There has been a scholarly consensus that the perversity rhetoric–the claim that reforms for improving social conditions will worsen the very same conditions–is a myth crafted by the political and economic elites to protect the status quo. This view explains why perversity rhetoric emerges, but it does not explain how it becomes powerful enough to change the course of reform. This study fills this gap by comparing two recent minimum wage reforms, in Japan and South Korea. It argues that the divergence between the two countries in the susceptibility of the reform process to the perversity rhetoric and reform patterns is associated with how governments legitimise the reform. Cognitive legitimation in Japan stressed the apolitical and value-free nature of the reform and allowed industry to modify it, reducing the perversity reactions; however, it made the reform too slow to redress the labour market disparities. Conversely, the moral legitimation of the reform in Korea made the initial progress fast, but the lack of an institutional governing of potential conflicts resulted in the spread of perversity rhetoric across industries and the later reversal of the reform.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© 2023 Asian Studies Association of Australia.
- South Korea
- minimum wage
- wage reform