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Ron Nehring

North Korea: Occupy’s Paradise?

With the passing of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, the country occupying the northern portion of the Korean Peninsula is back in the news.  As if to make sure the rest of the world noticed the country as its “dear” leader departed, the People’s Army fired a short range missile into the ocean within hours his death.

Does the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (as the North Koreans leaders like to call their country) have much in common with today’s other major news item, the “Occupy” movement?

CAPITALISM. Today’s Occupy movement rails against capitalism in general and “greedy corporations” in particular.  Not a lot of capitalism in North Korea, and the only corporations are owned by the government (“the people”).

FREE TRADE. Ports have been a target of the Occupiers, particularly in Oakland where the protesters “succeeded” in disrupting port operations and with it the jobs of the unionized port workers, all of whom would be considered part of the “99%.”  North Korea doesn’t have much need for commercial ports, except for the occasional import of food (its people are starving), and exporting weapons and nuclear materials to countries like Syria.  In fact, the philosophy of Kim Jong Il and his father Kim Il Sung, “Juche,” or “self-reliance,” is rooted in an anti-trade philosophy.

WEALTH DISTRIBUTION. In the Occupy mindset, wealth isn’t created — it’s “distributed,” and in free market economies the wealth is not “distributed” properly.  North Korea doesn’t have such problems, as workers are all treated equally, and although poverty is widespread, at least it’s “fair.”

But it isn’t.  The capital of Pyongyang is built as a showpiece for foreigners.  Only the privileged (those favored by the government) are permitted to live in the city.  The elderly and those with physical or mental challenges, are mostly excluded, with those few who do live in the city kept off the streets where someone may see them.  Foreign visitors are carefully watched over and only permitted to see what the government wants them to see in the Truman-Show-On-Acid gulag that is Pyongyang.  Widespread starvation and malnutrition is common in the country’s rural areas, rarely seen by outsiders.

Related topic: GAP BETWEEN RICH AND POOR. Leftists have used this metric in their indictment of economic freedom for some time. Yet, to argue this gap is the best indicator of prosperity is to also argue that it is acceptable for the poor to become poorer if concurrently the rich become much less rich.  (Watch Margret Thatcher powerfully make this argument in her final speech to parliament as Prime Minister).  North Korea has closed the gap between rich and poor brilliantly: there is no 1% – everyone lives well below acceptable Western standards.  (Kim Jong Il granted himself a waiver, however, and became one of the world’s largest consumers of fine western cognac and other luxury goods smuggled into the impoverished country).

PROPERTY RIGHTS. Redistribution of wealth is antithetical to property rights, so the Occupy movement and North Korea’s communists share a similar lack of respect for private property.  North Korea addressed this “problem” by eliminating private property altogether, and with it any reward for innovation, productivity, or improving the lives of others.

Combined with a paranoid government, the lack of any property rights yields some rather bizarre stories.  Following an attempted assassination of the Dear Leader using a bomb that was triggered by a cell phone, the government responded by confiscating every cell phone in the country (the few that existed, of course).

ENERGY. The United States runs on “dirty” energy produced by big greedy companies, according to our Occupiers, and more must be done to combat “global warming,” or as it is now called in the wake of no rise in temperatures in the last decade, “climate change.”   North Korea doesn’t have a “green” energy policy.  They went one better – with a “no” energy policy (which makes it pretty easy to comply with Kyoto Protocol emissions targets.  North Korea signed the Kyoto treaty in 2005).  The nearby nighttime photo of the Korean Peninsula makes the point.

STUDENT LOANS. This has been a major concern for some Occupy protestors, who make the argument people should not have to repay money they borrow, even if it’s borrowed from the government at subsidized rates (meaning costs are offset by federal taxpayers).  North Korea is similarly concerned about the inequality posed by student loans.  This problem was solved by not having many students, limited opportunities for higher education that is restricted to members of the ruling elite, and definitely no study abroad programs.  Problem solved.

SENSE OF HUMOR. Forget all the common hatred of capitalism, where these two groups really come together is a lack of any sense of humor whatsoever.  The Occupiers – those guys are really, really mad about something, even if they’re not sure what.  Meanwhile, the North Korean leadership has to be the grumpiest bunch in the United Nations, and that’s not an easy title to earn with all the competition from Tehran and Havana for shrill language.  The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) regularly calls enemies of the regime “human scum” – and that’s when they’re in a good mood.

NOBODY’S PERFECT.  Alas, no country can be a perfect worker’s paradise, so the Occupy movement parts with their fellow egalitarians in North Korea over the military.  There’s no way around it: North Korea has a big one – one of the largest in the world both in terms of GDP consumption and number of soldiers in uniform as a percentage of the population.  Granted, they use 1960’s era equipment and have to steal technology from other countries (“Juche” philosophy notwithstanding), but they make up for it somewhat with quantity.  The country possesses enough artillery pieces to level the nearby South Korean capital of Seoul in a matter of hours.

The North’s leaders justify their massive military by claiming they need it to protect themselves from the evil Americans and Japanese, and their “puppets” in South Korea.  This may earn them a waiver from the Occupiers because their military is, after all, America’s fault.

Speaking of South Korea:  How do the South’s “99%” fare, burdened with evil capitalism and big greedy corporations, compared to their counterparts in the “worker’s paradise” to the North?  South Korean young people are on average more than two inches taller due to widespread malnutrition in the North.  South Koreans are among the most wired and best educated people in the world, while technology is non-existent in the North and education is poor and often consists mainly of political indoctrination.  GDP per capita in the South is approximately $20,000, while in the North it is about $1,200, per year.

Given the inequality on the Korean peninsula, and the North not receiving its “fair share,” is it time for an Occupy South Korea?  Interestingly, North Korea is way ahead of the curve on this idea, as the South has found the North building invasion tunnels under the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) since 1974.

Margaret Thatcher correctly observed that “the problem with Socialism is you eventually run out of other people’s money.”  North Korea, by taking socialism to level of purity seen nowhere else in the world, illustrates Thatcher’s point, and the fallacy of the economic arguments made by today’s Occupiers.