Thomas Jefferson called for “peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations.” In the past, the United States has not through on this deal, however, today we may be able to go through with this advice.
One example of when we did not enjoy peace and commerce was with North Korea. To this day, there has not been an official end to the Korean War. Thousands of US troops are still deployed in South Korea. Tensions are still high between the nations.
We often hear of the gruesome tyranny exhibited by the North Korean regime. The citizens of the country are starving as their government continues to siphon every ounce of economic activity into their devious nuclear programs. Liberty in the country is virtually nonexistent, as property rights, freedom of expression, and human life are irreverently swept aside by the horrendous dictator, Kim Jong Un. North Koreans are legitimately suffering, and we ought to recognize that.
Sanctions, however, are not the answer to the ailments of the North Korean economy. We should be careful not to jump to policy decisions too hastily, lest we worsen the problem at hand. Unfortunately, that reaction to North Korea’s nuclear program seems to have been a common element of almost every US administration. Instead of thinking logically about what actions are both morally and pragmatically justifiable, citizens and officials alike often jump to conclusions about how the US must react to this “imminent” threat.
I contend that economic sanctions on the North Korean economy are both morally unjust and pragmatically unsustainable. The degrading effects these sanctions have on the Koreans’ quality of life far outweigh any benefit they provide in changing the North Korean regime. President Trump ought to abandon these practices and promote a more open exchange with the country.
There are a few reasons why the efficacy of sanctions ought to be called into question. But before we dive into those elements of the trade barrier in question, it would be prudent to examine several negative effects of sanctions on a society, both at a pragmatic and at a moral level.
Sanctions often result in a severe undermining of the quality of life of citizens in the targeted society. Trade creates wealth: there’s virtually no doubt about that. Mercantilism, on the other hand, which looks at trade a as a “zero-sum game”, is an outdated and harmful philosophy. Trade happens because of two (or multiple) individuals’ consent, and that consent only happens because both sides benefit. So, on an individual level, trade always benefits each individual that participates. This benefit is conferred even at a societal level. As individual wealth increases, societal wealth with increase. Trade encourages competition and innovation, which in turn enhances quality of life.
You can imagine what happens to the citizens of a nation when trade is restricted. The North Korean people are starving, and it’s because they lack access to high-quality goods. Most nations, including the US, have virtually closed off their borders with the country. This action is justified to many because we want to ensure that Kim Jong Un doesn’t “get richer” so he can make his nuclear weapons. But here’s the problem: a dictator is a dictator no matter how rich the people are. With or without sanctions, the North Korean government will continue to steal resources from its people in order to fund their nefarious activities. Sanctions only hurt the people, forcing them into a position of weakness.
And it goes further than that. By weakening the people of North Korea, sanctions actually make it harder to replace the Kim regime. The people lack the resources necessary for a revolt against their dictatorial leader. Rather than weakening the Kim regime, sanctions just make the North Korean government stronger by weakening its people.
However, there is also an immoral aspect to sanctions as. In essence, trade barriers violate individuals’ natural rights. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that property rights exist, meaning that it is immoral to steal. You own what you work for and trade for, as do I. If you think about it, sanctions run directly contrary to this idea. I decide whom I will trade with and how much I shall trade for, and it’s no one’s business to tell me or anyone else how I should spend my money. Trade barriers, in effect, allow the government to be the sole arbiter of the economy. They get to make the decisions, instead of the citizens who worked for their wealth.
A common counter-argument here involves the shouting of, “Well, under that logic you’d have to get rid of all taxes!” (cue scary music for effect). I agree: at least all federal taxes. It is not the government’s job to tell people how to act in the economy, granted that you refrain from violating another individual’s natural rights. Either way, the idea is fairly simple: either you believe in natural rights, and thus the evils of sanctions, or you do not believe in natural rights and utilize a sort of quasi-utilitarianism rule.
And that’s just the problem. Individuals and governments claim a belief in “rights,” but few really have one. Natural rights theory is inherently a deontological moral paradigm, or if not, a form of rule utilitarianism (which basically says adopt the universal rule that would provide the most happiness). Either way, you can’t accept the right to property in only certain instances. Doing so, of course, shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the idea.
Now, even if sanctions somehow weakened the Kim regime (they don’t), citizens still ought to oppose them. Why? They are an unnecessary exertion of government force. The government is arbitrarily using force in order to prevent you from making a simple transaction. That’s similar to a hypothetical situation in which I pulled a gun on you in order to prevent you from buying from a grocer who was “mean to me.” Do I have the moral authority to do such a thing? Of course not! Likewise, the government also lacks this authority in matters of international trade, no matter who is doing the trading.
