Genesis: Recollection of John Riew (The First President)

1. The creation of the organization

The KAEA officially came into being in 1985, its 49 founding members joining in the collective efforts. The idea of creating the organization was hatched in the summer of 1984 while we, Korean economists in the U.S. and Canada, were participating at the joint conference held in Seoul, along with our KEA counterparts. Our membership comprised of college professors and those who were affiliated with research institutes and international banks.

2. Naming of the organization

Some of our founding members felt that the original name, the Association of Korean Economists in America (AKEA), was too long for an organization title. The alternatives proposed included the Korean-American Economic Association and the Korea-America Economic Assn. Of the two, the latter designation (the Korea-America ..) was “vague,” and even “awkward” (“We can not imagine AEA to be America Economic Assn.”). Being the one who had proposed it, I argued that the other (the Korean-American..) would carry an ethnic connotation. In this international setting, being in the U.S., we would want to be seen as an inclusive, rather than exclusive, organization. Should we refuse membership when persons of other nationalities would like to join our organization, out of their shared research interests, for instance? We needed to be more acceptable to outsiders, be it the ASSA (of which we would want to be an affiliate) or IRS (to whom we would be asking for a tax exempt status). Specific pronouns need not be constrained by grammatical concerns. I remember receiving a friendly but disapproving memo from one of my respected colleagues, and writing back to assure him it should be Ok (I mentioned examples of Air France or Japan Air Line, an episode I still remember). In the end, the proposed designation stood upheld by the executive committee..

3. The bylaws and the organizational structure

For many important features of our bylaws, we closely studied the AEA charter, and considered peculiarities of our organization. Professor Jang H. Yoo was in charge of the eight-member Founding Committee in formulating the initial bylaws and we are much indebted to his leadership and to the efforts of the Committee members. Subsequently, several adjustments were made to the original bylaws during the first year. The adjustments were few and minor. The Executive Committee (EC) agreed that we allow ourselves more time and more experience as an organization before discussing further amendments or additions. The EC, for instance, debated the merits of having a two-year tenure for the General Secretary while keeping one-year tenure for its other members, but decided on a uniform one-year rule for all. Our bylaws could be changed later if and when the need for any change becomes compelling.

4. The Executive Committee

Elected president of the organization, I had an honor of working with other members of the executive committee, Dr.Young Whee Rhee (the World Bank), vice president, Professor E. Han Kim (University of Michigan), general secretary, Bong-Joon Yoon (SUNY, Binghamton), treasurer, and Jang Hee Yoo (Virginia Commonwealth U.) president- elect for 1986. We communicated over the phone or through mails as much as possible and, in other instances, we met in Washington, D.C. Professor E. Han Kim, situated in Michigan, had to travel the farthest to join in the D.C. meetings. The EC members in the beginning, assumed their own expenses for travels and other incidental activities such as phone calls and mails. Their accomplishments, though without the benefits of the predecessors sharing experiences, have been extraordinary; I would have asked no other EC team to work with. Professor Yoo, although his official function as president was yet to begin, offered his significant input as an ex officio EC member. Sifting through the thick piles of documents and correspondences, I could not help but utter the words of thanks to Professor E. Han Kim who had put in so much time for his first year assignments as secretary general. Sincere thanks also go to Professor Bong Joon Yoon and Dr.Young Whee Rhee for their sweat and toil that should long be kept in record and remembered. The latter two colleagues, who happened to be under tremendous pressures at the job, faithfully executed their assignments working in the uncharted waters of that first year KAEA operation. Emotions run high, as I look back on the remarkable dedications of our EC members.

5. Membership campaign; the Committee of Regional Coordinators

Developing the KAEA as an effective forum for its members, the EC believed, depended first on healthy growth of its membership. The membership campaign, it was agreed, should be a work of coordinated joint efforts involving more than just the five-member EC team. Careful deliberation preceded before the EC voted to organize the Committee of Regional Coordinators selected from among the KAEA members. The requests were made by the EC to the following individuals who agreed to serve as the Coordinator for each of the following seven regions of North America.

