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From “Cardinal Sin” to Policy Agenda? The Role of Capital Controls in Emerging Market Economies
Author: June Park
Region: Asia
Location: Korea, South
Published April 2, 2012
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Korea’s economic development since the 1980s has occurred in the context of capital controls and a strong governmental role in achieving sustained growth. The experiences of two financial crises—the Asian financial crisis (1997–98) and the global financial crisis (2008–09)—confirm the impression of a highly responsive state, although different pictures emerge as to how the Korean government sought to abolish or deploy capital controls in accordance with global consensus and intellectual trends in international political economy. Contrary to the policies of financial liberalization by the Korean government in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis, the Korean government shifted to a policy direction favoring capital controls following the global financial crisis, as seen in recent Group of 20 proclamations. However, given the necessity of capital inflows for an outward-oriented economy such as Korea’s, which is heavily dependent on foreign capital inflows for investment, it is questionable to what extent Korea can effectively take advantage of capital controls, what the goals of such controls should be, whether there will be strong political backing for implementation of such policies, and what political risks the current government faces in implementing new capital controls. This paper seeks to provide answers to these questions by examining Korea’s initiatives for capital controls in light of its history and the surge of capital inflows to emerging market economies since the global financial crisis.

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