12/31/13

Inspiration from a lousy visitor (The Korea Times, December 31, 2013) by Casey Lartigue, Jr.

Inspiration from a lousy visitor


During a one-week visit to South Korea last month, best-selling author Nick Adams was as comfortable as a man on a mountain hike wearing six-inch heels for the first time.


After picking through Korean food the first few days, he weakly held up the white flag, humbly asking if I could take him to an American restaurant for ribs and steak. I imagine he smiled his entire flight back to Australia.


Korea was a nightmare for Nick, but he left pleasant memories for many who encountered him. He’s the kind of guy you don’t forget easily. He tends to have an impact.

In addition to speeches in Seoul and at Handong University Law School in Pohang, he also visited the Mulmangcho School (for adolescent North Korean refugees) and the children’s cancer ward at Severance Hospital.

Nick is an upbeat guy, optimistic 24/7, a force of nature, but he was on the verge of tears at Severance when he visited the room of a 16-month-old baby ― the same age Nick was when his family learned their sick baby had a severe form of cancer.

My colleague Jungah Ji and I joined Nick in personal visits to every room in the children’s cancer ward. Jolly and charismatic “Mr. Nick” handed out gifts and candy from Australia he had stuffed into his suitcase (he saved some goodies for the kids at the Mulmangcho School, in another memorable visit).

The hospital visit was a moving occasion, more emotional than I had anticipated. The kids and their families were delighted that a man from Australia had come to see them.

For a few minutes, I was angry at people who toss away their lives by committing suicide. In contrast, those kids painfully cling to life, with parents hoping against the worst.

Ah, and those disgusting dictators, politicians and intellectuals who act like the rest of us are pieces on a chessboard. The angry rant in my head was interrupted when Nick asked if I could take some photos.

I humbly snapped a few photos, then put the camera down. I usually take photos with reckless abandon, snapping them before people start posing, snap more while they are posing, and a few more even after. One day, a friend counted. “You took 34 photos! Two would have been enough!”

I’m the fastest photographer in Korea. But at the hospital with Nick and Jungah, I stopped taking photos. As a cancer survivor, Nick has the credibility to take photos with the kids.
I felt like a trespasser.

I didn’t relax until some of the parents asked to take photos with us. Then one young girl, bald, about 11 years old, asked through a staffer if she could take a photo with him. She struggled to stand, but had a huge smile on her face as we took photos.

More came to us, on crutches, in wheelchairs, others limping weakly, asking to take photos. Would they care that Nick doesn’t like kimchi?

I told Nick that a one-time event wasn’t enough. In messages I told friends to badger me, complain at me, publicly mock me, tell me that I’m just a talker if I failed to come up with a concrete idea within 24 hours.

No sweat. I know Edward M. Robinson, project director at Helping Others Prosper Through English (HOPE). Last August, he invited me to join the organization as an international adviser.

In a world of talkers, Eddie is a doer. He’s in perpetual motion, impatiently directing people, a do-it-all leader who will be quick to nudge you aside if don’t handle your task fast enough. He immediately agreed to hold the party, mentioning that a friend’s wife had succumbed to cancer ― the night before.

Less than 24 hours after the initial visit, I was back at the hospital, with Eddie, discussing with Pastor Kim how to have an appropriate party. That’s because Eddie’s action-packed events wear down even the most crazed kids. No cost for the hospital, we stressed, because HOPE raises money through its supporters (or anyone else we can shake down).

As promised, we held the party on Dec. 15. The 25 children and their parents loved the face-painting, games, balloons and gifts, as we entertained rather than engaged them.
The volunteers we recruited were tender with the kids. Pierrot Magic, a deaf and mute magician, entertained us all, using me in one of his gags, much to the delight of everyone, especially me.

In a quiet moment, I took a photo with Jungah and the pastor, to send to Nick. The pastor thanked us profusely, then invited us all to lunch at the hospital cafeteria: Korean food.

Nick would have been looking around for an American burger joint, so it was probably better that he wasn’t there for that part, although I know he would have loved the party. After all, he was the one who inspired it.

