wonder?)

Another reason for the apparant success of the Korean economy might be the hours put in. An office worker in Korea would find it quite normal, at least until recently, to spend 10 or 12 hours a day at work. That is changing now, but it was a common experience for a generation or two of workers.

And yes, the centre of Seoul is glorious. Clean and beautiful and wonderful. I agree 100%. But go just a few stops from the centre and the cleanliness declines radidly as the spitting (and vomitting) increases!

Having said all that, I agree that Seoul (and Korea) is a wonderful place. I first visited in 2001. Have spent three years living there since then, and last went back for a short visit just last month. Every time I go I have the same experience as you - of a place that is becoming more and more pleasant to visit.

And it remains the very place place in the world to study the Dharma, in my opinion:


Barry Briggs

Thanks, everyone, for your comments and for expanding my view of the matters discussed in the post.

I'll make two additional comments:

1. While I agree that South Korea has flourished under the protection of the U.S. military, the country has invested heavily in its own military - it ranks #5 in the world in military spending as a percentage of GDP. The 4 countries above it, in percentage ranking, are China, Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and Russia. So it's not as though South Korea is shirking in its military spending.

2. Korea could not have developed this kind of infrastructure without a country-wide consensus or buy-in on its strategic important. Roads, trains, Internet backbone, healthcare - first-world countries prioritize these things because they pay off in productivity and development. The U.S. has just barely developed its first national healthcare program (setting aside Medicare and Medicaid) and, of course, began developing an interstate highway system in the 1950s. However, our train system is a joke, even in the heavily traveled northeastern corridor. And Internet access is even more laughable (in my humble opinion, of course). Republicans would say that the money isn't there for those kinds of programs - and that they should be developed by private industry. A neat solution, except that it isn't a solution. Democrats seem to have punted. So were left with 84 mph high-speed rail and 20 megabits/s Internet.

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