Restoring the Korean Economic Miracle

This 10-page paper was written for the Economics of Happiness Conference co-sponsored by Local Futures, held in Jeonju, Korea, on October 16-17, where I was the keynote speaker — a wonderful city and great experience!   

Satisfaction in the workplace is a major component of the “happiness” index; but it is a satisfaction that young people joining the workforce today are not feeling. In a 2017 book titled Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials, Malcolm Harris asks why the millennial generation  – those born between 1981 and 1996 – are so burned out. His answer is, “the economy.” Millennials are bearing the brunt of the economic damage wrought by late 20th century capitalism, with economic insecurities throwing them into a state of perpetual panic. Harris argues that if they want to meaningfully improve their lives and the lives of future generations, they will have to overthrow the system and rewrite the social contract.

A similar crisis of capitalism is being faced by millennials in South Korea, which has been ranked near the bottom of the OECD’s “Better Life Index.”[1] Warabel, meaning “work-life balance,” is a new term for an old movement that began in South Korea in the 1970s, after a 22-year-old workers’ rights activist committed suicide by setting himself ablaze in protest over the poor working conditions in South Korean factories. His death brought attention to the substandard labor conditions and helped the formation of a labor union movement in South Korea.[2]

Today Korean millennials are protesting in other ways. Continue reading