The writer is the director for international relations at Freedom Factory Co. Ltd. in Seoul and a fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at cjl@post.harvard.edu















12/11/13

Forgotten once again: The hapless consumer

In reporting on a story, such as the one below, a reporter can decide what the focus will be. In the story below, it is told from the viewpoint of SMEs battling large companies, but the viewpoint of the consumer having choices blocked is ignored. As the Korea Times writes in black, my edits in blue italics.


Starbucks' expansion to be curbed

By Kim Tae-jong

Global food franchise brands, including Starbucks and McDonald’s, are expected to change their aggressive expansion strategy plans because of government intervention here, as Korea’s small players are urging the government to restrict their fast growth.to block the choices of consumers.

The Korea Convenient Restaurant Association, representing small food and beverage outlets, last week, after finding an excuse to do what they already wanted to do, decided to ask the National Commission for Corporate Partnership (NCCP) to restrict major coffee franchise brands from opening new stores, block consumers from places they'd like shopt at, arguing the survival of small coffee houses has been threatened by their aggressive expansion. that businesses should be able to use government power to decide where consumers should be allowed to shop.

It is almost impossible to run an individual coffee shop due to the dominance of big franchise brands,” "We don't like it that consumers want to buy from those others businesses," said Kim Soo-bok, a director at the association. “We will first begin with coffee franchises and later ask for restrictions on the excessive expansion of pizza and hamburger chains. "We will use government power to first block consumers from buying from coffee franchises and later block consumers from buying pizzas and hamburgers from the places they want."

The request came as a lot of the self-employed who run small coffee shops and diners have been put in jeopardy due to competition from larger firms. The request came as a result of consumers choosing that they want to buy from other businesses, so those failing businesses decided to get the government to do their dirty work.

A recent study by the KB Financial Group showed that nearly half of self-employed businesses fail within three years, and more than 75 percent of them do not last a decade. So instead of blaming customers for spending money as they choose, the smaller companies are blaming big companies.

If their request is accepted, major coffee chains such as Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Twosome Place and Angel in Us, and fast food brands such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Pizza Hut, will be restricted from opening new stores. consumers will be blocked from buying from businesses they want to buy from.

The underlying logic excuse is that owners of small coffee houses and food outlets believe that limiting the expansion of big franchises will promote shared growth. blocking consumers from shopping where they want will keep them in business.

In response, the NCCP said it will examine their request and take necessary action. if there is enough support politically for them to get it done.

“We will first see whether it is legitimate or not and have a thorough discussion involving representatives from both big franchise brands and small coffee outlets to seek a solution,”  "We will abuse our power to force large businesses to have a conversation with us, then we will do what want anyway," an official from the NCCP said. “The decision we will force on them should come out in the first half of next year.”

She stressed that the restriction, if approved, would be applied to both local and foreign franchise brands in a fair manner.

The government has pushed for restrictions as part of measures to protect small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). to play God in the economy, choosing winners and losers while ignoring the desires of consumers.

In September 2011, the government prohibited conglomerates from further expanding on a list of industries where SMEs could thrive as long as they can block competitors and force consumers to go to them. Under the policy, big companies are limited in the number of products they are allowed to sell, and cannot open new stores in any industry on the list. consumers are limited in the number of places they are allowed to buy from.

Previously, the government has put the brakes on the expansion of big bakery franchises by banning them from opening new stores within 500 meters of existing bakeries. came up with some arbitrary restrictions on preventing companies from having the opportunity to serve customers.

The commission has also recommended that food service chains be barred from expanding and asked with the threat of government backing their request for big companies not in the food business to refrain from entering that market. That's even if they can provide consumers with better and/or cheaper choices.

Regarding the recent move, industry observers think the commission’s restriction on foreign brands could cause trade conflicts, as it could be seen as excessive regulation.

But foreign coffee brands and eatery chains took a very careful stance, saying they will take action depending on the NCCP’s final decision. They probably saw what happened to Costco when it defied the government's stupid shutdown of large stores. The Korean government sent in regulators and rabid Korean nationalists went crazy.

