Archive for the ‘North Korea’ Category

It’s time to continue our series on the 100th anniversary of Russia’s Bolshevik revolution, which unleashed a century of brutal, deadly, and oppressive communism.

But at least it’s a series that sort of has a happy ending. The Soviet Union collapsed and China is now only nominally communist.

Though there are a few holdouts. Cuba is still suffering from communist tyranny, for instance, and there are socialist hellholes like Venezuela that could descend into full-blown Marxist tyranny.

Speaking of tyranny, North Korea wins the prize for practicing the purest remaining form of communism. But that’s not a prize worth winning. Unless the goal is horrific poverty and suffering.

It’s such a horrible system that even Bernie Sanders has never said anything favorable about it.

We’re going to focus today on that unfortunate country.

Let’s start with a stomach-churning story from the BBC about the joy of communist life.

A North Korean soldier who was shot while fleeing across the border has an extremely high level of parasites in his intestines, his doctors say. The defector crossed the demilitarised zone on Monday, but was shot several times by North Korean border guards. Doctors say the patient is stable – but “an enormous number” of worms in his body are contaminating his wounds and making his situation worse. His condition is thought to give a rare insight into life in North Korea.

And he’s not an exception.

“North Korea is a very poor country and like any other poor country it has serious health problems,” Prof Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University in Seoul told the BBC. “North Korea does not have the resources to have a modern medical system,” he says. “Its doctors are relatively poorly trained and have to work with primitive equipment.” In 2015 South Korean researchers studied the health records of North Korean defectors who had visited a hospital in Cheonan between 2006 and 2014. They found that they showed higher rates of chronic hepatitis B, chronic hepatitis C, tuberculosis and parasite infections, compared to South Koreans. …”I don’t know what is happening in North Korea, but I found many parasites when examining other defectors,” Professor Seong Min of Dankook University Medical School was quoted by the Korea Biomedical Review as saying. …Parasites, especially worms, are thought to be widespread in North Korea.

Defectors have helped inform us about the horrors of that nation. Here are some blurbs from a Washington Post story.

When Kim Jong Un became the leader of North Korea almost six years ago, many North Koreans thought that their lives were going to improve. …But the “Great Successor,” as he is called by the regime, has turned out to be every bit as brutal as his father and grandfather before him. …The Washington Post talked with more than 25 North Koreans from different walks of life who lived in Kim Jong Un’s North Korea and managed to escape from it. …in talking about their personal experiences, including torture and the culture of surveillance, they recounted the hardships of daily life under Kim Jong Un’s regime. They paint a picture of a once-communist state that has all but broken down, its state-directed economy at a standstill. …In theory, North Korea is a bastion of socialism, a country where the state provides everything, including housing, health care, education and jobs. In reality, the state economy barely operates anymore. People work in factories and fields, but there is little for them to do, and they are paid almost nothing. …Bribery and corruption have become endemic… Those working only in official jobs, whether they be on a state-owned ostrich farm or in a government ministry in Pyongyang, earn only a few dollars a month and get little in the way of rations.

But it’s not just poverty and deprivation. There’s also Orwellian spying.

North Korea operates as a vast surveillance state, with a menacing state security department called the Bowibu as its backbone. Its agents are everywhere and operate with impunity. The regime also operates a kind of neighborhood watch system. Every district in every town or city is broken up into neighborhood groups of 30 or 40 households, each with a leader who is responsible for coordinating grass-roots surveillance and encouraging people to snitch.

And the government isn’t spying simply to take people’s money, an odious tactic in some western nations.

The North Korean government is spying to see who should be killed or imprisoned.

Both of those options are terrible since the concentration camps are particularly horrific.

Escapees from North Korea’s gruesome political prisons have recounted brutal treatment over the years, including medieval torture with shackles and fire and being forced to undergo abortions by the crudest methods. …severe beatings and certain kinds of torture — including being forced to remain in stress positions for crippling lengths of time — are commonplace throughout North Korea’s detention systems, as are public executions. …Starvation is often part of the punishment, even for children. [A] 16-year-old lost 13 pounds in prison, weighing only 88 pounds when she emerged. …It is this web of prisons and concentration camps, coupled with the threat of execution, that stops people from speaking up. There is no organized dissent in North Korea, no political opposition.

