"New employee" Casey Lartigue

I just got a double hit in the Korea Herald

The roundtable discussion I organized featuring Andrei Lankov got quite a bit of media coverage by the Korean press. Here's the text of a Korea Herald article. As the host of the event, I had many considerations.
1) Three different speakers who all have a lot to say about North Korea
2) More people than I expected showed up.
3) Keeping the spirit of a "roundtable discussion" while having a lecture from Lankov and discussion with special guests invited.


The Korea Herald followed up with a nice little article about our rap video.

The Korea Herald, September 29, 2011

Signs of market economy in N.K. emerging: expert

A market economy and new business class have emerged in North Korea since the 1990s even though their government will not acknowledge it publicly, a panel of experts said Wednesday.

Speaking at a luncheon hosted by the Center for Free Enterprise in Yeouido, Seoul, professor Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University said that the populace was forced into adapting to a new market economy after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Following the collapse of its main benefactor, there are sources that suggest that the North's industrial output was halved by 2000 compared to what it had been in 1990, and that half a million to 1 million North Koreans perished, he said.

Unlike in former communist countries where the government chose to adopt capitalism or the people demanded it, "in North Korea it was just a way to stay alive," he said.

"Only top officials survive on salary," he added.

Walter Klitz of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty said that in his periodic visits to North Korea he has seen the effects of the new market economy on the populace, as those in some rural areas of the nation are relatively well off.

"They don't have a food problem, they have a distribution problem," he said. Furthermore, he has witnessed traffic jams in urban areas apparently spurred by increased economic activity, something unheard of just a few years ago.

This also indicates that sanctions imposed on the North have been bypassed, particularly through increased investments from China.

The increase in this market activity, however, does not mean that the nation is no longer a planned economy, as the main institutions are still in place, they said. For example, laws against activities such as traveling outside of one's home county or exchanging foreign currency are no longer enforced.

The North Korean government attempts to contain such market activity, but no longer attempts to clamp down on it since the botched currency reform of late 2009, Lankov said.

Furthermore, the presence of this new business class ¡ª primarily made up of women because men are required to keep up appearances at their state-approved jobs ¡ª does not mean the nation is more prepared for reunification than before. Lankov said that North Koreans who have succeeded in business would likely be swamped by competition for the South, and much of the nation would form a "permanent underclass" should unification take place.

"You would see much of North Koreans disadvantaged and never recover," he said.

After each member of the panel made their remarks, they took questions from guests, with many questions relating to the succession process from current leader Kim Jong-il to his son and heir apparent Kim Jong-un.

Lankov said that he does not like to talk about succession often.

"I don't know anything about Kim Jong-un, period," he said. Whether or not he is more reform-minded than his father or grandfather, though, may not matter.

"His logic ¡¦ will be much more defined by the political situation than by his own inclinations," he said.

Another panel member was Donald Kirk, Korea correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor. In response to a question comparing the unification of the two Koreas to East and West Germany in 1990, Kirk called a comparison between North Korea and East Germany "fallacious."

"East Germany was the most powerful economy in Eastern Europe," he said. "It was not a starving country. It was certainly not a failed state."

By Rob York (rjamesyork@heraldm.com)
This article was originally published in the Korea Herald on September 29, 2011.

Rap gets down to business

2011-09-29 20:05

Complex economic arguments such as the appropriate role of government in the economy are likely to be met with groans of boredom by many outside business and politics.

But one Seoul-based fee market think tank is seeking to change that and get people thinking about economics ¡ª by rapping about it.

"We Can Do It," a rap battle tackling the question of whether the government should protect small businesses from bigger players, is the Center for Free Enterprise's latest endeavor to bring economic issues to unlikely audiences.

"For us, why not try something different? Companies must always innovate, try different things, so the same thing is true with us," CFE head Kim Chung-ho told The Korea Herald.

"We will still mainly focus on research, writing, events, this is just an added feature. A rap battle seemed to be a good way to present both sides of this debate over the role of government and political intervention into the marketplace."
Kim Chung-ho (right) and Kim Mun-kyung go head-to-head over the government and small business. (CFE)

In the video, the think tank's second through rap, pro-free market Kim faces off with Soongsil University Professor Kim Mun-kyung, whose rhyming skills are put to the test in defense of small business.

A "Fail Harder" sign Kim had seen at Facebook's head office in California last year had inspired him to be daring with education when new employee Casey Lartigue Jr. directed Kim to a rap video from his native U.S.

The video, pitting fictional representations of economists Friedrich Hayek and John Maynard Keynes against each other, inspired the CFE's first foray into music, "More Grasshoppers than Ants." Before long, a second video was in the works.

"At many companies, the boss is in charge. At CFE, whenever we want to do something new, he (Kim) says, `yes, let's make it big!' We have no excuses here, we have a boss who sets the kind of atmosphere that makes it okay to try and to have no shame if we fail," said Lartigue.

For Kim, if their dalliance with a genre more readily associated with guns and girls encourages people to take themselves a little less seriously and have some fun, so much the better.

"I hope people won't think it is crazy to have some 50-plus-year-old guys rapping and jumping around. We are amateurs at this, but we hope it can even be inspirational for people who feel restricted by social pressure to stop having fun once they become `adults.'"

You can watch "We Can Do It" on www.eng.cfe.org or Youtube.

By John Power (john.power@heraldm.com)

This article originally appeared in the Korea Herald on September 30, 2011.