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October 19, 2012

'Gangnam Style' tells economic truth of our day

(Continued)

TOKYO —

All this explains why Psy struck such a chord. Koreans are coming to the realization that gross domestic product gains don't necessarily result in commensurate gross domestic happiness. Hence Psy's subversive message about class and wealth being false gods. It also gets at why the finance minister would opine about a rap song.

"Our service sector is a weak point," Bahk said. "Unlike competitive exporters with well-diversified goods and markets, the service sector is too much closed. We see gradual progress in some areas, but the success stories such as singer Psy are still quite an exception. They should open up the domestic market and compete with foreign rivals to grow up."

In other words, innovate to make the economy more entrepreneurial and globally nimble. Here, the nation's cultural export industry, dubbed "Korean Wave," is an apt metaphor.

It is a cookie-cutter business — long legs, robotic dance moves and years of training and grooming to produce "K-pop" stars who tend to be as plastic as they are forgettable. Psy, by contrast, is the outlier who made it through hard work, humor and his own brand of talent. He is 34, portly and, by his own admission, not a looker. He writes his own songs and traveled a long and lonely journey that paid off in the end.

South Korea's economy should be a lot more like that. It has what it takes to go up against the best talent the world has to offer. It just needs to find its own groove. The government may want to summon Psy in for some pointers.

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William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist.

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