Tonight I was having dinner with a Korean CEO who surprised me with the story that some 3 year old children in Korea take supplementary lessons in music, math, English to get into competitive schools. By the time they are 13 most Korean children are taking supplementary lessons to prepare for university exams.

In Spain where I live, most children never have supplementary classes, not when they are 3 nor when they are 10 nor when they are 15. Spaniards are by nature not very competitive people, nor are they ambitious, indeed “ambitious” is a derogatory term when applied to somebody´s personality. Now if Koreans work so hard and Spaniards are so relaxed about education and work, how can it be that Spain still ranks ahead of Korea in terms of GDP? And even in terms of PPP this is true.

Korea and Spain both were very poor 30 years ago, both had civil wars, long dictatorships, they have almost exactly the same population, indeed Korea has many global brands and Spain almost none so how can it be that Spaniards are still so much richer than Koreans? I really don´t understand this paradox. It seems that Koreans are working extremely hard from a very young age to achieve less and especially to have less time to enjoy life.

Spain is also hard to understand within Europe. I recently read that if the growth rates of the last 5 years remain constant the average income of a Spaniard will exceed that of a German. Germans are known for being extremely professional, hard working and well educated. Personally I love the Spanish lifestyle but most people associate a competitive education and a hard working life with success, something else seems to be going on here. Do Spaniards secretly work during siesta time? Are more Spaniards like the people at Fon who are many times working at 2am?

As it stands it seems that Spaniards are like those kids in school who never rarely study and still get the good grades.

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littlemorepessimistic on June 5, 2006  · 

In my opinion, the paradox is resolved by checking how healthy is korean growth, based on exports of high-tech, and not-that-htech, whereas our growth is terribly dependant on internal consumption, based on huge debt and low cost tourism and, yes, really good banks. Sounds a little too pessimistic, but to me, interest rates will take bad care of our debt, and our 4% inflation of the second. Need to check the actual data, but I believe this could be a straightforward explanation.

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andrew jones on June 5, 2006  · 

two things, germnay’s economy is still failing and unfortunately a lot of europe (such as france) is the same way. Hence out growing Germany at the moment sounds better than the unfortunate reality of Germany. The Economist lists profiles of South Korea and Spain here. While Spain is growing, it’s not growing as fast as Korea (spain is 2% growth Korea averages a little over 6% this quarter with an average of 4.5% growth) and also Spain’s unemployment is 13% Korea’s is almost non-existent… All that said, Koreans are trying to be come “more creative” and I’m sure the Spanish attitude and quality of life helps a bit. Korea can be a very cold place where effeciency is often valued more than doing something intelligently in my general experience. Anyway, good luck and hope Spain continues to grow.


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pj on June 5, 2006  · 

frankly speaking, i choose to have my business education in spain maily for the “relaxed” approach to life that you can have in spain.
I think that some siesta does not hurt your chances of succeeding (nor parties do), and I definetely aspire to be a “lazy overachiever”

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hombrelobo on June 5, 2006  · 

One of the reasons is that Spaniards (like Argentineans) take the social part of the job very seriously. They held long lunches in which they consolidate the business relationship and do what anglosaxos call “networking”. It is much better to have a one hour lunch with 5 colleagues than a 20 minutes sandwich in front of the computer. In the first place, you not only relax, but you also get to know your colleagues much better and, to be honest, after you have finished with the football, what else can you talk apart from your work ?

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Paolo Gagliardi on June 5, 2006  · 

I believe it’s not just a matter of working hard and being extremely professional and committed. I recon all these things are important, but the “latins” have some “quid” more, which is creativity, the ability to think out of the box. We are stubborn and when we really want something, we achieve it. And even the fact of working up to 2am: the non-latin cultures, say the Northern Europeans work hard, yes. But, with all due respect, at 5pm the pencil drops, like we say in Italy. Of course we have our dark sides (lots!), but this is not topic for this comment 🙂


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Jose Luis Mesa on June 5, 2006  · 

We are very good improvising and dealing with unexpected problems. At the end of the day that’s business: you have to deal with unexpected situations. Doesn’t matter your math skills, the languages you speak, or your task speed. The more you work like a machine, less is its value. Fortunately, we don’t work like machines, but like humans: improvising, thinking out the box, doing wrong things and discovering new opportunities, …
We are not the typical nerd, but the guy getting the same grades studying just the day before the exam. Contrary to the typical nerd, we see beyond the exam.

Welcome to Spain, I love it, and you?

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Pedro on June 5, 2006  · 

Andrew, Just check your figures. You took data from 2001. The growth in 2005 in Spain was 3,4% and unemployent rate is 8,7% (may 2006). Korean GDP growth in 2005 was 3,9%. I don’t see such a big difference, you?

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Jose del Moral on June 5, 2006  · 

Korea does not have rich Germans putting on money in order to build infrastructures, as has happened in Spain for years. Spain also has great natural resources which Korea doesn’t. Spain happens to be the second touristic power in the world.

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Hadi Kabalan on June 6, 2006  · 

I agree with a lot of the above re creativity etc. But let’s not also forget the fruits of European Union. There has been a very conscious transfer of wealth into Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Greece as part of European Unification. Not only in terms of actual money transfers and funding of infrastructure projects, but also through locking them into the monetary policy of the average. The result is high growth fueled by long-lasting low interest rates and low inflation.

