The resurgence of the East Asian development model has seen alarming trends of populist-authoritarianism as well as democratic reversals. Yet, the core argumentâ€” strong, unconstrained governments successfully motivate or compel complianceâ€”is rarely assessed. This paper makes that systematic assessment with historical data and survey fndings from South Korea, the prototypical East Asian model. Two fndings are consequential: frst, strong, unconstrained governments led to higher-than-normal disinvestments; this occurs notwithstanding in- or out-of-favour sectors. This means that government could not strong-arm or exploit out-of-favour producers to abide by policies that favour other sectors. Second, surveys analysed show that almost 40% have or would engage in political actions that challenged the government, despite the latterâ€™s strength or autocracy. This means that citizens, of which labour is a large component, were also willing to disobey the governmentâ€™s policies or directives. Together, the results challenge the model that strong government may successfully override preferences to push or even compel the compliance that underpins economic success.