Basically, it is our global principle that we follow local government’s rules,” "So many activists hate us and opportunistic politicians use us as punching bags," an official from Starbucks Korea said. “Of course, the NCCP’s decision would have an impact on our business, as we would be restricted from opening more stores.”  "So we know we can't fight with anyone, just hope that our customers will keep coming to the stores we do have. And we have to hope that we can find a loophole with these ridiculous restrictions."

The local arm of the U.S.-based coffee chain previously announced that it would increase its number of stores to 700 by 2016. Starbucks currently has about 530 stores nationwide. But the Korean government is poised to abuse its power to restrict them from acting in the interests of customers, and instead having to act in the interests of business rivals.

McDonalds’ also shared a similar view, saying that it will abide by the local rules.

“It’s difficult to comment on what has not happened yet,” "We agree with what the person from Starbucks said," an official from McDonald’s said. “But basically, we will follow what the government comes up with.” "But we will try to find a loophole to get around it."

The brand has 330 stores nationwide, which it had planned to increase to 500 by 2015. But McDonald's can't decide what makes sense for it, instead it need to get permission from third party people and their competitors.

12/5/13

Freedom Factory seeking bilingual interns (Korean and English)

Freedom Factory Co. Ltd., a new think tank located in Seoul, South Korea, is seeking a bilingual intern for its International Relations division.
The intern will support the International Relations team’s goals to:
1) expand economic and personal freedom in the world, with a focus on North and South Korea
2) connect FF with think tanks and liberty lovers around the world.
Job Description and expectations:
Multimedia and translation: Assist with video and translate (between Korean and English) newsletters, columns, other documents.
Research: Conduct light research (internet searches, phone calls) for published articles and activities.
Event assistant: Provide logistical support at external events.
Office hours: Should visit the office located near the National Assembly subway station twice a week and, when necessary, attend meetings with the Director of International Relations.
Stipend: Negotiable.
To apply, email your resume, including a brief self-introduction in English and Korean, expected stipend, and anything else you want to present to make your case (use your imagination, this is not a checklist project!).
Assuming anyone applies, the position will be filled sooner rather than later, hopefully before Christmas, and, because of the flexibility of the position and FF leadership, it is possible for more than one candidate to be selected.
If there is a problem with links in this message, please check the original link:

12/4/13

Yes men in a no country (The Korea Times, 12/4/13) by Casey Lartigue, Jr.

In the 2008 movie “Yes Man,” actor Jim Carrey portrays a character who withdraws from society after going through an emotional divorce. Encouraged by a friend trying to bring him out of his shell, he attends a workshop given by a self-help guru who encourages him to change from being a “No Man.” He starts to say “Yes to life,” becoming an energetic “Yes Man” who tries everything ― even learning Korean.

In contrast, in South Korea, “yes man” still refers to a brown-nosing employee who is obedient to superiors. It is still better to be a yes man who obeys so you won’t be blamed when things go wrong because even one failure in school, the office, or family is unacceptable. Koreans I have mentioned the movie to immediately recoiled at the very mention of yes man, thinking it is the submissive yes man (or woman) in the office.

The different definitions of “Yes Man” (doing things) versus “yes man” (following the rules) are playing out now in Korea, most significantly in President Park Geun-hye’s policy of creating a “creative economy.” How do you foster a creative economy in a country of checklist checkers?

President Park also pledged during the campaign to make citizens happy, but the reality of doing this in a “No country” reminds me of the old saying: “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

As a non-Korean, I am free from such pressure, floating like a leaf in the wind. My luck has gotten even better because I am re-joining forceswith Yonsei University professor Kim Chung-Ho, the president of the newly established Freedom Factory Co. Ltd. Whereas many Korean employers issue commandments, Prof. Kim is a bona fide “Yes Man.”

It is a great opportunity, but also a great challenge. My first day at work, I mentioned an idea to him. The approval process took about 15 seconds. I proposed the idea. He said, “Yes. Good idea.” I proposed another idea a few days later. He added even more ideas, quickly escalating it beyond what I had imagined. A “Yes Man” boss is more excited about ideas than employees are.

