Yeomni Park is a 21-year-old defector from the nation of North Korea. She and her mother (who was considered a criminal for moving without permission) escaped the brutal North Korean regime. They ended up in China…and things got worse. As we continue to hear more on the “war on women” in America’s political battles, it is good to remember that the terrible suffering of women (and men) in places like North Korea and China.
Earlier this month, I wrote a two part article for the Library of Law & Liberty, critiquing the uncritical condemnation of income inequality by world religious leaders.
In part 1, I pointed out that “while the Pope, the Patriarch, the Dalai Lama, and others are right about the increase in [global income] inequality, they are wrong to conclude that this causes global poverty—the latter is demonstrably on the decline. And that, I would add, is a good thing.”
In part 2, drawing on the work of F. A. Hayek, I noted, “As societies learn to use their resources ‘more effectively and for new purposes,’ the cost of manufacturing luxury goods decreases, making them affordable to new markets of the middle class and, eventually, even for the poor.” I continue, “Such inequality not only accompanies the very economic progress that lifts the poor out of poverty, it is one essential factor that makes that progress possible.”
We may add to this two more ways in which focusing solely on income inequality can be misleading from article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday by Nicholas Eberstadt: increased equality in lifespan and education. He writes,
Given the close correspondence between life expectancy and the Gini index for age at death, we can be confident that the world-wide explosion in life expectancy over the past century has been accompanied by a monumental narrowing of world-wide differences in length of life. When a population’s life expectancy rises from 30 to 70, the Gini index drops by almost two-thirds—from well over 0.5 to well under 0.2.
This survival revolution—and the narrowing of inequalities in humanity’s life chances—is an epochal advance in the human condition. Since healthy life expectancy seems to track closely with overall life expectancy, a revolutionary reduction in health inequality may also have occurred over the past century. Improvements in global mortality for the poor have contributed to the very “economic inequality” so many now decry. This is another reason such measures can be deceiving.
The spread and distribution of education has had a similar impact. In 1950 roughly half of the world’s adults—and the overwhelming majority of the men and women from low-income regions—had never been exposed to schooling. By 2010 unschooled men and women 15 and older account for a mere one-seventh of the world’s adults, and about one-in-six from developing areas. (more…)
North Korea has lately been featured in dozens of news articles about a recent United Nations report on human rights abuses and now thanks to a new photo from NASA. The photo above was just released — taken from the International Space Station. While the surrounding countries are twinkling with light, North Korea is completely blacked out save for a small dot that is Pyongyang. U.S. News & World Report lists some of the unpleasant facts of life in North Korea, including frequent power outages:
– One-third of children are stunted, due to malnutrition, according to the World Food Program.
– The average life expectancy, 69, has fallen by five years since the early 1980s, according to the blog North Korea Economy Watch. The blog notes that those figures are based on official statistics, so the real numbers could be even lower.
– Inflation may be as high as 100 percent, due to mismanagement of the currency.
– Most workers earn $2 to $3 per month in pay from the government. Some work on the side or sell goods in local markets, earning an extra $10 per month or so.
– Most homes and apartments are heated by open fireplaces burning wood or briquettes. Many lack flush toilets.
– Electric power is sporadic and unreliable, with homes that have electricity often receiving power just a few hours per day. (more…)
To view a statue, holy card or icon of a martyr is one thing. To view the death of a believer, in bloody reality, is another. We can clean up the vision, but the ugly truth of martyrdom is grotesque. According to Open Doors, a ministry which serves persecuted Christians worldwide, martyrdom is a real and current crisis.
Open Doors lists the ten currently most dangerous places for Christians are:
- North Korea
- Saudi Arabia
“I escaped physically, I haven’t escaped psychologically,” says Shin Dong-hyuk. His remarkable journey out of a deadly North Korean prison to freedom is chronicled in Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden. Shin didn’t escape for freedom. He had little knowledge of such a concept. He had heard that outside the prison, and especially outside North Korea, meat was available to eat.
Shin was born at Camp 14 in 1982 and was strictly forbidden to leave because of the sins of his family line against the state. His crime? Long before his birth, some of his relatives defected to South Korea. He was constantly told he could repent of his sins for hard labor and hunger. “Enemies of class, whoever they are, their seed must be eliminated through three generations,” declared Supreme Leader Kim Il Sung in 1972. Before his escape, Hardin summed up Shin’s prison experience:
“Vanish the Night,” a new single by UK band, Ooberfuse begins with Shin Dong-hyuk, the survivor of a North Korean death camp, saying, “Don’t forget us.” The band released the song to coincide with North Korea Freedom Week (April 28-May 4) and to draw attention to the atrocities happening in North Korea. You can watch the video below:
Cherrie Anderson, the lead singer of Ooberfuse, says this about the song:
We have joined forces with Shin Dong-hyuk…His account of the routine violence and brutality inside Camp 14 ignited our desire to respond somehow. Vanish the Night calls for the lights to be turned on in what has been described as one of the darkest places on earth. Our song is a message of hope for the ordinary people of North Korea whose suffering often goes unnoticed and whose cries are largely unheard.
