- Discipline and Development: Middle Classes and Prosperity in East Asia and Latin America
Diane E. Davis has a new idea about why some governments have been more successful at promoting economic growth than others. Building on the developmental state idea that disciplining of certain actors has something to do with growth, Davis adds that a regime's social bases inform whether that state can be disciplinary. Economies where states have important rural middle-class constituents experience economic growth led by the state's ability to subdue capital and labor. In short, small-farm constituents make for a disciplinary state.
A comparison of four country-cases is used to make the argument. The author contrasts the experience of successful state-led development in South Korea and Taiwan with those of less success in Mexico and Argentina. Davis notes in the preface that South Korea prompted the cross-regional comparison, and South Korea is treated in its own ninety-four-page chapter while Taiwan is covered in only half of a chapter. The South Korea case is crucial to the argument of Discipline and Development.
Scholars of Korean development, argues Davis, have focused too much on the state, capital, and labor. Davis looks elsewhere and comes up with an original interpretation of South Korean political economy. The author begins by pointing out that while Syngman Rhee had important constituents in big business, the Park Chung Hee regime lacked those links. Instead, Park and company turned for support to small farmers, whose ranks had been increased by land reforms under American occupation. "Embedded" in rural society, the Park regime's "overwhelming concern with rural development" (p. 75) was the impetus behind its support for industrialization. This rural constituency allowed Park to pump capital out of industrialists and work out of laborers. In Davis's words, "rural middle classes originally endowed Park's administration with the will and capacity to discipline industrial capitalists" (p. 65).
By the early 1970s it was evident that the countryside and farmers were [End Page 134] faring far less well than cities and industry. While Park responded with an effort to lessen the urban-rural divide from the late 1960s, new price policies and the Saema1l Movement were too little, too late. By the mid-1970s, the regime reversed its earlier intentions and was pursuing industrialization fully for its own sake (p. 146). The rural basis of industrialization policies slipped away.
Davis is not a Koreanist; she is a Latin Americanist. Her background and comparative framework afford the potential to provide Korean studies with a fresh perspective on old issues. But the new interpretations in Discipline and Development need new data, and a main problem with the Korea chapter—and with the whole book—is that many are lacking.
The first big claim, that small farmers were main constituents of the Park regime, will raise eyebrows. Davis notes that "[r]ural middle classes became institutionally embedded in the governing apparatus" (p. 90) through links to the military, agricultural cooperatives, and the Democratic Republican Party (created by sometime CIA director Kim Jong-pil). But what is the distinction between "embeddedness" and penetration or subjugation? Other sources show that these institutions could be coercive, forcing farmers to cultivate crops and sell products in specific ways and intimidating them into voting for the regime.
These organizations did indeed link the regime to rural people, but that does not mean they served to increase state responsiveness rather than control. The insistence that business was at the mercy of the state in the 1960s also seems excessive. Were not state-business relations cooperative as well as coercive? How separate were business leaders and political leaders? Big businesses still made money when the state was "disciplining" them for national growth. Facts about businessmen's close relationships with state networks, including staffing influential economic bureaucracies, do not mesh well with Davis's story.
Oddly, the book makes no mention of the regional alliances and...