Based on what I have heard and experienced, a supervisor, manager or boss saying “good idea” in Korea (and Asia in general) seems to be translated as: “Let me think about it, let's have many meetings, then we can make a decision…at which point I will say 'no' if you haven't already come to your senses.”

But with Prof. Kim?” Good idea means, “Get started, let's make it big.” It isn’t surprising that Prof. Kim is a big fan of Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises. In the 1956 book “The Anti-Capitalist Mentality,” Mises argued that people loathe capitalism because it takes away the excuse for their own failures. At the office or in a kingdom, people can blame the boss for their own inaction or individual failures.

I don't know if that is Prof. Kim’s strategy, but here's what happens: His “Yes Man” approach takes away the excuse for inaction. I am so used to hearing people say, “If I were in charge, then I would....” or “The boss should listen to me, we'd finally get something done around here!” With a “Yes Man” boss ― or living in a country based on freedom ― things depend on you and your own efforts.

A Korean-American friend of mine who says she was brought in to her company to bring “creative ideas” complains that her boss doesn’t listen to her. Laughing out-loud, I told her: “Don’t you realize that hiring you was the creative idea!” She has barriers at every turn ― either real or imagined ― because of her “No” supervisor. In contrast, I will have the freedom to do as I please, but also rise and fall with the results.

The last time Prof. Kim and I worked together, we did a fun rap battle music video titled “We can do it!” When I proposed that idea in 2010, before we first started working together, his email response was simple, something like, “I will do it.” And he did, and then some!!! He is now the Freedom Rapper. People are shocked to see him, a geeky Korean academic rapping about economics. I see a “Yes Man” celebrating freedom.

After a year, I may regret getting what I wished for, and start looking for a stern Korean boss who will gladly tell me what to do, blocking me until I come to my senses and just scurry about at his or her commands. But for at least the next year, I will be colleagues with a “Yes Man."























12/3/13

Fantasy Sports is better than Fantasy Economics


A few weeks ago, I noticed that Fantasy Sports is now getting billing ahead of actual sports.
look at the left column..Fantasy sports gets top billing, both under sports and under the NBA menu.
look at the left column..Fantasy sports gets top billing, both under sports and under the NBA menu.
Years ago, a friend asked me why, as a sports fanatic at that time, I didn't play fantasy sports. I told him that 1) I wasn't interested and that 2) I suspected it would give couch potato fans the opportunity to act like they are the real coaches and general managers of teams (instead of just fans yelling at the scream about what the coach, owners, or players should have done differently).
* * *
I just read a Tim Worstall article in Forbes Magazine. Worstall notes that Chang Ha-Joon and Hans Rosling agree that the washing machine is a more important invention than the Internet.
I have no doub that Worstall, Chang and Rosling all know more about economics than I do, they have forgotten more than I will ever know about it.
But wait...there is a discussion among some really educated men about whether or not the washing machine is a more important invention than the Internet? Is this really real?
Question 1: Even if true.... so what?
Question 2: Accepting that they are correct...then what?
A great thing about being an intellectual--you can make observations that don't need to be tested in the real world. Chang Ha-Joon's book on capitalism is full of such irrelevant observations mixed in with strawmen. And Ted.com, where I first came across Rosling, is grooming and highlighting a whole generation of talkers making witty observations that I'm sure will do better in the fantasy world than the real world.
How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? How many economists does tit take to start a washing machine as they cruise the Internet? With the kinds of observations that Chang often makes, I am convinced that he will live to be about 300 years old. That's because his observations are clearly from a man who thinks he will live for about three centuries, so he doesn't need to worry about making observations that are relevant to today.
So I will make my own irrelevant observations. At least with fantasy sports:
1) A fan's picks will get examined during and after the game, demonstrating whether or not they were good that week or season at guessing which players would do better in their fantasy leagues. That's unlike the expert economics who talk all day but couldn't squash a grape when it comes to action.
2) The fans aren't treated like geniuses for making irrelevant observations.