How exactly should the West “rethink”

I’m not quite sure how to take these comments by Gareth Morgan – once they’ve written up some more details of their experience they will likely point out that they are talking about the individuals and communities in North Korea.  In this way they will be talking about the amazing way these people are trying to work through hardship – something that doesn’t get enough play in the West.  And I appreciate that.

However, what they’ve decided to say in this brief post was one of the clearest example of beating on the West because it is fashionable – there is a line between showing a respect for those who are struggling, and trying to switch the blame away from a corrupt regime and onto everyone else:

What they found surprised them – a people who were poor, yes, but wonderfully engaged, well-dressed, fully employed and well informed. In Gareth’s view, what North Korea has achieved economically despite its lack of access to international money has been magnificent.

Surely they read through this passage before stating it.  Praising the economic policies of North Korea, the same North Korea that through central planning and mismanagement had starved a large number of its people throughout the 1990s, the same North Korea with an epidemic of meth addiction, the same North Korea that is 163rd on GDP per capita (5.9% of NZ levels), and the same North Korea that openly and massively restricts individual freedoms (disrespecting the heterogeneity of individuals) and constantly threatens war with the South.

Yes, the North Korean situation is more complicated than we often hear, the choices of South Korea (which was long a military dictatorship) are far from innocent, and I have no doubt that many North Koreans are trying to live their life with pride and dignity.  But then trying to blame the rest of the world for this (which is how these comments read) – I’m sorry Gareth but that is a massive step too far.

I like the fact you try to make us think, and that you are willing to take contrarian positions.  But these comments come across like support from a corrupt and frankly immoral regime – and I’m just noting it how I see it.

Sidenote: I struggle note to read this with a furrowed brow.  Most of the concerns about income inequality stem from the idea that the “relative poverty matters” because of competition for status/Veblen goods.  Such as the quality of clothing thanks to local screen printing companies.  Mentioning how well they dress implies there is competition for status goods, and given the low calorie intake of many in the country this is in itself a concern.

We may say “ahh, that was just the people Gareth met on his tour, it isn’t representative” – in which case this is just a biased sample in the first place, which wouldn’t be surprising given government guidance …. hmmmm.

4 replies
  1. Paul Walker
    Paul Walker says:

    Fully employed but poor, What is the point of the employment? If you are poor despite being “fully employed” then there is something wrong with the employment. And one has to ask, “well informed” about what? The North Korean standard of living compared to the South? And what has the North achieved economically? I’m not sure a massive famine counts. This all sounds very strange.

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