A Unified Korea Is Depressing

I had depressing conversations with several Korean economists about the possibility of eventual Korean unification. Unlike Germany, where the East was only 1/4 the size of the West, and where GDP/capita in the West was perhaps only double that of the East, North Korea’s population is over 1/3 that of the South, and the South has a GDP/capita over 10 times that of the North.

Even if it were ever politically possible, economic integration — difficult in Germany as it was — would be an economic mess in Korea. With a free flow of labor one could well imagine a huge Northern depopulation — as its relatively abundant low-skilled labor flows to the capital rich, high-wage South.

That’s not going to happen; but perhaps the model is already in place. The North Korean border city of Gaesung has been designated an industrial area open to Southern investment, with jobs being created for Northerners. If labor can’t flow, capital can, and that can equalize prices of labor in the two Koreas, raising living standards in the North. Assuming politics allow (always iffy here), there may be hope for economic rationalization without unification.

Heon Kim

As I am living in Korea, I assume that most South Koreans don't much care about economic benefits of unified Korea.

I believe that many young South Koreans including me CARE about inspiring in hearts of our countrymen a deep sense of humanity. U.S. should keep this in mind when it comes to its policies toward North Korea.

Christos L

To comment #1:

Offensive? Please.

A discussion of the economic effects of a unified Korea is not a debate about the morality of it.

As Korea eventually does move towards unification, how it is managed from an economic standpoint is critical for both the south AND the north. (This could take a LONG time mind you, the death of their "beloved leader" will probably be required.) Destabilizing and crippling the economy of the south will not be helpful to raising the fortunes of the north in the long run.


Who says the unification of the two Germanys is completed now? Politically - yes. Economically - probably not yet. There is a huge disparity in unemployment rates between the rich West and the poor East Germany. For reasons like smaller market; qualified workers already migrated out of the Eastern provinces; reduced buying power of the population; etc. investors are still hesitant to open their business in the East part of Germany. An this is happening almost two decades after the unification!

But was the unification the right thing to do? Most certainly yes.

Chris W

If economic reasons were the only thing keeping Korea from being unified, that should be a secondary concern (as I'm sure it is for most Koreans).

I think that Economic Unification can possibly lead to Political Unification. Any step towards increasing South Korean influence in the North, is a step in the right direction.


Andrew Choi

To anyone blindly calling for unification

so... would you rather starve 500 million people or 550 million people?

This post didn't say that unification can't happen. It was a post on how blinded goals can harm both parties.

L. Zoel

No matter how bad it would be, it can't possible be more depressing that Korea right now. Millions of people are starving to death at this very moment and people in the west barely even know about it.


This is OFFENSIVE. Honestly, sometimes the right thing to do isn't easy. I imagine the northern states were depressed about the prospect of civil war with the confederate states ... but sometimes the right thing to do isn't easy. Maybe the South Koreans should man up and care just a bit about the humanity of the North Koreans.


Nations were never meant to be separated. Part of change is pain and the two Koreas over time would integrate, maybe not with the first generation but the second. The investment opportunity would enormous! Please don't put doomsayers message in this article. The South Korean economist you talked with are predjudice, good ol boys and don't want the compitition.


It was interesting to see the comments of all the non-Koreans who wrote their own perspective of the issue. I am a Korean but have lived more than half of my life outside of it. I agree with the comment that when the first generation all parish, there will be less talk of unification. But even now, unification only will happen and should only happen when it becomes somehow economically viable. But then again, nothing will happen until the north give up their communism..

michael seo1

well, as a korean, I would like to see a map of the world with china, korea, japan, not china, north korea, south korea, japan. They'll have more space, north koreans will not starve to death, many things will return and so on. i really don't like the fact that the country my parents are from is small, dense and divided