The only good news, so to speak, is that the article explains that a black market economy has emerged.

And that’s better than nothing, as Richard Mason explains in a column for the Foundation for Economic Education.

From the state’s formation in 1948 up until the end of the 20th century, things were (relatively) unchanging; all industries were seized by the government and nationalized, with basic necessities such as food, clothing, and fuel all being provided by the state. This all changed following the fall of communism and the ‘Arduous March’ famine of the 1990’s. With the state no longer able to feed its people, a new system stepped in to take over. Black markets began to appear all over the country, where the distribution system’s failure hit especially hard, and effectively fed thousands of North Koreans. …Initially, these markets consisted of disorganized traders meeting in fields, facing seizure from police if they did not come up with a bribe. Today, the jangmadang practice has led to fully-fledged markets, complete with stalls selling street food, smuggled electronics, ingredients, and clothes; certain markets allegedly grew to encompass upwards of a thousand stalls. …the markets remain a crucial element of survival for many North Koreans, with some reports estimating that around 5 million (around a fifth of the overall population) are “directly or indirectly dependent on the markets”. …The regime has flip-flopped between giving official sanction to certain vendors (so long as they pay the state for the privilege) and imposing harsh restrictions.

In addition to saving lives, these black markets may be sowing the seeds of future liberalization.

…the rising prevalence of jangmadangs across the country has not only provided an effective alternative to the failed state distribution system, but is changing the attitudes of North Koreans as well. Since many now rely on the market for their dinner, rather than the state, old loyalties to the regime are slowly breaking down. Furthermore, increased smuggling into the country from China brings with it more outside media, such as American and South Korean movies and music. This means that more and more North Koreans have access to information not produced by the regime, allowing them a glimpse into the outside world.

Let’s hope exposure to the real world will help North Koreans eventually obtain freedom. Or at least a lesser form of oppression.

As part of my series on the 100th anniversary of communist brutality, I mocked the dupes and fellow travelers who pimped for totalitarianism (including a few economists, I’m ashamed to admit).

But if there’s a special place in hell for communist apologists, it will be occupied by the disgusting people who laud North Korea’s supposed success in fighting obesity when in reality people have starved to death in that wretched land.

The hottest spot hopefully will be reserved for the World Health Organization bureaucrat who got the ball rolling a few years ago. The Wall Street Journal explains.

World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan has returned from Pyongyang with wonderful news. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is making great strides in health care… Thanks to on-the-spot guidance from Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, North Korean doctors…have even conquered the decadent West’s problem of obesity! …Ms. Chan’s surreal statements last Friday, as reported by several wire services, really did include praise for North Korean health care and the lack of obesity. “They have something which most other developing countries would envy,” the global health administrator gushed.

The editorial points out that the WHO and UN have a long track record of covering up for communist health failure.

…this is nothing new for the WHO. In the 1970s, the United Nations agency promoted Mao Zedong’s vision of “barefoot doctors” to serve the rural poor—even as China’s health-care system was collapsing, along with the rest of society, under the strain of the Cultural Revolution. Today the WHO has become a cheerleader for Cuban health care. As long as a totalitarian state gives plenty of poorly trained people the title of doctor, fudges its health statistics and takes visiting officials on tours of Potemkin hospitals, the U.N. seems happy to give its seal of approval.

I’m surprised the WHO hasn’t been celebrating weight loss in Venezuela, another nation where people go hungry because of the failure of socialism.

Being an Olympic medalist and aspiring politician must not be a good combination. Here are some excerpts from a searing column in the Washington Examiner.

Famine can do wonders for your figure. Are you struggling to shed those stubborn final pounds? Food shortages, vitamin deprivation, and government rationing will help you get over the wall. You may die from it, but the weight loss will make you look fabulous. At least, that’s the takeaway from a Sky News interview this week featuring double Olympic gold medalist James Cracknell, a member of the Conservative Party who has aspirations of becoming a member of the U.K. Parliament. “If you think of the two countries in the world that got a handle on obesity, what do you think they are? Which two countries?” Cracknell asked. …”North Korea and Cuba. They’re quite controlling on behavioral change, so there is a place where it has to be worked..,” One host interjected with some fairly important background information, “Yeah, but people are starving in North Korea, aren’t they? You know, they’re not obese because they haven’t got any food.” …Cosmopolitan said basically the same thing a few years ago when it praised the “Cuban diet.”

