by Andrew Mellon
BigGovernment.com, June 14, 2010
If we are to stop the march of this nation towards socialism, it is imperative that we understand and educate our fellow citizens as to what socialism is like. This need not be limited to distant readings of history books about the gulags in Russia. Indeed we get a very gripping modern-day reminder of the horrors of socialism from a recent article in the New York Times on North Korea.
The piece begins:
YANJI, China — Like many North Koreans, the construction worker lived in penury. His state employer had not paid him for so long that he had forgotten his salary. Indeed, he paid his boss to be listed as a dummy worker so that he could leave his work site. Then he and his wife could scrape out a living selling small bags of detergent on the black market.
It hardly seemed that life could get worse. And then, one Saturday afternoon last November, his sister burst into his apartment in Chongjin with shocking news: the North Korean government had decided to drastically devalue the nation’s currency. The family’s life savings, about $1,560, had been reduced to about $30.
Last month the construction worker sat in a safe house in this bustling northern Chinese city, lamenting years of useless sacrifice. Vegetables for his parents, his wife’s asthma medicine, the navy track suit his 15-year-old daughter craved — all were forsworn on the theory that, even in North Korea, the future was worth saving for.
“Ai!” he exclaimed, cursing between sobs. “How we worked to save that money! Thinking about it makes me go crazy.”
Such is the horrifically arbitrary nature of communist regimes. With the swift stroke of a pen the fruits of one’s labors can be reduced to nothing overnight.
North Koreans are used to struggle and heartbreak. But the Nov. 30 currency devaluation, apparently an attempt to prop up a foundering state-run economy, was for some the worst disaster since a famine that killed hundreds of thousands in the mid-1990s.
Given the government-controlled media, the perpetual propaganda leaves its citizens brainwashed:
At least two of those interviewed in China hewed to the official propaganda line that North Korea was a victim of die-hard enemies, its impoverishment a Western plot, its survival threatened by the United States, South Korea and Japan.
To this end says a ruling party official’s wife:
That’s why we have weapons to protect ourselves.
Our enemies are trying to hit us from all sides, and that’s why we lack electricity and good infrastructure. North Korea must keep its doors locked.
Others were more skeptical of the government’s propaganda, but still cast war as an inevitability. “We always wait for the invasion,” said one former primary school teacher. “My son says he wishes the war would come because life is too hard, and we will probably die anyway from starvation.”
When war is to be preferred to peace, one gets a sense as to the dire nature of a communist country.
How bad are things in North Korea?
Infant and maternal mortality rates jumped at least 30 percent from 1993 to 2008, and life expectancy fell by three years to 69 during the same period, according to North Korean census figures and the United Nations Population Fund.
The United Nations World Food Program says one in three North Korean children under the age of 5 are malnourished. More than one in four people need food aid, the agency says, but only about one in 17 will get it this year, partly because donors are reluctant to send aid to a country that has insisted on developing nuclear weapons.
The economy, and thus people’s lives are in shambles because the government is the economy.
Theoretically, everyone except minors, the elderly and mothers with young children works for the state. But state enterprises have been withering for 30 years, and North Koreans do all they can to escape work in them.
Farmers tend their own gardens as weeds overtake collective farms. Urban workers duck state assignments to peddle everything from metal scavenged from mothballed factories to televisions smuggled from China.
“If you don’t trade, you die,” said [a] former teacher, a round-faced 51-year-old woman with a ponytail. She went from obedient state employee to lawbreaking trader, but could not escape her plight.
Yet the government in devaluing the currency deliberately destroyed the very markets that were likely the only thing keeping many of its citizens alive.
Its aim was to divert the proceeds of North Korea’s vast entrepreneurial underground — its street markets — to its cash-starved government businesses. The markets are the sole source of income for many North Koreans, but they flout the government’s credo of economic socialism.
The contrast between the (relatively) free world of South Korea and that of enslaved North Korea is a living testament to the superiority of capitalism:
When the Korean Peninsula was divided in 1945, South Korea was poorer than its neighbor. Now its average worker earns 15 times as much as an average North Korean, according to cost-of-living-adjusted data.
As a result:
The number of defectors who make it through China to South Korea has steadily risen for a decade, hitting nearly 3,000 last year.
