Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


Korea in a Post-Covid-19 World, Part 1: The Korean New Deal

Posted on | December 6, 2020 | No Comments

In early November 2020, I attended the World Bank IDA – Korea Workshop on Innovation and Digital Technology in a Post-Covid World. Sponsored by the World Bank’s International Development Agency (IDA) and the Korean Ministry of Economy and Finance, it was held at The World Bank Group Korea office here in Songdo, Korea. I was too busy to go across town to attend in person, but found the virtual proceedings to be quite interesting. (Best to “fast-forward” to 30 minutes).

The conference covered many relevant issues dealing with technology in a post-Covid-19 world. For this series of posts, I am primarily interested in the vision of the future for the Republic of Korea that draws on the American “New Deal” and its intersection with technology and sustainable development. Below, I discuss the New Deal and its rhetorical reincarnation as the “Green New Deal” in the US and Korea in the wake of the financial crises of 2008 and the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020-21. I am also intrigued by Korea’s merging of the Green New Deal with a “Digital New Deal,“ which I will cover in a future post.

The New Deal was the name given to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s (FDR) strategies in the 1930s to recover from the Great Depression and its influence that continued well into the latter half of the 20th century. It unabashedly used the power of government to reform the economy for industrialization and World War II mobilization, and later the containment strategies for global finance and Communism after WWII.

The World Bank is not a United Nations agency but instead came out of the New Deal’s Bretton Woods Agreements at the end of World War II that designed the new global finance and international trade regime. The World Bank’s IDA is managed by its 173 shareholder countries that guide its investment portfolio from more than 50 donor countries to promote economic growth and reduce poverty. So, the introduction of Korea’s New Deal at the jointly sponsored conference seemed appropriate.

The New Deal term has circulated extensively in the wake of concerns about climate change and, more recently, in thinking about the COVID-19 epidemic and its repercussions. Its (re)emergence has been traced to “A Green New Deal” report by the New Economics Foundation released in the United Kingdom in July 2008 and intended to initiate a comprehensive national plan to revive the economy and combat climate change. Written by the Green New Deal Group, it outlined a series of policy proposals to tackle the financial crash, global climate change, and the limits of an oil-based economy. But the Tories won in the UK in 2009, and the ideas were largely marginalized.

Likewise, in the US, the Obama administration focused on a general stimulus and healthcare in 2009. The American Clean Energy and Security Act died in the Senate before the Republicans swept the 2010 midterms. The idea of the Green New Deal died as well, except among progressive left politicians such as the Green Party’s Jill Stein and independent Bernie Sanders. Both waged 2016 presidential campaigns that included a GND. It became an issue in the 2018 midterm campaigns and helped propel Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) into a Congressional seat (D-NY).

AOC then joined with Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) in early 2019 to introduce the H.R. 109 resolution on February 7 in the 116th Congress. It recognized climate warnings due to greenhouse gas effects and called on the US to use its technological expertise to reduce harmful emissions. It also recognized that the New Deal and World War II mobilization created the biggest middle class in US history and that the Green New Deal should strive to create economic security, especially for vulnerable groups. Among the remedies for these problems, it suggested meeting “100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources” and distributing electricity through “smart grids.” This chart on the Green New Deal by the Data for Progress shows the uptick in interest in the term.

I was particularly struck by presentations on the Korean New Deal by the Ministry of Economy and Finance, introduced first by Deputy Minister for International Affairs Taesik Yoon and in more detail in the Keynote Speech by Dae Joong Lee. In “Linking the Korean New Deal with Innovation and Technology in the Post Covid-19 Era”, the ministry’s Director of Development Finance first reviewed the Republic of Korea’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Korea was hit hard and early but effectively reduced the adverse health effects and by September had restored a good amount of its economic growth. This was due mainly because of its effective “test, trace, and treat” strategy to the virus.

But given the lingering effects of the pandemic around the world, Director Lee laid out the general plan for a Post-Covid Korean New Deal. It stresses a Digital New Deal and a related Green New Deal – within the context of a national “safety net” and an emphasis on employment and concern for the training of human resources.

Now, it’s one thing to put together some fancy PowerPoint slides and another to enact a nation-wide transformation of the political economy. But Korea tended to “walk the walk” recently and not just “talk the talk,” so I think its worth keeping an eye on Korea’s strategy for digital and sustainable development. The Korean digital strategy, as researched by my colleague James Larson, has paid off handsomely so far for the small peninsula nation.

In the next post I continue the discussion of Korea’s New Deal and its inclusion of a Digital New Deal and a Green New Deal.


AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor at the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.


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