This article examines the neo-liberal reforms that the Kim government implemented in post-crisis Korea. It argues that by embracing the reforms, the state, paradoxicaliy, re-legitimised itself in the national political economy. The process of enacting the reforms completed the power shift from a collusive state-chaebol alliance towards a new alliance based on a more populist social contract - but one that nonetheless generally conformed to the tenets of neo-liberalism. Kim and his closest associates identified the malpractices of the chaebols as the main cause of the crisis, so reforming the chaebols would be the key to economic recovery. Combining populism and neo-liberalism, they drew on support from both domestic and international sources to rein in, rather than nurture, the chaebols.