Wow, if a potential Tory politicians says something this morally blind, the crazy leftism of Jeremy Corbyn no longer seems so out of place. Heck, they both think the suffering in Cuba should be celebrated.

Let’s close on a very grim note. The communist dictator of North Korea now has nuclear weapons.

I hope that he’s not sufficiently suicidal to use those weapons, but it’s unclear whether he’s crazy or simply brutal.

Though even if he’s “only” brutal, maybe he would launch a warhead if his hold on power was threatened by internal rebellion.

If which case, the final outcome of such a decision would be a country that is unlit at night because it’s been obliterated rather than because it has a Stone Age economy (see postscript).

P.S. That’s such an unpleasant thought that I feel compelled to add some good news. First, it is possible for North Korea to prosper if it does peacefully transition to capitalism. Second, we can at least laugh at communism, even though that seems morbid given the death and suffering it has caused.

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Over the years, Barack Obama has made some statements that indicate a very statist worldview.

Now he may have added to that list. Check out this excerpt from a report in the Daily Caller.

President Barack Obama downplayed the differences between capitalism and communism, claiming that they are just “intellectual arguments.” …Obama said…”I think for your generation, you should be practical and just choose from what works.”

It’s hard to object to the notion that people should choose “what works,” so perhaps there’s not a specific quote that I can add to my collection. However, the President’s implication that there’s some kind of equivalence between capitalism and communism, which both systems having desirable features, is morally offensive. Sort of like saying that we should “choose from what works” in Hitler’s national socialism.

Communism is a disgusting system that butchered more than 100,000,000 people.

It is a system that leads to starvation and suffering.

Communism produces Nazi-level horrors of brutality.

So what exactly “works” in that system, Mr. President? If you watch Obama’s speech, you’ll notice there’s not a lot of substance. There is a bit of praise for Cuba’s decrepit government-run healthcare system (you can click here, here, and here if you want to learn why the system is horrifying and terrible for ordinary citizens). And he also seems to think it’s some sort of achievement that Cuba has schools.

So let’s take a closer look at what Cuba actually has to offer. Natalie Morales is a Cuban-American actor, writer, and filmmaker. Here’s some of what she wrote about her country and her relatives still trapped on the island.

…we send money, medicine or syringes for the diabetic aunt (since the hospital doesn’t have any unused disposable ones), baby clothes, adult clothes, shoes, or food… a doctor, a lawyer, or another similar profession that is considered to be high-earning everywhere else in the world will make about twenty to thirty dollars per month in Cuba. Yet shampoo at the store still costs three dollars. This is because everything is supposed to be rationed out to you, but the reality is that they’re always out of most things, and your designated ration is always meager. …if you’re a farmer and you’ve raised a cow, and you’re starving, and your family is also starving, and you decide to kill that cow and eat it? You’ll be put in jail for life. Because it’s not “your” cow, it’s everyone’s cow. That’s good ol’ Communism in practice.

Ms. Morales is especially irritated by Americans who fret that capitalism will “ruin” Cuba.

…picture me at any dinner party or Hollywood event or drugstore or press interview or pretty much any situation where someone who considers themselves “cultured” finds out I’m Cuban. I prepare myself for the seemingly unavoidable…“I have to go there before it’s ruined!”…I will say some version of this: “What exactly do you think will ruin Cuba? Running water? Available food? Freedom of speech? Uncontrolled media and Internet? Access to proper healthcare? You want to go to Cuba before the buildings get repaired? Before people can actually live off their wages? Or before the oppressive Communist regime is someday overthrown?”

Here’s more about Cuba’s communist paradise, including her observations of the healthcare system that Obama admires.