Prof. Taeho Bark (Southeast) Prof. Hae-shin Hwang (Southwest)
Prof. Jae W. Lee (Northwest) Prof. Yung Y. Yang (Pacific)
Prof. Benjamin Kim (Midwest) Prof. Jong S, You (Canada)
Prof. Chong Soo Pyun (South)

The committe was chaired by Prof. Jang H. Yoo. At the end of the first phase of our membership campaign, the KAEA was able to report 111 persons joining the organization, more than double the initial membership of 49.* The EC decided on the following four membership categories and the membership fee structure.

  • Regular membership: $25
  • Contributing membership: $50-$99
  • Executive membership: $100 and over
  • Student membership $10

*Of 111 persons, 78 were regular members, 9 executive members, 5 contributing members, and 19 student members.

6. The KAEA session at 1985 ASSA Convention

One of KAEA’s top priority plans was to have the organization become an affiliate of the ASSA and to secure a slot for a KAEA session at the annual ASSA Meetings. I proceeded with initial inquiry with the 1985 ASSA Convention manager, and submitted official request for our session at the 1985 ASSA Convention in New York. Despite our late start in taking up on this procedure, I was informed of our authorization for a Panel Discussion Session set for December 28, 1985 at Gibson Suite, New York Hilton. The session theme was “Economic Relations among Pacific-Rim Nations,” with four panelists partaking in the session.* This was the forerunner of what was to come in an elevated forum of an academic session, and later to be expanded in number and to include the AEA-KAEA joint session.

*Panelists were: Prof. Chang Yung Jung, (Yonsei), Prof. Jae Yoon Park(SNU), Dr.Young Whee Rhee (theWorld Bank, presiding), and Prof. Larry E. Westphal (Swarthmore). (The panel session was followed by the KAEA Business Meeting.)

7. Formation of the Advisory Board

In order to solicit the opinions and advise from our membership for new ideas and vision for KAEA programs and operation, the EC decided to form the Advisory Board consisting the following ten members. They were urged to provide us, the EC, with their inputs and we have received many valuable suggestions and constructive comments.

Prof. Joseph Chung (IIT), Prof. Kwan Suk Kim (U. Notre Dame), Prof. Sun K. Kim (Cal. State U.), Prof. Young Chin Kim (Northern Ill U.), Prof. Sung Y. Kwack (Howard U.), Dr. Kyu Sik Lee (the World Bank), Prof. Woo H. Nam (San Diego State U.), Prof. Soo Bin Park (Carlton U.), Prof. Tae Kun Seo (SMU), and Prof. Pong S. Lee (SUNY, Albany).

8. Planning a 1986 KEA-KAEA Joint Conference

Professor Jang H. Yoo assumed the task of exploring the feasibility of holding a KEA-KAEA joint conference in Seoul in 1986 during his planned summer trip to Korea. This eventually took place. He was an old hand in organizing such a meeting that requires considerable input in terms of time and we owed Prof. Yoo much for his effort and superb organizational talent.

9. Nominating Committee for the 1986 Executive Members

Appointed the EC as the five-member Nominating Committee for the candidates for the 1986 Executive Committee were: Prof. David C. Cho (U.of Wisconsin/Madison), U Jin Jhun (SUNY College/Oswego), Prof. Sun K. Kim (Cal. State U., chair), Prof. Youn-Suk Kim (Kean College), and Prof. Simon Pak (Florida International U.).

10. Application for the KAEA tax-exempt status

The application was filed on KAEA’s behalf for tax-exempt status so that membership fees and donations made to our organization could be tax-deductible. Talking to a local attorney, I learned that we would be charged $60 an hour for attorney fee. I was unable to nail him down on the exact amount of the forthcoming bill (he said he could not tell in advance what the total required sum of hours might be in completing the procedure). My previous experience with an attorney on another matter and my sense that the meager KAEA’s resources were not to be touched had led me to decide to take it upon myself. Little did I know the process would drag on and on and take until July of the following year, 1986, before I was to be informed of the final IRS approval.

