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A Tale of Two Koreas

By: The James Madison Institute / December 28, 2011

Blog

December 28, 2011

By Robert F. Sanchez, JMI Policy Director
Posted December 28, 2011
The death of brutal North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il put a spotlight on the contrast in conditions on opposite sides of the 38th parallel, which remains the dividing line between the Republic of Korea to the south and Kim’s stronghold, the laughably misnamed “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”Kim, who recently succumbed to a heart attack that was quite possibly related to his obvious obesity, reportedly enjoyed a gourmand’s taste in food and wine while an estimated 2 million of his tyrannized subjects perished during mass starvations. International observers say Kim’s regime might have done more to save the lives of his countrymen had he not been so preoccupied with persecuting Christians, snuffing out domestic dissent, developing weapons of mass destruction, and shipping arms to other tyrants and to terrorist groups around the world. Unfortunately for his nation’s hungry masses, Kim routinely spurned humanitarian aid that was offered on the condition that he end his nuclear program. Neither would he agree to make the political and economic reforms that could have allowed his backward and isolated nation to devote more of its resources to development and less to sustaining one of the world’s largest military forces.Meanwhile, as North Korea stagnated for more than half a century, signs of South Korea’s remarkable economic progress continued to spread, from Seoul’s gleaming skyline and crowded highways to the millions of American homes where Korean brands such as Hyundai, Kia, and Samsung are found. The underlying cause of this stark contrast is no mystery: As the Heritage Foundation reports, “Since 2001, South Korea’s score on the Index of Economic Freedom has ranged from the high 60s to low 70s on a scale of 100.North Korea’s score for the same period has been no higher than 10, and currently stands at 1.0.” The contrast between the two Koreas is graphically evident in this Washington Post chart tracking their economic growth rates.Granted, this contrast between a relatively free economy and a closed society should come as no surprise. We’ve seen it before, on the opposite sides of the Berlin Wall. There, the contrasts were as evident as the differences between the shiny BMWs, Audis, and Mercedes in the free portion ofGermanyandEast Germany’s notoriously dysfunctional attempt at an auto, the Trabant – a car high on Time Magazine’s list of “The 50 Worst Cars of All Time.” All of this is a reminder of the wisdom of Winston Churchill’s sarcastic warning when Britainwas beginning to flirt with socialism: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”Of course, with some deluded Americans now staging “Occupy Wall Street” rallies that seek to make the U.S. economy more like North Korea’s – albeit while keeping all of the liberties that a free economy affords – it’s probably a good thing for all of us to be reminded from time to time of contrasts such as the two Koreas, which vividly demonstrate that socialism simply does not work. Yet in their posturing about the 99 percent vs. the one percent, socialism’s American promoters mesmerize their audience by focusing on “economic inequality” as an obstacle to achieving “social justice,” and folks oblivious toAmerica’s founding principles and economic realities still believe that socialism works, despite all of the evidence to the contrary fromPyongyang to Havana.Then again, the socialists have a beguiling way of crunching the numbers. Consider, for instance, the announcement that Kim’s government-controlled media made the very first time he ever picked up a golf club. Miracle of miracles, playing 18 holes on a par 72Pyongyangcourse that’s more than 7,000 yards long, the chubby dictator reportedly made eleven holes-in-one for a remarkable total score of 34. That’s an astounding 38 strokes under par – a feat unmatched even by Tiger Woods when he was in peak form. And, of course, Kim’s feat was duly witnessed by his phalanx of security guards.That whole scenario is absurd, of course, but it’s no more absurd than the whining of Occupy Wall Street’s rebels without a clue.