Monthly Archives: December 2018

“Meditations on the word ‘unification’” Korea Times

Korea Times

December 23, 2018

“Meditations on the word ‘unification’”

Emanuel Pastreich

The debate about North Korea’s future has been reduced to a fight between those on the one hand who favor expanding cooperation with North Korea and thereby increasing investment, business activities, transport networks, electric grids and energy ties, and those on the other hand who feel that North Korea has not completely denuclearized, that it cannot be trusted by the international community because it is run by a totalitarian government that does not embrace democracy, free markets and open borders like advanced nations do. 

This simplistic argument has filled the media over the last year and it has been effective because of the near total collapse of debate among citizens concerning current affairs outside of what the media presents.

Unlike Korea before, there are no groups of dissent or students gathering in cafes in Insadong to discuss forbidden books like there were in the 1970s or 1980s, or regular debates at NGO meetings, or even debates on policy, the environment or the future of the country going on at home over the dinner table, or among friends at school, or even in cafes. The passive reception of information, entertaining and harmless information, via cell phone has become the norm for a passive population. 

If the press describes policy is described as “liberal,” or as “conservative,” that ruling is accepted to be so by much of the population. We have achieved what Princeton professor Sheldon Wolin refers to as “inverted totalitarianism,” a state of politics in which the day to day discourse on issues is profoundly limited by hidden forces like the commercial media or the pressure of advertising, that a totalitarian system is ushered in even though there is no dictator standing at the top of the government to enforce obedience. Rather, corporate forces pushing profit-driven agendas have created an environment in which it is natural to ignore daily the most critical issues of the age. 

We are no longer readers; many of us cannot focus for more than 10 minutes. The corporate media has become the common space for obtaining information and social media just offers pictures of cats and chocolate cakes, and occasional references to pre-digested mush from the corporate media. 

The collapse in discourse on shared concerns in South Korea means that serious questions about the collapse of the local economy, about the overwhelming influence of foreign investment banks, about the catastrophe of climate change and its handmaiden fine dust, and about the dangerous drive for world war undertaken by some in the United States, are now taboo topics in the media. 

That limited domestic debate has profound implications on how the developing relations with North Korea are perceived, what exactly unification will mean, and how they will be carried out. For example, the media presented us glowing images of President Moon Jae-in and Chairman Kim Jung-eun embracing, related stories of the historical cooperation between the military on both sides in removing weapons from the sides of the DMZ, and presented scenes in which clean buildings in Pyongyang are shown in a positive light.

All that content was positive. But implied in the narrative was that North Koreans who have lived in a closed feudalistic state-socialist state, cut off from the world, will now be allowed to enjoy the pleasures of a consumer society and to live it up in the manner that their much more fortunate southern brothers and sisters have been doing. 

But South Korea is no paradise. The tremendous social, cultural and economic forces in the South, most prominently the deep alienation of much of its population that has resulted in a high suicide rate, the self-abuse and abuse of others in daily life, a rapacious employment system wherein young people, if they find work at all, are tracked for jobs at coffee shops or convenience stores that offer them no chance to serve society, to gain advanced training or to or make real decisions. Every aspect of life has become a for-profit commercial show and the people are exhausted. 

Moreover, the entire ideology of the “democracy and market economy” that South Korea and the United States will supposedly present to North Korea as a means of saving that country from poverty and isolation is collapsing around the world. In the United States, Japan, South Korea and in Europe, the modified capitalism that evolved in response to the challenge of socialism in the 1930s and 1940s has reverted to its more dangerous predatory form ― looking more like the 1890s than the 1990s. We need only look at the strife in France to get a taste of what awaits us in Korea, and elsewhere when the contradictions grow more pronounced. 

Today markets play a minor role in these so-called “advanced economies.” The super rich dominate economic activities, and have established a financial feudalism wherein those members of the elite can borrow as much money as they want and invest it as they wish but the vast majority of citizens are only allowed extremely limited high-interest loans. The process by which private banks and other funds created this nightmare world is left out of most media and the true decision makers behind policy decisions are obscured. 

At the very moment that the newspapers speak of the great market economy that is going to be introduced into North Korea, that beast is a dying species in South Korea, in France or in the United States. As described in Peter Phillip’s carefully researched book “Giants: The Global Power Elite,” the super rich and their enablers now form a mutual protection society within which they buy each other’s’ stock, and lend each other money at low rates. Ordinary people, on the other hand, are expected to complete ruthlessly for a dwindling number of poorly paid jobs. This exploitative system is the product of the “fourth industrial revolution,” we are told, by which (dictated by God and not by global institutional investors) technology demands a massive degrading of workers’ status. 