The very, very young girls prostituting themselves are not doing it because they can’t get enough of old Canadian men, but because it pays more than being a doctor does. Hospitals for regular Cuban citizens are not what Michael Moore showed you in Sicko. …That was a Communist hospital for members of the Party and for tourists… There are no janitors in the hospitals because it pays more money to steal janitorial supplies and sell them on the street than it does to actually have a job there. Therefore, the halls and rooms are covered in blood, urine, and feces, and you need to bring your own sheets, blankets, pillows, towels, and mattresses when you are admitted. Doctors have to reuse needles on patients. My mom’s aunt had a stroke and the doctor’s course of treatment was to “put her feet up and let the blood rush back to her head.”

She closes with a PG-13 request for idiotic westerners.

…for God’s sake, please don’t wear a fucking Che t-shirt.

Very well said.

By the way, none of this means we shouldn’t normalize relations with Cuba. There’s no longer a Soviet Union, so Cuba doesn’t represent a strategic threat. So, yes, relax restrictions on trade and travel, just like we have for China, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Russia, Venezuela, and other nations that have unsavory political systems.

But the opening of relations doesn’t mean we should pretend that other systems are somehow good or equivalent to capitalism and classical liberalism.

Let’s close by sharing some news from another garden spot of communism.

If North Korea’s reputation as a place of hunger, hardship and repression was not bad enough, scientists have now discovered that it is too grim even for vultures. …Eurasian black vultures are no longer bothering to stop over in North Korea as they fly from their breeding grounds in Mongolia to their winter homes in South Korea. They concluded that food is so short under the communist regime that even the world’s best-known carrion birds cannot feed themselves. …Lee Han Su, of the institute, said: “This seems to happen because in North Korea the vultures can barely find animal corpses, which are major food resources for them.” Under the draconian regime of Kim Jong Un the country is unable to feed itself. International aid agencies report chronic malnutrition in some regions. …wild animals face the risk of being eaten by people. Defectors describe how victims of the famine were driven to eat dogs, cats, rats, grasshoppers, dragonflies, sparrows and crows. Vultures, for the time being at least, are off the menu.

I’m not sure what American leftists will say we can learn from North Korea. Even PETA presumably won’t be happy that starving North Koreans are eating sparrows and grasshoppers.

The bottom line is that there is zero moral equivalence between communism and capitalism. The former is based on servility to the state and the latter is based on liberty.

But if you’re amoral and simply want to know what works, compare the performance of North Korea and South Korea. Or look at the difference between Cuba and Hong Kong.

Very compelling evidence.

But this isn’t an issue that should be decided on the basis of utilitarian comparisons. What should matter most is that communism is evil.

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One of my goals is to convince people that even small differences in long-run growth can have a powerful impact on living standards and societal prosperity.

In other words, the economy is not a fixed pie. The right policies, such as free markets and small government, can create a better life for everybody.

And bad policy, needless to say, can have the opposite impact.

Very few people realize, for instance, that Argentina was one of the world’s 10-richest nations at the end of World War II, but interventionist policies have weakened growth and caused the country to plummet in the rankings.

Hong Kong, by contrast, had a relatively poor economy at the end of the war, but now is one of the globe’s most prosperous jurisdictions.

If you want more examples, check out this chart showing how North Korea and South Korea have diverged over time.

Or how about the chart showing how Chile has out-performed other major Latin American economies.

This comparison of living standards in the United States and Europe also is very compelling.

Here’s a simple guide to highlight the difference between weak growth and strong growth. It shows how long it takes a nation to double economic output depending on annual growth.

As you can see, a nation with 1 percent growth (think Italy) will have to wait 70 years before the economic pie doubles in size.

But a nation that grows 4 percent or faster each year (think Singapore) will double GDP in less than 20 years.

Years to Double GDP

So why am I plowing through all this material?

My answer is simple, but depressing. I’m worried that the United States is becoming more like Europe. During the Bush-Obama years, we’ve seen big increases in the size and scope of government, and it’s no surprise that we’re now suffering from anemic economic performance.

That’s the first point I made in this interview with Michelle Fields of PJTV.

Much of the material in the interview will be familiar to regular readers, but a few points deserve some emphasis.

