Chang Ha-Joon's foolish consistency (Korea Times, January 1, 2013)

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

Is the sky blue? Is the ocean water? If you suspect those are trick questions, you are right.

The sky isn’t always blue ― it is reddish at sunset, dark at midnight, gray on an overcast day. The ocean isn’t water ― there’s also fish, plant life, submarines, dissolved minerals, surfboards, sunken ships, even people swimming in it sometimes.

As Hoover Institution scholar Thomas Sowell wrote in his 1996 book ``The Vision of the Anointed,” people who use “all-or-nothing” reasoning can deny a statement because it is not 100 percent true in every circumstance. Such word games might be fun for college students or debaters, but there are some distinguished people who are respected for making such childish arguments about serious issues.

In his book ``23 Things They Don’t Tell you About Capitalism,” Cambridge University economist Chang Ha-Joon argues that 1) “[T]here is really no such thing as a free market” and 2) “The free market doesn’t exist.” His main reasoning: “Every market has some rules and boundaries that restrict freedom of choice.”

As Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82) wrote: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Journalists, intellectuals, activists ― even the president of a country ― adore Chang’s all-or-nothing reasoning word games. But instead of dismissing Chang’s foolish consistency, let’s play along and apply it to other parts of life.

Is there such a thing as live radio? No, using Chang’s all-or-nothing reasoning, because of the slight delay of live material on the radio. Is there such a thing as “Fair Trade”? No, because many trades are deemed to be “unfair,” especially if big business or foreigners are involved. Is anyone really free? No, because there are stoplights or police officers stopping us at times. Is there such a thing as “my money”? No, because the government can confiscate my wealth. The “all-or-nothing” word games are endless, only limited by the creativity of the fertile human brain.

Chang says that there is no such thing as a free market because of rules, even though free market advocates and classical liberals from John Locke (17th century), Frederick Bastiat (19th century), Frederick Hayek (20th century), and Milton Friedman to contemporary scholars David Boaz, Tom G. Palmer, Don Boudreaux, Walter E. Williams, have been saying that the rule of law is the basis of a free society and free economy. In the case of Bastiat, he titled his 1850 book ``The Law.” Note to Chang: Bastiat didn’t title it “No Laws.”

Chang has deep knowledge of economic history, but when he waters down his writing for mainstream readers, he does so by citing extreme statements or off-the-cuff remarks from politicians like Sarah Palin or George W. Bush to build his case for larger government.

To be clear, there has yet to be a purely laissez-faire economy in existence—mainly because of the types of government interventions like trade protectionism and crony capitalism that Chang supports. But that’s different from Chang’s strawman that the free market is an “illusion,” that there is no such thing as a free market because there are any rules at all. The difference between the two points, to borrow from Mark Twain, is the “difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Among his many reasoning flaws, perhaps Chang will correct his most obvious errors in a revised edition of the book. After all, how can “free-market ideology” be responsible for economic problems since the 1980s, as Chang alleges, if there is no such thing as a free market? How can something that doesn’t exist be responsible for world-wide problems? Perhaps Chang’s next book should be titled, The Sky That Doesn’t Exist Is Blue.

Casey Lartigue, Jr., is a visiting scholar at the Liberty Society in Seoul. He can be reached at cjl@post.harvard.edu
Korea Times link, CafeHayek
Response in the Korea Times

Casey Lartigue a guest on TBS eFM 101.3 from 7:40 a.m.

I'm scheduled to be a guest on TBS eFM 101.3 January 1 from 7:40 a.m. You can listen live on a regular radio or online. It is live radio so things can always change. I recommend using Microsoft Internet Explorer with the radio player. Also, if you want to listen, test it around 7:30 am so you have time to figure out it in case there is a problem, don't wait until 7:39 a.m.

The main topic will be about North Korean refugees.

Here's the school address::

(Korea) Standard Chartered Bank 364 20 030012
Recipient name: Mulmangcho 

For international donations:
Standard Chartered Bank Korea LTD.
Swiftcode: SCBKRSE. 
Branch  code: 233644 

In studio with North Korean refugee Lee Seongmin and "This Morning" host Alex Jensen.


At the TBS twitter feed.


Why I won't go to North Korea (Korea Times, December 27, 2012)

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

“Have you ever been to North Korea?” This is the question I am almost always asked here in South Korea when people learn that I have become an activist for North Korean escapees. My response is curt: “No.” “Do you plan on going?” they ask next. My answer remains the same: “No.” When they start to ask a follow-up question, I cut them off: "No."

People are often just trying to make conversation, I know, but I am blunt for a reason: I am not interested in going to North Korea as long as North Koreans are held captive. I could go one day, but for now, I can do without a government-guided tour by "men-stealers and women-whippers," to borrow a phrase from American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. I don’t mean to criticize people who have gone to North Korea for political, educational, business, religious reasons or just plain curiosity.

