By Dan Paul Rose

How does South Korea navigate the challenge of a diminishing population, yet the need for more citizens to improve its economic growth, e.g., to fill jobs, seeing as you cannot have one without the other in the so-called economic theory of capitalism, where profits are expected to increase annually to appease shareholders.

There is the rub. My gut instinct tells me this type of population density in South Korea is not sustainable. My research tells me, due to all the uninhabitable mountainous regions, this isolated peninsula is the most densely populated nation on earth. Seeing it ranks 10th globally in overall GDP ― goods produced and sold ― is remarkable. This can only be a testament to hard work and genuine innovation.

In 1975 when your grandfather was working, South Korea's yearly GDP was around $22 billion. Today, South Korea's annual GDP is over $1.8 trillion. This is a miraculous transformation. Inflation aside, it's a colossal leap in growth.

As for COVID-19, intuitively, it is nature's way of telling us to slow down. In other words, there are too many people who all need to eat, responsibly dispose of their waste and drive a car, let alone find a meaningful job that provides hope, which certainly correlates to off-the-job satisfaction, so one can hike up those green mountains behind your apartment on Sundays with a smile.

How does a country of 50 million people in 100,000 square kilometers, nearly 70 percent of which is deemed uninhabitable due to its mountainous inclines, find room for economic growth? Last year the birth rate in South Korea was 0.83 percent, which is farther from the 2.1 replacement rate than the mind imagines. In other words, Korean women are not having babies as they did in the 1970s ― nowhere near. This is indisputable.

Can the rub find a solution? Since prosperity generally occurs by increasing labor ― the number of workers and hours worked, or by boosting productivity ― everything slows down when there are fewer consumers, i.e., customers. Yet, South Korea needs to slow down, way down. Too many people are already exhausted due to the byproducts of COVID, busy work schedules, long commutes and lack of sleep. This drastic reduction in the birthrate is a natural and intelligent response to nature in these very times.

We might have to reconfigure our estimation of capitalism. I am not suggesting communism, or a socialist doctrine to warp the economy, but making profits year after year is not viable, practical or environmentally sound. It is a runaway train that does not lead to happiness. It will invariably crash.

Most of us need community, yet, to be too close to one another is not a prudent idea. Think of the recent Itaewon disaster. It was a tragic accident, and no one is to blame directly, but why in the first place do humans want to be so near one another? Is it a post-COVID one-off desire? Possibly. It goes to show that togetherness has its limitations. It is also a stark reminder that the Seoul metro area, this very country, and this world are crowded; I would say overcrowded.

We need to start thinking outside the box. That is not a solution, but a challenge. If we can simplify and maintain a life of fulfillment, that is ideal. I will start by moving to a small town in Southeast Asia.

Dan Paul Rose (danpaulrose@hotmail.com) is an instructor in the English Department at Yong In University, Yongin.


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Major dilemma

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28.11.2022
By Dan Paul Rose

How does South Korea navigate the challenge of a diminishing population, yet the need for more citizens to improve its economic growth, e.g., to fill jobs, seeing as you cannot have one without the other in the so-called economic theory of capitalism, where profits are expected to increase annually to appease shareholders.

There is the rub. My gut instinct tells me this type of population density in South Korea is not sustainable. My research tells me, due to all the uninhabitable mountainous regions, this isolated peninsula is the most densely populated nation on earth. Seeing it ranks 10th globally in overall GDP ― goods produced and sold ― is remarkable. This can only be a testament to hard work and genuine innovation.

In 1975 when your grandfather was working, South Korea's yearly GDP was around $22 billion. Today,........

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