Helping North Koreans 'strike the blow' (Korea Times)

Have you ever engaged in action not because you were sure it would change the world, but to satisfy your own heart? That, I emailed to an American friend, is why I have joined the effort to help North Koreans who are trying to escape from their homeland.

I can’t change the direction of policy in North Korea or China but I can row the boat I am sitting in rather than lamenting that I can’t steer the yachts somewhere else. So I have tried to do what I can: Attending protests in front of the Chinese embassy in Seoul (and I plan to do so when I visit America in April); donating money to the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (www.nkhumanrights.or.kr); educating myself, writing articles and emailing friends; and, as a member of the board of trustees, I recently submitted a resolution to the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association (FDMHA) in Washington, D.C., to try to call attention to the plight of North Koreans.

Our organization’s mission is to preserve the legacy of Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), a runaway slave who later became an outspoken abolitionist and human rights advocate who fought government oppression during his lifetime. It was in this atmosphere that Douglass spoke at an event in Boston in 1869, arguing in favor of continued Chinese immigration to America. It certainly was not a popular opinion (in 1882, the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act). Douglass spoke movingly of the “right of locomotion” of individuals seeking liberty of movement.

The key paragraph for me occurs when Douglass argued in favor of human rights, saying that the question of Chinese immigration “should be settled upon higher principles than those of a cold and selfish expediency.”
Douglass argued that “there are such things in the world as human rights” which are “external, universal, and indestructible,” which “belongs to no particular race, but belongs alike to all and to all alike.” His focus on human rights is a reason I proposed the resolution in order to connect Douglass to the plight of North Koreans seeking to escape to freedom and from oppression.

It has been exhilarating meeting people who have actually risked their lives to escape to freedom I take for granted. Escapees from North Korea must remain in hiding for fear of retribution against their families. They still cannot write the type of letter Douglass wrote on the 10th anniversary of his escape from his former slave owner, “In leaving you, I took nothing but what belonged to me, and in no way lessened your means for obtaining an honest living,” concluding his letter, “I am your fellow man, but not your slave.”

One of Douglass’ favorite quotes was from Lord Byron: “Hereditary bondmen, know ye not, Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow?” Those escapees from North Korea have struck the first blow. Many others have tried to free themselves but are victims of North Korea and China working in cahoots to engage in “man-stealing,” to borrow a phrase from American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.

You may not change the world immediately but you can attend protests, give money to organizations helping those trying to escape, or get organizations you participate in to be involved. It may not make a change immediately, but I doubt that Frederick Douglass thought his words in 1869 could inspire an American in South Korea in the year 2012.

The writer is director for international relations at the Center for Free Enterprise in Seoul and a member of the board of trustees of the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association in Washington, D.C. He blogs at www.cfekorea.com and http://eng.cfe.org.

This article originally appeared in the Korea Times on March 22, 2012.

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Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell

Thanks to Thomas Sowell's publicist, I just received a copy of Sowell's revised and updated Intellectuals and Society. 669 pages, so it might be some time before I get around to doing a review. Below is a photo I took with him back in 1999 when I met him. I told him that when I switched my ideology from socialism that friends and I dubbed ourselves "Sowell Brothers."

Keynote address to Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association (2003)

Parents: Save Yourselves and Your Children

by Casey Lartigue

This article appeared on cato.org on October 28, 2003.
Ever since I received the invitation to speak here, I've been looking at education in the 21st century through the 19th century, yet timeless, eyes of Frederick Douglass.

We can never know exactly what Frederick Douglass would have thought about education today. But I hope you won't mind that I take a few guesses. I've divided my talk into two parts. First, what we can learn today from what Frederick Douglass did and said when he was faced with tough circumstances. Second, I want to guess about some of the things that Douglass would say directly to parents today. My main conclusion is that Frederick Douglass would have tried to improve the public school system, but also that he would have been quite content to fight or abandon it.

So let me start by spending a few minutes talking about how Frederick Douglass personally responded to tough circumstances. He was very human in that regard. Throughout human history there have been two ways that people have responded to a crisis. Fight or flee. Douglass did both. He did try to fight back against slavery. He did his best to resist the beatings. He never struck back with his fists, but he was proud that he drew blood from the slave-breaker Covey. He learned the lesson: "He was whipped oftener who was whipped easiest." The slaves who had the courage to stand up against the overseers might get punished at first, but, "while legally a slave virtually a freeman." Such slaves, Douglass noted, were "neither whipped nor shot."

Douglass did try what was possible to make the situation better for himself, recognizing the limitations. As he wrote, "A man's troubles are always half disposed of when he finds endurance the only alternative. I found myself here; there was no getting away; and naught remained for me but to make the best of it."