However, some people push me on the issue, ― and I push back. A good friend who visited North Korea five years ago insists that I am missing out by not going. During the conversation, I asked her how much it cost her to go to North Korea. More than 2 million won for four days, she said.

The number stung when I heard it. Peter Jung of Justice for North Korea (JFNK) recently told me that it costs his organization about 2.3 million won to rescue a North Korean trying to get out of China. Sokeel Park of Liberty in North Korea (LINK) told me that it cost the organization about $2,500 to do the same. Other organizations have quoted similar costs (for brokers, direct assistance for escapees, bribes).

My friend is a smart lady who is committed to helping North Korean refugees as well as improving human rights in North Korea, so this is not a slap at her. She was devoted to these issues well before I was even aware of them. She says that the trip to North Korea inspired her to work even harder against North Korea. Everyone can be inspired by different things, so I didn’t mean to discourage her. But I did ask: Do you think that everyone had to personally visit the American South during the 1850s in order to fight against slavery?

People can be inspired by many things. In what may be an apocryphal story from the American Civil War (1861-65), President Abraham Lincoln allegedly spoke to Harriet Beecher Stowe about her 1852 novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” about the brutality of American slavery: “So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this Great War!” During the 1960s, the scenes of non-violent civil rights protesters getting attacked by mobs appealed to a need for justice among Americans that led to legislation.

Activists and organizations share videos, photos, and stories about injustice around the world to move others to action. Some South Koreans interested in North Korean issues are inspired by personal connections, some for ideological reasons, and others by dreams of reunification. Some simply despise the North Korean crime family that has ruled the country since 1945. I don’t expect everyone to have the same reasons for assisting North Korean escapees. I welcome them all to my side, and perhaps the reverse is true.

However, I still won’t feel any desire to visit North Korea until people there are free to leave whenever they choose. Unification and North Korea’s nukes are important, but I rarely read about them without yawning. I’m not interested in seeing photos or videos from North Korea ― I want to send videos and texts to North Koreans held captive to inform them about the world. I won't go to North Korea until people there are not prevented from leaving.

The writer is the international adviser to the Mulmangcho School for North Korean Refugee Children in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province, and a member of the board of trustees of the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at cjl@post.harvard.edu.

Original Korea Times link


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South Korea needs a president ready to work with the National Assembly for the next five years.


Comments on discussion of Korea: The Impossible Country

Yesterday I attended Daniel Tudor’s discussion about his book Korea: The Impossible Country. It was a pleasant event hosted by Barry Welsh of 10 Magazine. I haven’t read Mr. Tudor’s book so my points are based on what he said yesterday. I recognize that 1) many authors are more eloquent and thoughtful in text than in off-the-cuff discussions and 2) it is better to read the book, so I am being clear that my comments are in response to what he said yesterday.
My main criticisms and comments:

1) Like Andrew Salmon and others, Mr. Tudor makes the comparison of chaebol with government. Mr. Salmon even compares the sons and daughters of the Korean chaebol with the children of the rulers of North Korea, I don't recall now if Mr. Tudor did the same. That example…I don’t know why people think there is anything witty, profound or logical with comparing the sons and daughters of business people in a democratic country with criminals in a totalitarian country using the force of blunt political power to oppress people. In America, people also make a similar comparison between big business and government, so this is not just a slap at people here making the comparison, I'm sure the point is made around the world.
A.   I have yet to hear about a businessman arresting anyone. Samsung and Apple have “market power” granted to them by consumers, but they don't have police power. They need government for that. And government does often abuse its power to grant economic privileges to companies through crony capitalism.

B.   If you think big business has the same power that government does, then look at how quickly business people get in line when government targets them. Even Bill Gates hustled to Washington when the federal government targeted Microsoft during its heyday with possibly violating anti-trust laws.

C.   Parenthetically, I’ve heard some South Korean progressives compare  Park Geun-hye to her father (Park Chung-hee, dictator of South Korea from 1961-79). Lee Jung-hee, the progressive who just dropped out of the race, said a similar thing. The fact that she was participating in a debate should have been proof that her statement was nonsense—during Park Chung-hee’s reign, I doubt there there were presidential debates before he suspended the constitution and canceled elections in 1972 and she would have been under house arrest if not executed if she criticized him the way she has been criticizing his daughter.

2) Mr. Tudor strongly stated more than once that he is critical of the chaebol and said he was “in favor” of punishing chaebol behavior, such as price fixing, circular trading.
A.   I am for competition, not particular competitors. Like Mr. Tudor and others, I am also suspicious of chaebol, but instead of such “punishment,” I support eliminating subsidies, tax breaks, and favoritism for business. There may be occasional exceptions, but they would be few and far between, with clear sunset deadlines, and such strict scrutiny that most business people wouldn't bother trying to get the exemption. 

B.   To truly "punish" chaebol, I’d suggest unlimited free trade. Any power that any company has would be undercut by having competitors from around the world. In my experience, most of the same people criticizing big business for having too much power are also opposed to allowing in more competitors.