Overall, there are several major problems with sanctions imposed on the North Korean regime. Trade barriers produce severe inefficiencies in the market, causing the citizens of the targeted nation to grow weak, thereby making them less able to fight back against their oppressors. But equally important are the moral implications that arise when the government interferes in the market. Yes, our gut reaction is to shut down trade with evil regimes.
In spite of this, we must remember that behind that ruthless, dictatorial government, there lies an oppressed group of people, suffering from our actions. All liberty-minded individuals ought to oppose sanctions against North Korea, and should work to foster an open, rational relationship into the future. Such a vision will both remove illegitimate governmental interference and gradually begin to liberate the nation’s suffering.
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In 2017, South Korea placed a ban on Initial Coin Offerings. This means of raising money, better known as an ICO, is similar to an Initial Public Offering, or IPO. Essentially, an ICO is when new projects sell crypto tokens in exchange for bitcoin or ether.
Though many companies use ICO without issue, the potential for scams led to both China and South Korea making the process illicit. However, the latter is looking to go back on this policy.
A Business Korea report Tuesday detailed that the nation’s National Assembly officially stated that the startup method should be legal. Despite this, they did admit a desire for some regulations on the process to protect investors. Without regulation, they claim investors are at risk of giving money to false ICOs that claim to represent major companies.
The shift shows South Korea’s reaction to an ineffective law, as the NA admits many did not adhere to it. Instead, they went to Switzerland or Singapore, paying extra money to go where ICO is legal. By making ICO legal, the NA may bring some of this business back to the country.
The proposal, as of right now, has the backing of the 300 member NA. However, the full legislative process has yet to occur, so it is not yet an official act of the nation.
Once made a law, the proposal will spur on talk between South Korea’s government and the private sector. These talks will help the nation to agree on the level of regulation that should exist for ICOs.
Essentially, the law would return ICO to its prior legal state. Following this, the talks would then seek to impose some form of regulations once more. This will likely include a legal basis for crypto trading, as opposed to the agora that now exists in the crypto market.
For now, the market and the people of South Korea can only wait to see if the NA will push forth new legislation on ICO projects.
While the United States and the executive branch believes its sanctions and tough diplomacy against North Korea is working, a North Korean Foreign Ministry official thinks otherwise.
The official believes the American government is “misleading public opinion” by believing the sanctions are the primary reason behind Korean peace talks. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are set to meet in the next few months, although a time and place has not been publicly announced.
The North Korean government has also stated that the United States should refrain from putting “pressure and military threats” against the regime. “The US is deliberately provoking [North Korea] at the time when the situation on the Korean peninsula is moving toward peace and reconciliation thanks to the historic north-south summit and the Panmunjom Declaration,” says a statement from the regime.
“This act cannot be construed otherwise than a dangerous attempt to ruin the hard-won atmosphere of dialogue and bring the situation back to square one. It would not be conducive to addressing the issue if the US miscalculates the peace-loving intention of [North Korea] as a sign of ‘weakness’ and continues to pursue its pressure and military threats against the latter.”
The state news agency, KCNA, reported that the North Korean government was giving credit to their leader and his “boldness, patriotism and leadership” for the new diplomatic revelations.
As you may know already, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has expressed interest in meeting with President Trump, and has already met with South Korean president Moon Jae-In to begin brokering a peace deal to formally end the Korean War, eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons stockpile, and attempt to unite the peninsula as one Korea. The two Korean leaders met at the DMZ line and engaged in a symbolic sequence of gestures to signify the progress being made to the entire world. Un also met with newly-confirmed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a few weeks earlier.
If everything works out (and that is a gargantuan if), we could be looking at the most important world peace event since the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Threats of nuclear apocalypse could subside for the foreseeable future, and an ensuing economic boom in North Korea could have wonderful effects for the North Korean people and markets throughout the world. Of course, a step towards freedom and prosperity for the prisoners of the North Korean concentration camp (i.e. everyone who lives there) would be the greatest victory of all.
This brings me to a point that I have not seen raised much yet: while it can be argued that President Trump deserves heaps of credit and maybe even a share of the Nobel Peace Prize should real advancement towards peace be achieved, the real reason North Korea is ready to open up to the world is the free market itself.
Before I make the case for crediting capitalism, I’ll share my thoughts on Trump’s role in getting the wheels rolling in Korea.
I think Trump’s brash and unorthodox tone prevalent at his rallies and on his Twitter feed is extremely effective in creating international peace. Comedian and impressionist Dana Carvey burlesqued President Obama and President Trump in order to show why Trump’s method might be working where Obama’s failed:
Regardless of whether or not Trump’s technique is calculated cunning or accidental impulsivity, I think there is logic behind the notion that speaking loudly and carrying a big stick is effective diplomacy when dealing with dictators like Kim Jong Un.