That leads me to conclude that Douglass would have told parents to fight within the system. But I believe he also would have said: Don't be a damned fool about it. Douglass fought so he could flee, to increase opportunities for himself. He learned to read, despite the odds. Before he knew how to escape, he was planning. He learned to write to free himself: "I wished to learn to write before going, as I might have occasion to write my own pass."

Things weren't working, so he looked for an exit. That exit was on a ship disguised as a sailor. He ran from slavery, he ran to England with the slave-catchers in hot pursuit, he ran to Canada after John Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry with law enforcement in even hotter pursuit. When necessary, Frederick Douglass ran as far as his legs and brain would carry him. That doesn't seem like a hero's tactics, to run. But, under the circumstances, it was bravery and necessity. If he had failed a second time, he certainly would have been sent down to the Deep South or shot on sight.

I hope I've made the case that Douglass tried to change the system from within, but that he also believed, through his words as well as his actions, that he was willing to run to other opportunities.
Second, what would Douglass tell parents today, especially those with children in bad schools? I believe Douglass would start by saying something from Lord Byron that he often quoted: "Hereditary bondmen, know ye not, Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow?"

1) To those who choose to stay and fight, I believe that Douglass would have said two things: No excuses. Take advantage of every opportunity. Don't use obstacles as an excuse. Don't blame racism or mean teachers.

What else could he tell parents? Douglass learned to read in the 1830s. He never attended formal school. He never attended a public school. Some people think that is right-wing propaganda, but it is true. He was, it was said at the time by one of his friends, "a graduate of slavery, with his diploma on his back."

He was home-schooled for a time by his master's wife and street-schooled by his white friends. He would challenge the white children to academic competitions by saying that he could write or spell better than they could. He was looking to take advantage of every opportunity. In one passage, Douglass writes: "I have gathered scattered pages of the Bible from the filthy street-gutters, and washed and dried them, that in moments of leisure I might get a word or two of wisdom from them."

Today, people complain about old textbooks. There's no book older than the Bible. If you're reading about the Civil War, you don't need the 2003 explanation. Today, 37 percent of D.C. residents above the age of 25 read at the 3rd grade level or below. And yet we have people walking by public libraries that are free and open to everyone. Some people say that class size explains why kids are struggling--and yet, Douglass talked about his experience teaching 40 slaves, in a barn, in secret, how to read. No certified teacher, no computers, no air conditioning, and no excuses.

2) If you choose to exit: Don't wait for an educational emancipation proclamation. If necessary, run. Sometimes people will say that people who support school choice are "giving up" on public education. But there is a difference between running from something and running to something. Some people may be running from bad schools, others may be running to educational opportunities. Douglass later told his former owner,
"I did not run away from you, but from slavery; it was not that I loved Caesar less, but Rome more."

If it isn't working for you, you have two choices: fight or flee. A few months ago, I was invited by a D.C. public school teacher to give a talk to his students. He wanted me to explain to the students how I had gone from Texas, to Harvard, to Taiwan, to Korea, and finally to the Cato Institute where I work as an education policy analyst. One topic he suggested: "Stay in school." My question: "Which school?" A school with bars, metal detectors, 650 SAT scores, crime, 50 percent dropout rates? Why would I say, "Stay there"? And a parent shouldn't feel obligated to stay there.

Forge papers; set up a P.O. Box at Mailboxes, Etc. Any way you can get your child into a better school, do it. That may sound radical. But then, Douglass risked his own life by aiding runaway slaves as part of the Underground Railroad. Opponents eager to convict him "of being Frederick Douglass" would have celebrated the chance to punish him for breaking the law. I doubt that he would have told parents to put the interests of administrators before those of their children. I don't believe people hate public schools. Instead, the focus should be on increasing choices for parents.

3) Finally, to all parents, I believe he would say that whatever you do: Tell your story. The story of what's going on in the schools must be told from the view of the parents and the children. In the introduction to Douglass' narrative published in 1845, abolitionist Wendell Phillips wrote: "You remember the old fable of `The Man and the Lion,' where the lion complained that he should not be so misrepresented 'when the lions write history.' I am glad the time has come when the 'lions write history.'" Douglass' story was the other side.

Douglass wrote: "Viewed from his table, and not from the field, Colonel Lloyd was, indeed, a model of generous hospitality. But that the view from the fields was different." It's the same with education today. The discussions make children secondary. Just think about the questions that people ask: "Will the school system lose money?" "Will the schools be drained?" "Are we giving up on public education?

I believe Douglass would ask today: Do the kids lose when they have choice? That may have been a tad pragmatic and Douglass was also a visionary, constantly considering questions of freedom. In that case, I believe he would also be asking, "Does school choice increase educational freedom?"