3)  Mr. Tudor stated that “welfare populism” has some ‘policies that can help the economy.’
A.   Many South Korean progressives I've talked to point to the case of Sweden as the model. What I have noticed is that those people want Sweden’s socialism (welfare state, high taxes) but not its capitalism (unlimited free trade, wide-open free market).

B.   “Economic democratization” is a vague word like “fair” that sets the stage for a lot of political mischief. For example, in the name of “economic democratization,” regional governments across South Korea have mandated that large grocery stores shut down every Sunday, the national government is still trying to block some businesses from entering some sectors in order to protect mom-and-pop stores and has also tried to force businesses to share their profits with others. 

C.  So that means that good-natured and well-intentioned people like Mr. Tudor will look at policies that look reasonable, then a few years later they will be writing articles about the failures that were predictable from the start.  

4)  Mr. Tudor stated that North Korea is more capitalist than South Korea. 
A.   I heard a North Korean refugee say the same thing at a conference last year. Another questioner beat me to the punch by asking him to elaborate, the North Korean refugee then pointed out that he had to apply for various licenses, pay health care taxes and a host of other things imposed by the various levels of South Korean government, whereas in North Korea, pretty much everything is illegal but people just need to bribe someone to get into business. 
B.   Lawlessness is not the same as capitalism. It isn’t surprising Mr. Tudor would state that North Korea is more capitalist considering that his good friend Chang Ha-Joon holds the incredibly stupid position that there is no such thing as a free market and that the free market doesn’t exist because there are regulations on it. Having said that, I do have many criticisms of too much government intervention into the economy. 

Lotte Mysuper forced to shut down every other Sunday by the Seoul city government, in the name of economic democratization.


To be a good volunteer, use your brain (Korea Times, December 5, 2012)

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

There is probably an unwritten rule that a celebrity offering to do volunteer work for a good cause should immediately be embraced. Well, that’s not what happened to Jeong So-dam, the glamorous Korean cable TV announcer when our paths crossed on Nov. 29.

Ms. Jeong was the MC of an event about American political philosophy hosted by the Association for Economic Evolution. During my speech about American libertarianism since 1940, I discussed my volunteer work for North Korean refugees. After the speech, Jeong approached me, asking how she could help.

I gave her the same tough love I give to potential volunteers by asking: “Who are you?” After all, if you are Bill Gates, then open your wallet. If you speak four languages, then help with translation work.

So I first stress to potential volunteers: Use your brain. Tell us about your skills and interests so together we can figure out your initial role.  Jeong was good-natured about it, rather than calling security to have me escorted out, first saying she could teach Korean and offer emotional support.

Still probing, I asked her, “What do you like to do?” She thoughtfully listed a few things, then she enthusiastically mentioned that she loved making furniture. She pulled out her phone, proudly showing off photos of furniture she had personally made. With her enthusiasm and kind-heart, I am confident the students will be inspired by her.

I then pushed Jeong on the second thing I tell potential volunteers: Make a commitment. I encourage volunteers to get a host of experiences but to settle on one organization. Some youngsters ― especially Korean students building up their “spec” ― bounce around from soup kitchens, senior citizen centers, orphanages.

All are wonderful but it is hard for them to plan around volunteers who drop in whenever they feel like it. For volunteers, that is not a good way to learn lessons, build up real skills or be an effective volunteer. Jeong committed to volunteer for the school for at least three months even after I warned her that it would take at least two hours in each direction.

Third, as I said at fundraisers for an alternative school for North Korean refugee children: Be strategic about volunteering. When I was an education policy analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., I also volunteered with the group DC Parents for School Choice, was a young executive network member of the Washington Scholarship Fund and a board member of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. I was helping educational freedom, especially for low-income families, both at work and volunteer activities.

I ran into a brick wall when I decided to get involved with North Korean refugees. This wasn’t just about debating the president of the board of education ― it is dealing with escapees from a totalitarian country that baffles even world leaders. I took my own advice.

The center of my activity is now Mulmangcho (www.mulmangcho.org) in Yeoju. It is a small alternative school for North Korean children founded by Park Sun-young, the former National Assembly member who is a leading advocate for North Korean refugees. I first met Park back in March when she was holding a hunger strike in front of the Chinese embassy protesting the forced repatriation of North Korean escapees from China to North Korea. After protesting together in both Seoul and Washington D.C., I committed to helping the school she said she was starting.

After I finished my speeches at fundraisers last November 20 and 21 for the school (we raised 1.5 million won and collected more than 1,000 donated items), several potential volunteers approached me. Each of them started the conversation by saying, ``Okay, I won’t ask you how I can help. Here’s what I can do.” A few days later, I had 24 volunteers ready to start immediately, to teach 11 students. Jeong promises to join us.

The writer is a member of the board of trustees of the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association in Washington, D.C., the accountability supervisor of NK Hub in Seoul, and the international cooperation adviser to the Mulmangcho School for North Korean refugee children in Yeoju. His email address is cjl@post.harvard.edu.

The Korea Times,