Quick, How Important Would $210 Billion Have Been in Korea Over the Last 16 Years?

January 28, 2023

Maybe you have some idea, but I sure as hell don’t. I was struck by seeing this number in a column on why the birth rate in South Korea has declined so much. While it is a very interesting column, this sentence left me scratching my head:

Over 16 years, 280 trillion won ($210 billion) has been poured into programs encouraging procreation, such as a monthly allowance for parents of newborns.

I suspect I have more knowledge of Korea’s economy than most NYT readers, but offhand I really had no idea of how large a commitment this spending is. I had to go to the IMF’s website and find that Korea’s GDP over the last sixteen years has been $22.9 trillion, which puts this spending at a bit more than 0.9 percent of GDP.

This would be the equivalent of around $2 trillion in spending in the United States, which is a pretty sizable commitment. It would have been useful if the NYT had insisted that the number be expressed as a share of GDP or personal income or some measure that would be meaningful to a substantial portion of its readers.

As it is, I doubt that almost any NYT reader had much sense of whether this money was a big or small commitment. Presumably, the intent was to convey information to readers. This figure did not.


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