So what are the issues that are swept under the rug by the media during the headlong rush to embrace North Korea and launch a new age of cooperation? First and foremost, we are not learning any of the dirty deals of who will finance what, and why, and who will make what profits. 

If a train is going to be run from North Korea to South Korea, if oil or natural gas is going to be piped through North Korea to South Korea, we need to know. Who owns the pipes? Who owns the oil? How will it be sold and how will the profits be divided up? If the pipe is being paid for with taxpayers’ money, will taxpayers get part of the returns? 

We literally know nothing about what contracts are being discussed by corporations, or about what agreements the government is negotiating with North Korea. Demands for transparency are especially critical at this moment because a move from a state-owned system in which a mine or a factory belongs to the government to a capital-driven system in which a single corporation, or even an individual could have absolute control over such resources, could be catastrophic. It will create even greater poverty, an even greater concentration of wealth in the North and the South. 

It would be good to know which multinational banks and sovereign wealth funds might invest in North Korea and under what conditions? What protection will North Koreans, or South Koreans, have if the investors do not hold to their agreements? Are the contracts that have been signed (or will be signed) going to be made public? 

If there are plans to build factories in North Korea, we should be asking: Who will finance those factories? Where will the profits go? Who will own them? What rights will the workers be granted and what share of profits will they get? What steps are being taken to protect the health of the workers, or to assess the impact of the factories on the environment?

North Koreans do not have the expertise to assess the environmental impact of mining for coal, gold, iron and rare minerals, so experts and NGOs must be involved in assessing the process. Currently they are not being granted visas to visit North Korea at all. 

But then again, South Koreans, Japanese, Chinese and Americans did not care all that much about what has been done in Vietnam or Myanmar that may have been similar to what may happen in North Korea. We did not ask ourselves what the impact of the private exploitation of nationalized property in Vietnam meant for ordinary Vietnamese. So far we are told that Vietnam is thriving, but is that an accurate picture, and was industrialization positive for the environment or for ordinary workers? 

As a general rule, we do not discuss, or even think about, the damage to the environment, or the injury to workers, or other long-time costs that lie behind the cheap clothes we buy and throw away, the cheap plastic items we consume, the cheap smart phones and speakers and sunglasses that we think nothing of tossing in the garbage. To put it bluntly, our consumer society has blinded us to the true cost of things. This is a serious problem in the age of unification. 

North Korea will bring that reality back to us. Building 20 or 30 thirty coal-powered power plants in North Korea will be not only catastrophic for the ecosystem, and contribute to global warming, it will make the already dangerous air in Seoul even more lethal to people’s health. If pollution from factories is subject to little regulation in North Korea in the pursuit of profit, not only with South Korea get the pollution, South Korean factories will no doubt follow the precedent set in North Korea.

We must remember that poor wages and poor environmental protection in North Korea will be quickly imported into South Korea, which already is suffering from increasingly poor air quality.

If North Korean laborers have no rights and cannot organize, South Korean companies are likely to follow that model and exploit South Korean workers. To put it another way, we are being sold a myth that North Korea will open up and become freer, happier and wealthier like South Korea. But the truth is that South Koreans themselves are less and less free and less and less happy and wealthy following the current developmental model. 

Or could it be that the plan being put together by investment banks and corporations for North Korean economic development is not about helping North Korean people at all. Perhaps they are planning for North Korea much as they would plan for Mongolia or Vietnam. There is no concern for people beyond profitability.

The concentration of wealth is the most important issue after climate change that we need to consider when we address the challenge of unification. The concentration of wealth in the hands of the few is increasing globally, and particularly it is increasing in South Korea and in China. That process damages the rule of law and creates a culture in which ordinary citizens are compelled by a twisted culture to admire the indulgence and the waste and extravagance of the super rich because a corrupt media bombards them with such images.

The mainstream media narrative is that North Koreans are poor and that the big economic gap will be between South and North. In standard economic terms, this situation is an undeniable fact. 

Yet we already know that some North Koreans find the selfishness, the competitiveness and the lack of concern for others in daily life in South Korea to be so unbearable that they have wanted to go back. Many South Koreans who visit North Korea are deeply touched by the lack of commercialization, the lack of a competitive culture and the value given to art, gymnastics and writing as an end in itself. 

There is a bigger issue. If wealth is increasing concentrated in the hands of the few, as the trends described in Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” suggest, then it is likely that the true divide in Korea will not be between the poor and malnourished North Koreans and their prosperous and healthy South Koreans, but rather between ordinary Koreans in the North and South who are increasingly poor, and a tiny handful of the super rich. 