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Anonymous on June 6, 2006  · 

Spain has a fairly serious and transparent public sector, much more so than even its Italian and French neighbors. Things generally work well and people are not respectful. Transparency and clear rules make an economy attractive and fruitful. Isn’t this one of the aspects of your future doctoral thesis? My understanding is that Korea still lacks plenty of transparency.

With regard to work ethic, Spaniards have an extreme wealth of educated young people looking for jobs. Salaries in Spain are incredibly low, probably amongst the lowest in Europe. Between cheap labor and inexpensive tourism, this makes Spain competetive. Nevertheless, Spain has the most unproductive workforce that I have every experienced in my life in a developed nation.

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Spain's rule on June 6, 2006  · 

Don’t worry when they merge both Koreas they will have a big crisis… so without any suplementary effort we will win…

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Francisco on June 6, 2006  · 

When I was a child I used to think that party and productiveness were antagonic. For example I thought that Catalans were richer than Madrid´s people because they were more serious and “Europe-oriented”.

Now I see Madrid skyrocketing in terms of GDP per capita, and in terms of parties too! You know, I think the ability to socialise is becoming crucial in this changing world, and latin cultures have an incredible advantandge there. First the Italians, then the Spaniards… I hope soon other countries of latin America would join to the lantin-oriented developed world (well, Chile es actually in).


P.D: There is another interesting, analogous example: Munich, one of the richest and funniest cities in Germany.

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Kimchee on June 7, 2006  · 

This blog seems rather very Euro-centric in content as well as tone. Koreans, while poorer in terms of GDP per capita has now a very prosperous middle class and the upper 5 percent in Korea live as large as upper 5 percent anywhere in the world. Superficially, Spain may live a better lifestyle, but economically, visiting Korea as often as I do, I can definatively say Korea feels “richer”. Madrid and Barcelona have the history, the culture, the legacy behind it which Korea does not enjoy due to its relatively short prosperity and its rather unfortunately history of being invaded by the Japanese, the Chinese, the Huns, the Mongols: you name the tribe, they’ve been to Korea. Spain has had the tradition of being an economic, political and military powerhouse (albeit 3 to 4 hundred years ago) and still lives off such laurels. Korea has only recently engaged in world affairs. And it sits in a very rough neighborhood: right in between Japan and China. Not to mention its alter ego: North Korea with the fourth largest conventional armement pointed for Seoul for a efficient 30 minute destruction. All in all, Korea has a lot stacked against it. But it is definately like the little choo-choo that could. And after all the analysis, the GDP of Korea IS bigger than Spains. Oh, and let’s not forget the shootout in 2002 World Cup. Koreans would not have traded that moment for all the Siestas of a lifetime.

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Martín Varsavsky on June 7, 2006  · 


You are right we are eurocentric, totally right, all the comments you see in my blog about Korea and Asia in general are from a foreign observer. Now I don´t know if it´s clear from my writing, but I have a lot of admiration for the Korean people and what they have done to their country. My surprise is that they don´t do much better than Spain which does rank higher in GDP and GDP per capita than Korea.


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Alex on June 8, 2006  · 

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. – Bertrand Russel

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littlemorepessimistic on June 8, 2006  · 


I agree with you that it may be too euro-centric, and that Korea may look/be richer than Spain, but to mention invasions and wars as something korean and not spanish is definitely wrong. As far as I know, before the 3/4 hundred years, we’ve been invaded by phoenicians, greeks, carthaginians, romans, dozens of northern tribes including vikings, , and finally arabs for 8 hundred years. Then after, the “Austrias” Dynasty got us involved in every single battle against England, France and Germany, Popes for several hundred more. Conquering America and fighting independence wars in such countries were no difficult tasks either. Then succesion wars between pro-austrias and pro-borbons, then Napoleon invades Spain, then Carlist wars, then Cuba and Philippines war, a civil war that killed a million people (out of ten), and isolation from the rest of the world during Franco until 1975. Sorry for the long-tale but I thought someone needed some feedback!!!!

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Adri on June 9, 2006  · 

I gotta say it – until Spain dove into the EU’s recovery fund, it was veru much a third worldish country. In Spain’s particular case, it is striking to see leaps of progress in such short periods of time. I understand that there are way too many factors one should take into account before comparing GDPs, but the truth is, Spain has had a tumbling history with a single “Golden Era” a couple hundred years ago during Phillip II, which makes today’s situation all the more impressive.

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srini on June 10, 2006  · 

Lets not forget that the current credit bubble makes
people feel richer than they actually are. debt does not equal wealth and for spain, i must say, a culture that can siesta is rich in many ways.
Malaysia perhaps has the attributes of a good work and siesta culture in all of asia.

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andrew jones on June 10, 2006  · 


I used the economist’s country profiles for mine. I didn’t know the date on them. Anyway, 3.5 is great and 8.7% if a significant improvement in employement.

good luck.


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Cántabro on July 1, 2006  · 


Who say that spanish people do not know about maths, sciencs, thechnical works?

If you see EEUU, they has an excellent technical level, but only because it exist a few number of groups who know about. Not all people need to know the Schrodinger equation.

I think Spain has a good human resources. Probably Korea has also very good resources, but, i think is not a good idea to compare based in 3 students and in 2 succses enterprises. Countries are very much bigger, and there are many other parameters.


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Spaniard on March 26, 2008  · 

Everybody needs to start learning Spanish dammit come on people xD

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