The Lee Myung-bak administration came into office in 2008 with economic growth as its top priority but seems destined to be remembered as achieving the lowest growth rate of any administration.
If the economy grows just 3.3 percent this year, as the government projected on Thursday, the average growth rate over the five-year tenure of the administration would amount to a record-low 3.2 percent.
The direct cause is the global economic crisis triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. The government said it had to lower its growth forecast for this year because of worsening external conditions including the eurozone crisis.
Korea has fared better than many countries in overcoming the impact of the global economic crisis, whereas its GDP growth hovered below average global growth during the entire five-year tenure of the Roh Moo-hyun administration. The Lee administration's mistake was that it failed to bolster the country's economic fundamentals while putting much of its energy into dealing with the impact of the global crisis.
Lee's campaign pledge was to achieve 7-percent growth during his tenure. Many scoffed, saying it was beyond reach, but a considerable number of economists praised Lee’s attempt to shift the focus of government policy back to the economy.
The emphasis of the Roh administration, which was labeled as populist, was on strengthening welfare at the expense of growth. But Lee's goal slipped further and further out of reach as the global crisis erupted. While the government channeled all of its resources into defending the economy, Korea's growth rate failed to exceed 4 percent except in 2010, when massive pump-priming measures went into effect.
Nonetheless, experts give the Lee administration high marks for how effectively it dealt with the global crisis. Compared to the performance of advanced countries over the last five years, Korea did better, with an average growth rate over the last four years ahead of the U.S. (0.6 percent), Japan (-0.2 percent), Italy (-1.3 percent) and the global average (3.0 percent), and on a par with Taiwan (3.5 percent).
"To put it simply, Korea did a good job of weathering the storm," said Chung Duck-koo, chairman of the NEAR Foundation. "You can't make an assessment based solely on the country's economic growth rate."
However, the government failed to address the looming problems facing the Korean economy, such as a rapidly aging population and an over-dependence on exports.