Shin Dong-hyuk was born in a North Korean death camp and is the only known escapee. When he was just 13 years old he overheard his mother and brother planning to break out so he told the guards and then he was forced to watch as they were executed. Several years later, he met a man named Park, a political prisoner. Park spoke of the the world outside the camp and outside North Korea; he gave Dong-hyuk a desire to live outside the horrors of his country. The pair decided to attempt an escape. Park died trying to climb the electric fence, but Dong-hyuk got out, posed as a North Korean soldier, and made his way out of the country. You can read his full story here. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) also describes the horrors happening in Dong-hyuk’s former home: (more…)
We’ve almost all seen some of the creepy messianic videos associated with President Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. If you’re in need of a refresher there are examples here and here. It isn’t solely a problem of the political left though. Throughout history there has been varying belief in political saviors of different ideologies. There are many on the right who firmly believe that political changes alone will transform our culture and institutions.
However, as government dependency continues to grow to record levels, we are reaching new heights in state worship and adoration. I wrote more about this topic in “As Secularism Advances, Political Messianism Draws More Believers,” a commentary I published last year.
Currently, I am reading Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became our State Religion by Benjamin Wiker. The book offers some good insights on the assaults on religious liberty, increased secularism, and political messiahs. Here’s an excerpt from his new book:
Modern political utopianism, as we shall see, is an attempt to discard the necessity of grace (and hence of the church), even while state power replaces grace as the instrument for perfecting man. Liberalism is more than the rejection of Christianity; it is the absorption and transformation of its doctrines. Before the Christian doctrine of grace, no one would have dared think about perfecting the whole human race–a few, select individuals, a small group or clan or class of society, yes, but not the whole human race. With Christianity, God’s grace is indeed open to all, and so all may share in the perfection of holiness, but this offered grace takes full effect only in the Kingdom of God, that is, only in heaven. Liberalism takes the church’s salvific mission and makes it a merely political goal, one to be achieved in this world by human power alone, a heaven brought down by force to earth, where we become the authors of our own salvation.
And finally, here is a look at the somewhat comical yet sad end result of state and leader worship in North Korea:
James Kim was sentenced to death by North Korea in 1998. He was accused of being an American spy for the CIA and spent 40 days in jail. His crime? He was arrested for taking food to children. Kim was tortured and ordered to write out his will to the government. “I love the North Korean people. I always have,” he wrote. Kim told the North Korean government that they could have his body and harvest it for research. He offered to donate all his organs to the regime. Amazingly, his actions moved upon the government to set him free and he regularly returns to North Korea today. The government apologized to him for his treatment while in prison. “Christ like patience and love is the only thing that can touch North Korea,” declared Kim.
More of Kim’s amazing story can be found here and here. His work and witness has allowed him to hold citizenship in South Korea, China, the United States, and North Korea. He was last night’s speaker at a C.S. Lewis Institute dinner.
He also addressed an economic matter saying the North Korean people love the U.S. currency. He noted the great thing about our system and money is that does not just hold material value, but the imprint of “In God We Trust” is influential and noticed around the world.
In the book The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future, Victor Cha notes,
North Korean school children learn grammatical conjugations of past, present, and future by reciting “We killed Americans,” “We are killing Americans,” “We will kill Americans.” They learn learn elementary school math with word problems that subtract or divide the number of dead American soldiers to get the solution.
North Korea’s past and present is one of horrific suffering for its people. In his 2002 State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush included the nation as one of the three amongst the axis of evil. Kim notes that through Christian suffering “peace comes at a price.” Last night, he showed that even in one of the world’s darkest, hostile, and most oppressive regimes, there is reason for hope.
On Nov. 28, the Canada-based Fraser Institute released the eighth edition of its annual report, Economic Freedom of North America 2012, in which the respective economic situation and government regulatory factors present in the states and provinces of North America were gauged.
Global studies of economic freedom, such as the Heritage Foundation’s 2012 Index of Economic Freedom and the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World 2012, rank the United States and Canada as two of the most economically free countries in the world. But, as data from the North America report shows, not all sections of the countries are experiencing an equal level of economic freedom and it is important to look at areas in which this falters.