I am not trying to deny the existence of tremendous gaps between the North and South today, but rather to suggest that the economic distortions caused by the concentration of wealth are even greater. 

Such trends suggest that we need to address an extremely different set of problems on the Korean Peninsula and that there is not a chance in hell that we will reproduce the “Miracle of the Han River” in Pyongyang under the current circumstances. Social and economic justice will be a bigger issue than material progress in the years ahead.

The unification task must involve a meaningful response to negative impact on ordinary people of an economic system that subsidizes the cheap transport of goods through trade routes around the world and undermines the local economies, an economy in which cheap finance is available only to large corporations. 

The result for South Korea of the decay of an open economy has been the collapse of local stores, local factories, local pharmacies, local bakeries and the growth of Starbucks, convenience stores, chain bakeries and other businesses funded by large corporations that can take massive losses for years because of the low-cost finance they receive, and thereby eliminate family-run businesses. 

Working in these chain businesses means the employees are not guaranteed long-term employment or adequate retirement and health benefits. They have no role in decision-making over administration and finance, and they do not get any ownership of the branch in which they work.

This is a tremendous setback from the family-owned stores that were once so common, but are increasingly being driven into bankruptcy. If this is the economics that we are planning to introduce to the North, it should say no while it still can. After all, the primary issue for North Korea is where it will be in 20 or 50y years, not what thrills its citizens can get today from the introduction of video games or K Pop idols.

What is “unification?”
Central to the confusion concerning the ultimate meaning of unification is the vague and misleading comparisons made to the unification of Germany in 1990. This fairytale comparison is popular when talking with foreigners over soju late at night and it always follows the same plot: East Germany was hopelessly behind West Germany economically and unification improved the lives of people in East Germany and it made Germany a more prosperous and powerful nation. Korea can also derive such benefits, but because the gap in income and in industrial development between East and West Germany was not as great at that between North and South Korea, Korean unification should therefore proceed more slowly.

The gap in income and development between North and South is cited as a justification of the exploitation of low-paid North Koreans by South Korean and international firms as part of the long process of unification. But if North Koreans are poorly paid, and if they are not allowed to accumulate specialized skills, or save money, that process is more likely to result in a decline in living standards for all Koreans than it is to make North Koreans wealthier. Encouraging North Koreans to waste their tiny incomes on fast food and cell phones will make things worse for them.

And how exactly did South Korea come to enjoy the relative economic prosperity that it has had the last few decades? That process is obscured by the term “miracle” as in “miracle of the Han River.” It was many contradictory things but it was not a miracle.

Economic growth was in part a result of the plans for rapid industrialization undertaken under President Park Chung-hee. Looking back, that rapid industrialization that left South Korea so dependent on fossil fuel and on imported agricultural products seems less of a blessing now, but we must admit that the policy was effective.

President Park effectively employed the Manchurian development model to speed development and compel all citizens to participate in the national project as if they were all part of an enormous military.

But the key to rapid industrialization was the manner in which the government took the control of capital away from foreign banks, and away from big business, and put it firmly under the control of government bureaucrats who were committed ideologically to a long-term developmental model. Park ruthlessly restricted Koreans’ ability to send their money outside Korea, and he compelled them to place their savings (and saving was encouraged by state-sponsored campaigns) in government-administrated savings plans that financed development.

He also made sure the government controlled the flow of capital into South Korea so it could be focused on growing industries and technologies, on building infrastructure and education. It could not be used for short-term speculative purposes such as is being planned for North Korea now. 

There were positives and negatives to Park’s approach. What we can say for sure is that South Korea’s government and business community are not considering such a model for the development of North Korea. There has been literally no mention of how the education level of North Koreans will be increased through long-term projects, or how civil society will be developed, or green zones established. The need to cultivate a new generation of North Korean intellectuals is not even mentioned. Perhaps this is true in part because intellectuals have become so disposable in South Korea. 

The fact that conglomerates are involved in discussing North Korea’s development at all is a major conflict of interest. After all, those business interests are by their very nature focused on short-term profits and have no role to play in planning for North Korea’s future. It would be entirely appropriate to limit the discussion about North Korea’s development to government officials and specialists with no conflict of interest and a commitment to ethical governance. 

Let us turn back to the Germany’s unification in 1990. This took place a long time ago, in a distant universe. At that time, the economic system and industrial production in Western Europe supported a far broader distribution of wealth and unions and government regulation made the exploitation of citizens (at home and abroad) that we see today virtually impossible. The check on the economy enforced by the communist bloc meant the concentration of wealth did not become as radical as it has become today. 

