Business Ethics in Korea: Chaebol Dynastic Practices and the Uneven Transition From a Market to an Entrepreneurial Mode of Exchange

Publication Type:
Chapter
Citation:
The Political Economy of Business Ethics in East Asia: A Historical and Comparative Perspective, 2016, pp. 79 - 94
Issue Date:
2016-09-26
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© 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. For many decades Korea's economic and political elites have portrayed the leaders of South Korea's chaebols as men of high moral standing, prepared to make whatever sacrifice is necessary for the good of their country-in essence as model nationalist capitalists. This portrayal has been regularly challenged by groups within Korean civil society. In recent times, the so-called "chaebol legitimacy problem" has become even more acute in the wake of their attempts to maintain family ownership through passing on chaebol ownership from father to son. In this chapter, we discuss the relevance of Lie's (1992a, 1992b) concept of "modes of exchange" and Lie's four typologies of modes of exchange: market, manorial, mercantile, and entrepreneurial to understand the different interpretations of the concept of "business ethics" coexisting in contemporary Korea. We argue that in postwar Korea there has been no linear or clearly staged trajectory from one mode of exchange to another. Instead, features of manorial, mercantile and, more recently, market and entrepreneurial modes have coexisted. In this context of mixed modes, the "rules of the game" including how they apply to the behavior of political and economic elites are more fluid. This uncertainty provides elites with the opportunity to rationalize and justify certain practices. However, as the Korean economy and democracy has matured and become more exposed to exogenous shocks some rules of the game are shifting and political and economic elites' past justification strategies are no longer working.
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