I say that America becoming more like Europe isn’t the end of the world, but I should elaborate. What I meant is that we can survive 2 percent growth instead of 3 percent growth. We could even survive 1 percent growth.

But if we continue on the current path of ever-growing government and combine that with an aging population and poorly designed entitlement programs, then we will see the end of the world. At least in the sense of fiscal crisis and economic collapse.

All the points I make about jobs, employment, labor force participation, unemployment insurance and disability are simply different ways of saying that it’s not good for the economy when politicians continuously make dependency more attractive than work.

If you want to know more about why the so-called stimulus was a failure, my article in The Federalist is a nice place to start.

The libertarian fantasy world of a small central government is a very good goal, but it’s still possible to make significant progress if politicians follow Mitchell’s Golden Rule.

P.S. You may recognize the host because she narrated a very good video for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. Michelle explained how the big-government policies of Hoover and Roosevelt deepened and extended the Great Depression.

She also exposed rich leftists as complete hypocrites in this interview.

P.P.S. Since I mentioned above that South Korea has far surpassed North Korea, I should share this powerful nighttime picture of the Korean peninsula.

North Korea v South Korea

Gee, maybe capitalism is better than statism after all.

Unless, of course, you think there’s something really nice about North Korea to offset South Korea’s economic advantages.

Such as malnutrition or enslavement. Or a small carbon footprint, which led some nutjobs to rank Cuba far above America.

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I spoke earlier today at the 2013 Liberty Conference in Lausanne, Switzerland. But I don’t think anybody is going to remember my speech about the collapse of the welfare state, even though I presented lots of powerful data from the BIS, OECD, and IMF, and also shared a very funny cartoon showing what happens when there’s nothing left for interest groups to steal.

Escaped the North Korean gulag

At a normal conference, my remarks may have resonated, but I freely admit that I was completely overshadowed by the presentation of Shin Dong-Hyuk, who is the only person to have successfully escaped from the North Korean gulag.

In the future, if I ever get discouraged and think the fight for freedom is too difficult, I will watch this video and realize that nothing in my life will ever compare to the horror of living under communism. It’s not nearly as powerful as today’s first-person presentation, but the video will give you some sense of the utter barbarity of the North Korean government.

If you want more information, here is his Wikipedia entry, but I also suggest you watch this short speech by Blaine Harden, a journalist who wrote the story of Shin’s escape.

Keep in mind, by the way, that North Korea is an awful and repressive country even for the people who aren’t in the gulags. Malnutrition is such a problem, for instance, that children are stunted and the North Korean army had to lower its requirements to allow soldiers as short as 4’8″.

So perhaps now you understand why I get so upset when people in the west glorify communist thugs such as Che Guevara, or use the Soviet hammer and sickle as a cutesy marketing gimmick.

I hope nobody would ever think to wear a Hermann Göring t-shirt or use the swastika in a value-neutral fashion, so why should it be okay to whitewash and/or rehabilitate communists?

P.S. I was never a fan of former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, but he deserves lasting applause for seeking to protect children from the anti-western, soft-on-communism crap published by the late historian Howard Zinn.

P.P.S. Since today’s post is about a very dour topic, let’s close with a bit of humor about  the communist version of efficiency.

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One hopes that the dictator of North Korea suffered greatly before he died. After all, his totalitarian and communist (pardon the redundancy) policies caused untold death and misery.

But let’s try to learn an economics lesson. In a previous post, I compared  long-term growth in Hong Kong and Argentina to show the difference between capitalism and cronyism.

But for a much more dramatic comparison, look at the difference between North Korea and South Korea. Hmmm…, I wonder if we can conclude that markets are better than statism?

And if you like these types of comparisons, here’s a post showing how Singapore has caught up with the United States. And here’s another comparing what’s happened in the past 30 years in Chile, Argentina, and Venezuela.

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I was planning on concentrating solely on the debacle in Greece today, but (thanks to Pejman Yousefzadeh’s twitter feed) I saw a blog post about a story that is beyond disgusting.

I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so I’ll merely say that it is horrifying that American taxpayers are financing more than 20 percent of the budget for the organization employing the amoral slug quoted in the Washington Post report.

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