South Korean Cultural Ecology - 1905 to 1990
G. The Farmers and the Rural Society
The differences between "rich" and ordinary farmers should not be given too much weight sociologically. Most Korean farm villages are egalitarian communities compared to most other Asian countries. All farmers in South Korea are small farmers, and while absentee landlords do exist, they are usually relatives of farm families who have migrated to the city recently. As a result of the out-migration, whereby many of the poorest and richest households left for the towns and cities, villages today are possibly even more cohesive and homogeneous than in the past.
Korean farmers are very high cost producers in terms of international prices, and like the Japanese farmers depend on the government for price subsidies and protection from imports abroad. They are particularly vulnerable to American insistence on exporting agricultural products to South Korea. And you have to understand if America cannot sell agricultural goods they can't buy Korean manufactured products. The farmers are caught in a squeeze with the cost of manufactured goods they must buy going up disproportionately compared to the increases in their agricultural goods. Also their household debt is increasing due, in part, to rampant consumerism.
The farm population at about 8 million has a disproportionate representation in the National Assembly, particularly among the opposition parties. Many of the high-ranking bureaucrats feel strongly that the farmers are an important source of social and political stability. Because of this, farm policy debates in Seoul tend to be bitter, infused with as much emotion as with economic logic. Whether the farmers will survive the high-speed chase for exports and industrialization is somewhat in doubt. Whether the quest for land for factories and leisure for the urban dwellers will leave land for farming is also in doubt.On to Page 33 Back to Page 31 Back to Outline Page Back to South Korean Choice Page