But many are not so lucky. Due to the failure of the centrally planned economy, run by the subhuman Kim Jong-Il, people are starving to death. So for the aforementioned teacher:
What once was an all-day job shrank by 2004 to morning duty; schools closed at noon. At least 15 of her 50 students dropped out or left after an hour, too hungry to study.
“It is very hard to teach a starving child,” she said. “Even sitting at a desk is difficult for them.”
Teachers were hungry, too. Her monthly salary scarcely bought two pounds of rice, she said. A university graduate, she pulled her own child out of the third grade in 1998, instead sending her to a neighbor to learn to sew.
She quit in 2004 to sell corn noodles outside Chongjin’s main market, an expanse of stalls and plastic tarpaulins half the size of a city block where traders mainly sell Chinese goods, including toothpaste, sewing needles and DVDs of banned South Korean soap operas.
But noodles were barely profitable, so she tried a riskier trade in state-controlled commodities: pine nuts and red berries used in a popular tea. That scheme collapsed in October. After she and her partners collected 17 sacks of goods from a village, a guard at a checkpoint confiscated them all instead of taking a bribe to let them pass. She was left with $300 in debt.
The plight of a North Korean construction worker is also staggering:
On paper…a Chongjin state construction company employs him. But the company has few supplies and no cash to pay its employees. So like more than a third of the workers, the worker said, he pays roughly $5 a month to sign in as an employee on the company’s daily log — and then toil elsewhere.
Such payments, widespread at smaller state companies, are supposed to keep companies solvent, said one 62-year-old woman who is a trader in Chongjin. Even a major enterprise like the city’s metal refinery has not paid salaries since 2007, she and others said, though workers there collect 10 days worth of food rations each month.
“How would the companies survive if they didn’t get money from the workers?” she asked without irony.
Recently, the construction worker’s firm has been more active. The state has resurfaced Chongjin’s only paved road and built a hospital and a university for the 2012 centennial of the birth of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il’s father and North Korea’s founder.
But the burst of projects bore a cost: each family was required to deliver 17 bags of pebbles every month to its local party committee. The construction worker enlisted his elderly parents to scour creek beds and fields for rocks that the family smashed by hand into grape-size stones.
One might think that the leaders of the country, like those of the Soviet Union, who after various failed economic experiments resorted to partial privatization, might do the same. But no:
The government periodically tries to rein in the markets, regulating prices, hours, types of goods sold, the sellers’ age and sex and even whether they haul their wares on bicycles or their backs.
No doubt this is all for the public good.
What did the party official’s wife have to say about the aforementioned wealth-destroying devaluation, that Kim instituted as a response to the markets that had become “a birthplace of all sorts of nonsocialist practices”?
The party official’s wife, hair softly curled, a knock-off designer purse by her side, boasted about her six-room house with two color televisions and a garden. In the next breath, she praised devaluation as well-deserved punishment of those who had cheated the state, even though she acknowledged that it led to chaos and noted that a top finance official was executed for mismanaging the policy.
“A lot of bad people had gotten rich doing illegal trading with China, while the good people at the state companies didn’t have enough money,” she said. “So the haves gave to the have-nots.”
How far away does this rhetoric seem from that which we are hearing on a daily basis in our nation? The politicians and the politically-connected seize the wealth and stupefy the people with the opiate of the “general welfare.”
The rest of the article, which I strongly urge readers to take a look at, painfully but necessarily shows at a personal level the utter desperation of the situation for the North Korean people.
Why do I cite this piece, besides the fact that it is a moving and worthwhile one?
Though sizable swaths of Americans including the patriotic readers of this site are highly upset, this has not been enough today to stop a bloodless revolution in which we “regulate” as opposed to nationalize our industries, in which our Executive abrogates private contracts, but only in an extenuating circumstance, in which our financial industry is “assisted” by money-printing and public spending, but only of course to avert worldwide collapse. Today our administration only threatens to put the the boot on the throat of a company.
But we are most certainly and most thankfully of course nowhere near North Korea. What we have today in the US is the more civilized, kinder, gentler, more “progressive” version of socialism. We have a socialism that though showing its true sadistic face in spurts is more of a smiley creeping one; one which dangerously because of its subtlety is far more acceptable to the sensibilities of our people, either out of our apathy or ignorance.
No, we are not close to North Korea, but I cite this article because the Eastern version of socialism should serve as a reminder to the West that we best not travel this road any further.
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