Years ago, I heard a clip of Adam Carolla ranting about the right way to deal with dictators and terrorist groups in the Middle East. While some may dismiss Carolla as a simple layman who’s grown a bit too big for his britches, I think he has wisdom and common sense on his side. Carolla believes that playing nice is the wrong way to go. Instead of being patient and measured a la Obama, Carolla says letting the US’s enemies (particularly those who are more bullying than reasonable) know that we are capable of military destruction unlike any nation in world history is the best way to great through to them.
Carolla recently had General Michael Hayden as a guest on his podcast and asked for his opinion on the current situation in Korea. While Carolla reiterated his own view, Hayden, predictably, renounced Trump’s tweets and rhetoric, but credited the administration’s military demonstrations and sanctions for producing hopeful results.
On Twitter, Ian Bremmer, president of political consulting firm Eurasia Group, and possibly the most perfect caricature of a globalist in a derogatory, populist-envisioned sense, echoed Hayden’s analysis by noting that the Trump team persuaded China to actually enforce sanctions against North Korea:
We don’t know if Trump threats of war on N Korea forced them to the table. Maybe.
We do know Trump Admin pressure and link to broader US-China relationship got Beijing to stiffen (and enforce) sanctions & support UNSC process. That changed the ballgame.
My problem with Hayden and Bremmer’s takes is that sanctions generally do not accomplish their goals. To exemplify this, sanctions have not done much to make progress in Cuba, Russia, Iran, or North Korea up until now. How could it make sense that a new set of sanctions is suddenly succeeding after decades of sanctions have failed? As Oxford research fellow and international relations expert Professor Adam Roberts says, “There are very few cases where you can definitely identify sanctions as having had a success, except sometimes in combination with other factors.” In other words, even on the rare occasions where sanctions appear to lead to change, correlation does not equal causation.
The last thing I’ll say before making my case for the free market is that Barack Obama should not be blamed entirely for missing out on an opportunity to make progress with Kim Jong Un if it existed while he was in office. Unlike the Republican congress under Trump’s thumb, GOP lawmakers would have pitched a hissy fit of epic proportions had Obama acted as Trump is acting now. They would have accused Obama of cozying up to dictators and obstructed any positive steps his administration may have liked to take. Now neutered by Trump, the GOP congress has shed their phony principles and does as their master commands.
I think talking to dictators is smart and ethical, whether via tweets or backchannels. The world is a complicated place, and government is inherently violent. If we kill all the sinners, we’ll all wind up dead, so making the best of a bad situation is the right way to go. It’s better to see oppressed people freed than oppressors hanged. This manner of foreign policy should be accepted across party lines.
There is also a case to be made that Trump’s apparent role in negotiations with North Korea are, like most economic sanctions, purely coincidental. Behind the optical illusions of rhetoric and diplomacy, the gears of innovation and production continue to turn. How one deals with a tribe that has invented the spear matters less than the fact the spear is now in play. Tariffs on raw materials do not matter if the raw materials aren’t there. Individuals and industries make the world more inhabitable for mankind, and governments must adapt or be left behind.
Several quasi-free-market factors could be the real hero on the Korean Peninsula. The first is that the isolated, centrally-planned economic model of North Korea is unsustainable. In fact, it’s miraculous that misery and starvation levels in the country aren’t higher. In the market of economic systems, the best options are in the laissez-faire-leaning aisle. Kim Jong Un might be making a choice to eschew some of his responsibilities and at the same time bring greater prosperity to North Korea and an easier life for himself. With international investors like McDonald’s and 711 on the menu, Un would probably regret resisting the temptation of effortless access forever.
If North Korea opens up, an economic boom like no other will almost certainly take place. As the image below demonstrates, North Korea has immense potential for economic development:
The GDP numbers Un could tout to the world and his people would make him look like an enormous success. Juxtapose being remembered as the man who liberated North Korea with being written into the history books as an evil tyrant who starved his people, and then think about which role you’d rather play.
The World Wide Web is another free market wonder that may be forcing Kim Jong Un’s hand. At the moment, press and internet freedom in North Korea is abysmal. It’s hard to imagine living in a world with such limited flow of information.
But the internet has proven to be something of a tyranny deterrent. My guess is that the Kim Jong Un regime will have a difficult time suppressing the information superhighway for much longer. Whether accomplished internally or via interventions from the outside, more and more North Koreans will wind up online. This is largely due to the forces of the free market, which have decided that the internet shall be the economic foundation of nearly all things.
The more access North Koreans have to the internet, the harder it will be for Un to keep his propaganda intact. Instead of waiting for things to boil over, easing into less-restrictive access to information is probably the better option.
Obviously, I do not know what is going to happen in Korea, nor do I know if or why anything is taking place right now. These are theories based on very limited knowledge of the world.
My advice to all is to remain skeptical of everything you hear and to hope for the best. North Korea may not open up to the rest of the world in any of our lifetimes. But if it does, it could be the event that restores optimism to the world.