Six years after the Asian financial crisis, South Korea's economy has become more competitive than ever before. After years of painstaking reforms, it has regained its vitality with a sizeable current-account surplus and relatively low inflation. The economic growth rate is likely to increase from less than 3 per cent this year to more than 5 per cent next year. Most of all, the country now boasts more than US$150 billion of foreign exchange reserves, compared with less than $10 billion during the crisis. Its dramatic economic rebound is regarded by troubled economies with a great deal of envy and amazement. Why, then, does the average South Korean on the streets of Seoul feel depressed during the joyful holiday season? How can one explain the sharp drop in donations to charity organisations? It is because the average citizen does not believe he or she is better off than five or six years ago. Some believe the economy is actually worse than during the Asian economic crisis, because of widespread unemployment. It is particularly disappointing to see so many smart, young people fresh from college drift around aimlessly because of terribly bleak job prospects. Companies are also having problems. While a few star firms like Samsung and Posco have been restructured and are enjoying record sales and profits, most others are struggling to survive. During the past five years more than half of South Korea's top 30 conglomerates have gone bankrupt. The result: massive layoffs. Small and medium-sized manufacturers of light industrial goods are struggling under the onslaught of cheap imports from China. The income gap has widened as the rich grew richer over the past several years. Among the wealthy are foreign investors or those working for them. As a result of the nation's economic reforms, foreign investors have much greater access to South Korean assets, whether they be companies or buildings. Prime assets have been bought by foreign investors at relatively low prices amid the shortage of local funds. Banks are now owned 40 per cent by foreign investors, the highest level in the world. Samsung Electronics, the country's most profitable company, is 60 per cent owned by foreigners. The Korea Stock Exchange itself is 40 per cent foreign-owned. Globalisation means the survival of the fittest. South Korean individuals and companies that are not benefiting from the economic recovery have failed to adapt to the demands of global standards. Samsung's restructuring shows South Koreans can benefit from globalisation and free trade if they reform themselves. But at the moment, the number of winners seems too small.