Preface to Historical Statistics of Korea

South Korea presents an unusual episode of effective escape from hunger and oppression. Having remained one of the poorest countries of the world until as recently as 1960, according to the International Monetary Fund, the country stood in 2019 roughly on a par with Britain in terms of purchasing power parity adjusted per capita output. Having long suffered oppression under various forms of nondemocracy until the late 1980s, South Koreans today bask in political freedom and civil liberty, which led the Economist to publish in 2017 a list of twenty top democracies including South Korea, but excluding the United States. The growth miracle and democratic revolution deserve attention from lay persons and academics around the world, because they potentially provide insights for people striving to raise living standards and to break themselves loose from the shackles of tyranny.

Historical Statistics of Korea provides historical and quantitative perspectives for the two remarkable transitions South Korea achieved. Rather than simply bringing together available data generated under the pre-colonial, colonial, post-colonial regimes, we focused on establishing coherence among distinct sets of data produced using different technologies to meet a variety of purposes. The inconsistency issue presents a challenge for those trying to make sense of the amazing story of success, because it can frustrate efforts to take advantage of the regime shifts occurring in modern Korea as natural experiments. As we hope, Historical Statistics of Korea helps economists, political scientists, and sociologists identify the deep, as opposed to proximate, forces driving the escape to freedom and prosperity and clarify the path dependent nature of the development.

Historical Statistics of Korea embodies the outcome of the two decades of research by 22 economists and economic historians associated with the Naksungdae Institute of Economic Research, a private sector and non-profit organization established by Byung Jick Ahn and Daekeun Lee in 1987. Composing this preface, we fondly recall how our research program has been inspired by late Toshiyuki Mizoguchi leading the project to estimate the national accounts of colonial territories of pre-1945 Japan at the Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University. The Historical Statistics of Korea program also benefited from being associated with the Center of Excellence project the institution has carried out under the leadership of Konosuke Odaka and Osamu Saito. We thank Tetsuji Okazaki for gladly accepting our work for publication as a part of Springer Studies in Economic History. Last, but not least, we are grateful to the South Korean taxpayers for generously supporting us through a series of research grants during the last two decades, including the most recent one, AKS-2014-KFR-123001. Hopefully, they will find in this volume their favor has been properly reciprocated.

Myung Soo Cha
Nak Nyeon Kim
Ki-Joo Park
Yitaek Park

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