The second question might have been more interesting for him. He was asked, for example, what would happen to slaves if they were given freedom. After all, many of them were illiterate, robbed of their savings, and dependent on their masters. Douglass' response was an 1862 speech: Free the slaves, and then leave them alone. He said that if we can't stand on our own feet, then let us fall. Freedom was more important than pragmatism or efficiency.

Finally, what would Douglass say about vouchers for D.C.? I believe that, overall, he would have liked them. One reason is a quote I came across in which Douglass discussed his personal experience as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

"True as a means of destroying slavery, it was like an attempt to bail out the ocean with a teaspoon, but the thought that there was one less slave, and one more freeman -- having myself been a slave, and a fugitive slave -- brought to my heart unspeakable joy."

When people say that school choice will save only a handful -- that not everyone will fit in the boat -- I believe that Douglass would have said: 2,000 kids being freed? That sounds like a great start. Parents, save yourselves and your children, and take advantage of the opportunities that have been presented to you.

Casey Lartigue is an education policy analyst with the Cato Institute. The article below is excerpted from his keynote speech at the Annual Public Meeting of the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association, Sept. 20, 2003.


Mything the Point on Sweden (the Korea Times)

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

The message was clear: “Don’t do what we’re doing” when it comes to welfare and economic policies.

That’s what (former) Senator Franco Debendetti and lawyer Alessandro De Nicola of Italy, and University of Athens professor Aristides Hatzis said in policy forums organized by the Center for Free Enterprise (CFE) in Seoul last August and October. Professor Hatzis took it one step further, in a speech that caught the attention of Korean president Lee Myung-bak: “If you see Greece doing something, then do the opposite thing.”

“But what about Sweden” was the response from those pushing for universal welfare policies in Korea. That has become the common refrain from politicians and academics around the world for several decades in the West and recently in Korea. “What about Sweden?”

With that in mind, CFE invited Johnny Munkhammar, a member of the Moderate Party in the Parliament of Sweden, to Seoul from March 5 to 7. Munkhammar surprised the audience and Korean media with his talk, “Sweden’s Welfare State: Fact and Fiction.”

Munkhammar said the lesson to learn is that free markets created success in Sweden and that the country’s turn to bigger government led to an array of problems that Sweden is trying to recover from now. He cites the 1870s as a turning point in Swedish history, when, rather than hiding behind trade protectionism and the “infant industry” argument favored by popular Korean author Chang Ha-joon, Sweden opened its economy to the world with free trade and economic freedom.

That continued for a century until the 1970s when the welfare state was greatly expanded and increased regulations and taxes were imposed on the economy. Sweden began to reverse that in the 1990s, implementing reforms that would have made Adam Smith proud: state-owned enterprises were sold; public monopolies in health and education were replaced with free competition; product and financial markets were deregulated; and the central bank was made independent.

Universal welfare advocates point to Sweden’s generous policies, but not Sweden’s history of free markets and its recent switch back. It is unlikely that South Koreans will be ready to accept such reforms during this election cycle. For example, Munkhammar shocked reporters in one-on-one interviews when he informed them that Sweden has no inheritance tax (it was abolished in 2005). In contrast, Korea’s emotional debate on “polarization” makes it unlikely that local politicians will push to repeal or lower estate taxes.

Sweden has few restrictions on trade imports. In contrast, since the late 1980s, Koreans have fiercely battled against efforts to open various markets and, even now, opposition lawmakers are trying to nullify the KORUS FTA. Sweden doesn’t have a wealth tax, but Korea’s majority party recently implemented the Buffett tax and the minor parties are threatening to impose more taxes if they win April 11’s parliamentary elections.

Cherry-picking in research and politics is the process of ignoring information that may undercut one’s argument. Welfare state advocates point to Sweden’s welfare state, but ignore Sweden’s historical model of having free markets and free trade.

If the proponents of a universal welfare state are serious about following Sweden’s model, then they might want to consider the following grand compromise based on Sweden’s history: Eliminate tariffs and barriers on imports, eliminate wealth and inheritance taxes, eliminate subsidies for business with more of a laissez-faire approach, set up a school voucher program, and sell off state enterprises. After that is done, set up a universal welfare state.

But that’s only if they are serious about following the Swedish economic and welfare model. It is more likely that they will keep perpetuating the myth about Sweden in order to keep pushing for universal welfare policies while blocking market liberalization.

The writer is director for international relations at the Center for Free Enterprise in Seoul, Korea. He blogs at cfekorea.com and can be reached at cjl(at)cfe.org.

This article was originally published in the Korea Times on March 14, 2012.
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