States and provinces were evaluated and ranked within three categories: 1) Size of Government; 2) Takings and Discriminatory Taxation; and 3) Labor Market Freedom. The Canadian province, Alberta, claimed the top spot as most economically free, followed closely by Delaware. New Mexico placed 59th, making it the least economically free state, followed by Prince Edward Island of Canada, notching the rank of least economically free area in North America (between the United States and Canada).
The Economic Freedom of North America 2012 report draws a clear link between prosperity and economic freedom, through a comparison of states and provinces. “In the United States, the relatively free Georgia does much better than the relatively unfree West Virginia. In Canada, British Columbia, where economic freedom has been increasing in recent years, has been experiencing considerably greater growth on a per-capita basis than Ontario, where economic freedom has been decreasing in recent years.” (more…)
One month ago today, the people of North Korea learned that their Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, had died. While the news triggered hysterical shock in Pyongyang, the event brought new hope to those who work hard to penetrate North Korea’s hermetic society. One after another, many of these NGOs and ministries released statements postulating that maybe, just maybe, Kim’s youngest son and anointed heir—Jong-un—would break with family tradition by promoting genuine liberty for his people.
Such hopes are certainly understandable. Due in large part to the regime’s aversion to private markets, extreme poverty is a fact of life for large swaths of the population. The World Food Programme, North Korea’s largest distributor of multilateral food aid, estimated in 2011 that six million people needed food assistance, while one in three children were chronically malnourished. Such issues have been endemic since the mid-1990s, when an extraordinarily bad famine claimed millions of lives.
North Korea’s record on religious freedom is no better. Once dubbed the “Jerusalem of the East” for its large Christian population and deployment of missionaries, all manifestations of Christianity were eradicated as Kim Il-sung consolidated his power in the early 1950s. Understanding the dissonance between Christianity and utopian government schemes (such as communism), Kim reportedly commented: “We came to understand that religious persons can only be broken of a bad habit if they are killed.” Today’s North Korea has sustained this policy, throwing Christians into labor camps (a death sentence for many), executing them for Bible ownership, and punishing families to the third generation for any sign of Christian influence.
Optimists who see promise in the leadership transition contend that Kim Jong-un’s time attending school in Bern, Switzerland exposed him to the fruits of a free society. Chinese reformer Deng Xiaoping, they remind us, likewise benefited from his time in Paris. But the rule is not a hard-and-fast one; both Mussolini and Marx spent a good deal of time in relatively freedom-oriented countries (Switzerland and England, respectively), but still settled on philosophies and policies incongruent with freedom and individual dignity. Optimists respond that Jong-un seems to have taken to Western culture, as he is a big fan of NBA basketball and Michael Jordan. His father’s penchant for Elvis Presley and Rambo, however, never did translate into wholesale adoption of Western-style democracy.
Whatever our hopes, change in the near term is highly unlikely. While Kim Jong-il had some 15 years to prepare for leadership under his father’s tutelage, Kim Jong-un had one-fifth that, having been seemingly tapped after his father’s stroke in 2008. On the fly, he will be forced to learn the delicate balance of political power in that country. His first priority will be to consolidate power, proving his legitimacy to the political establishment as well as the highly influential military apparatus (to this end, expect more saber-rattling toward South Korea). Intent to retain their current clout and influence, the powers-that-be are not particularly enthused about the prospect of an economically free and spiritually rich North Korea; Kim Jong-un will thus have strong incentive to squelch dissent wherever it appears.
- The foundations have already been laid for heightened vigilance. After Kim Jong-il’s death, North Korean and Chinese border patrols were beefed up, new roadblocks and checkpoints were added, new barb-wire fencing was installed, and journalists were prevented from entering the border area. Small, tightly controlled markets were shut down (some of which have since reopened), and religious restrictions were tightened. Kim Jong-il would not have selected a reformist softy as his successor—and in Jong-un, he did not.
But what of a coup? Any sort of organized, successful upheaval would likely not come from the citizenry. After all, those reduced to boiling tree bark for dinner hardly have the wherewithal to overturn a highly consolidated and centralized system like North Korea’s. If anything happens—and at this point, the likelihood is small—it would likely emanate from the officer corps. There is said to be discontent among mid-level military professionals, many of whom have dedicated their lives to the regime and received little in return. Others may be bitter about the high military honors conferred upon Kim Jong-un and his uncle and close confidante, Chang Sung-taek—neither of whom was required to earn his way through the ranks. If an uprising along these lines did occur, the consequences would be far from clear, with liberty not necessarily an automatic result. “Revolution,” quipped a ruthless but clever Mao, “is not a dinner party.”
I pray that my skepticism is proven wrong. But until more promising evidence comes to light, new leadership in the halls of Pyongyang sadly signifies only a continuation of the brutal and miserable status quo.