Genesis: Recollection of Jang H. Yoo (The Second President)

The KAEA was officially born in 1985, but it was actually conceived by the annual conference of the Korea Economic Association in the previous year. Dr. Hyun Jae Lee, then President of the Association, invited more than 40 Korean scholars working in the U.S. to the conference. Their roles at the conference were significant ?some presented high-quality papers, and others participated in various sessions as discussants. As I recall it, quite a few of us contributed significant eye-opening results of their research and they even were invited to some campuses afterwards for further in-depth discussions.

After the conference, the KEA was kind enough to invite all of the U.S. participants to Kyungju City for retreat. While having dinner at some restaurant near Boolkooksa, many of us spontaneously reached the consensus that we too should organize an association in the U.S. We were felt shamed not having ourselves organized with so many outstanding economists in variety of the fields in the U.S. I was nominated by the group as a coordinator to carry out the organizing task.

As soon as we came back to the States, we formed the Organizing Committee for the association. The Committee members included Dr. YungWhee Rhee of the World Bank, Professor John Riew of Penn State, Professor E. Han Kim of Michigan, Professor Bong Joon Yoon of SUNY, Binghamton and myself (Virginia Commonwealth). The first meeting of the Committee was held at Dr. Rhee’s house. Thank to Mrs. Rhee’s hospitality, serving us coffee with so many refills, we ran a ‘marathon’ meeting for more than 10 hours. Can you imagine that we spent hours just for making the name of the association?

The Committee decided that it would nominate Professor Riew as the first president of the Association and put his name in ballot. We identified about 200 Korean names and their addresses from the membership list of the American Economic Association. With enthusiastic participation of Korean-American scholars, the Association finally was formed and Professor Riew inaugurated as the first president on January 1, 1985. We informed the KEA in Seoul of our launching a new association and agreed that we would hold another joint conference in the summer of 1986. It became official from then on that the two Associations hold the joint conference in every even number year.

I was elected as the second president of the KAEA. During my tenure, there were two major developments. One was that we succeeded to establish an independent session of the KAEA at the ASSA Annual Conference. I made a numerous phone calls to Rendigs Fels, then Secretary General of the ASSA, and finally convinced him that academic activities of Korean-American scholars were very unique and their contribution to the learned society of the U.S. is highly visible.

Another development was that the KAEA and the Maeil Kyungje Shinmun agreed to hold an annual joint forum dealing with the world economy and Korean economic conditions. It has become an annual event that the reporters of the Maeil Kyungje come to the annual ASSA conference and invite a few distinguished fellows of the KAEA to the forum. The proceedings of the forum are published in the newspaper every year.

The financial part was the most difficult one during the first few years. Total amount of the membership dues that the members contributed was not even close to covering the mailing costs. So, we had to make a few trips to Korea to meet people in major business associations and large corporations to solicit their financial contributions.

One of the interesting yet embarrassing questions they often asked us was why we did not try to raise money from businesses or foundations in the U.S. We became speechless because we know the American Economic Association, for example, is operated solely by members’ annual dues, so they do not need to raise money from outside. I think there are good reasons why American scholars are gladly paying their annual dues to their Association, while Korean-American scholars are not so enthusiastic about paying dues. The AEA provides members with various services as much as, or even greater than, they feel the money’s worth. The services include quarterly journals, employment information, annual convention, and publishing its membership directory every now and again. The KAEA was not quite ready to provide such services at that time except publishing a membership list.

I do hear nowadays that the KAEA is growing by leaps and bounds, and its activities are now so visible that all the members recognize its value as a well-defined scholarly organization. We, the founding members, are convinced that time and efforts we contributed during those years are beginning to bear fruit.

Genesis: Recollection of Bong-Joon Yoon (The First Treasurer)

I remember the industrial tour in the summer of 1983 (?) for Korean economists attending the KEA international conference. We visited Samsung Heavy-Machinery Co., Hyundai Ulsan Shipbuilding Plant and Wolsung Nuclear Power Plant. In the tour bus, someone (I guess Dr. Jang H. Yoo) raised the idea of forming Economics Association for Korean economists in the U. S. The first executive committee spent a lot of time to name our association. Many ideas were suggested: Association for Korean Economists in America, Korean Economic Studies Association, etc. At the last moment, we were deciding between Korean-American Economic Association and Korea-America Economics Association. Because the former sounded too narrow (like being open exclusively to Korean-Americans), we chose the latter. We also decided to record all the discussions in the executive meets, which was supposed to be the treasurer’s (my) job. To be systematic, I brought a tape-recorder to record the minutes of the KAEA business meetings. But I often forgot to turn off the machine after the meetings, recording every mundane conversation. After learning my forgetfulness, the executive officers had to remind me to stop the machine.

Memoir of Bong-Joon Yoon (The Sixteenth President, 2000)

The executive officers during my term of presidency (2000) worked together very congenially. Our accomplishments are: Introduction of permanent membership; International Conference in Seoul; KAEA-Korea Institute of Finance joint symposium in Seoul; KAEA-KDI School of International Policy joint compact for mutual research assistance; KAEA-KIET joint session at the ASSA meetings.

Regarding what I experienced as a past president I would like to mention a few items.

First, as you know already, for the last several years, it has become increasingly difficult to raise fund in Korea. That is partly due to the recession following the Korean currency crisis. But it is more due to the new trend of accountability in the public and private sectors in Korea which may not disappear even when the economy improves. It is no longer sufficient to just tell the prospective donors that we perform good, socially beneficial functions. Several research institutions seemed to be concerned with how such donations would look in the end-of-the-year balance sheet under the scrutiny of the board of directors or of the government auditors. They always seemed to be concerned with how their contribution to our association would help their organizations in return. One institute told me that donations exceeding $1000 would require an approval of the board of directors.

These are a welcome change for Korea, the end of cronyism. But it can be frustrating for a fund-raiser from America visiting old friends who hold supposedly influential positions in Seoul. Now, Korean organizations have to show accomplishments and achievements to justify expenses. Hence, one way to solve the fund-raising difficulty is that we deliver needed services or benefits to the donors which will enhance their achievements. I suggested a joint symposium or session (at the ASSA) in exchange for contribution which received good responses. If a KAEA president starts early (even while he is a president-elect as President Semoon Chang did to apply for a research grant from Korea) to plan and generate ideas on joint activities with prospective donors, fund-raising will not be that difficult. Examples are joint symposiums, sessions, research monographs, and other mutually benefiting events. For another possibility, I understand that a revised corporate law of Korea requires a certain number of outside directors for incorporated companies. Could private research institutes or corporations in Korea offer a directorship to the KAEA, say to our vice-president, on condition that they donate director compensation to the KAEA?

A second item regards maximizing attendance at the KAEA-sponsored meetings. We gave a cash bar instead of free drinks at the KAEA plenary meeting at the ASSA convention in order to save expenses. I noticed that a lot of the members were outside the hall instead of coming in and attending the meeting. They were chatting one another, waiting till the time to board the KAEA-arranged bus for the dinner at the Korean restaurant. I would suggest providing free drinks at the plenary meeting to induce larger attendance. The cost saving was not worthwhile. The same applies to regular sessions, especially in view of the AEA counting attendance at each session. The AEA will curtail the number of sessions if our sessions do not get large enough attendances. Since attractiveness of a session depends mainly on the reputation of paper presenters, session organizers need to recruit well-known scholars for presentation. That requires personal contacts, good themes, and of course early preparation. We may also provide coffee, raisins and peanuts in sessions. If hotel regulation allows, we may purchase them directly and save money.

Third, in case a future president of the KAEA visits Korea for fund-raising, he/she may save expenses by staying at a University housing in Seoul. I stayed at Seoul National University Hotel (HoAmKwan) for around $40 a night. Similar prices apply to KDI School housing according to our compact with them and Ehwa University International Guest House.


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