What was ballyhooed as the triumph of capitalism in 1990 was rather the sign of the relative strength of a strong social welfare state compared with bureaucratic socialism. But that welfare state would never have developed in Germany (or in France and Scandinavia) without the constant pressure and critique from those committed to a radical or revolutionary socialist agenda. That is to say that the capitalism that won the day in 1990 was a modified and watered-down capitalism. The absence of the challenge from the communist bloc meant that it would degenerate back into its original lethal form over the next 30 years. 

That nightmare world of concentrated capital that pushes an empty consumer culture on citizens cannot be separated from the onset of radical climate change. Unfortunately, when the media mentions climate change at all, it is suggested to be something many years in the future, even though scientific experts suggest that we have very little time left. 

The response to climate change must be at the center of unification policy; and yet government officials and businessmen blithely assume that North Korea has a few dirty decades to develop without any concern for the environment. Such language is a dangerous fraud, but it is no worse than encouraging the use of coal in South Korea, or in Southeast Asia. 

Another myth is that the divided Korean Peninsula, and specifically North Korea, is the last remnant of the Cold War. But is North Korea the last remnant of the old socialist system that lingers on in a new order powered by the freedom of open markets, the open exchange of ideas, and the realization of one’s own potential through a democratic process? Those fighting in the streets of Paris against the government in France today certainly do not see the world that way.

Those who struggle against the massive agribusinesses that are destroying our natural environment and that are driving traditional farmers into destitution do not see such a paradise in the Western world. Of course it is true that North Korea has walked along the wrong path for too long, mired in corruption and its citizens subject to oppression. But we can be certain that the solution to this will not come from ruthless multinational banks that push policy through think tanks and on to governments. 

Consider the most powerful symbol of the tragic division of the Korean nation: the 
Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ.

For the older generation, the DMZ represents the tragic division between the socialist and capitalist worlds, between state control of the economy and democratic and free societies.

For them the DMZ is a monument to the personal suffering and the divisions of the past that have already been overcome in Europe and elsewhere. The DMZ lingers on, strangely, in an age in which borders are melting away in the age of the internet, of free trade and tourism and the remarkable integration of the world by free trade over the last 30 years.

That is a powerful way of describing the DMZ. But might there be other ways of looking at that wall?

If you asked someone from a younger generation, the answer might be that this DMZ is not a remnant from the past, but rather a harbinger of something that is coming ― the restriction of the movement of ordinary people at a time that capital, products and the superrich are free to go wherever they want, wherever there is a profit to be made.

We see the offspring of the DMZ in the walls put up around Gaza in Palestine and in the massive wall that Donald Trump is erecting between the United States and Mexico. These walls block out poor people, and they resolve the economic conflicts created by global investment, through the use of force 

There are also walls going up right around us, the walls that surround the gated communities where the rich live, walls that make sure that those who enjoy a comfortable life can avoid running into people who are not their equals. Those walls suggest a radical fragmentation within our society, whether in Korea or elsewhere, into small groups that share narrow interests. 

The hidden precedents for unification policy
As we dive deeper into the unification project, we need to consider what exactly might be the model for unification that lurks in the subconscious of the South Koreans in government and in business who are making the plans. Of course, they may talk about German unification, but that process is quite distant from the history of the Korean Peninsula and from their instinctual responses. 

The economic, political and social unification of Korea has happened before. There were the previous unifications of the peninsula under the Silla Dynasty or the Goryeo Dynasty, but those precedents for unification are too far in the past to have an immediate impact on how Koreans respond. 

But what is it that is hidden beneath the surface of the Korean consciousness, just out of reach, but that deeply formed how Koreans think about economic development and about what unification might mean? 

The more recent precedent for a massive economic and political unification project can be found rather in the 1936 “First Agreement for Cooperation between Manchuria and Korea (dai ichiji mancho kyotei 第一次?朝協定) issued by the Japanese governor of Korea. This agreement set in motion the “Manchuria and Korea as one” (?朝一如) vision for the rapid industrialization of both regions and their effective economic and cultural unification.

Korean newspapers in the late 1930s were full of reports about how Manchuria offered a tremendous opportunity for Korean businesses to take advantage of cheap Manchurian labor, and to exploit the natural resources of Manchuria (coal, minerals and rich soil) to make a quick fortune.

When former President Park Geun-hye spoke of a “bonanza” (daebak대박) to be found in unification with North Korea back in 2014, the term she employed seemed a bit odd. But in fact, it was literally a modern translation of the expression popular in Korea in the 1930s to describe the economic opportunities offered by Manchuria to “snatch up a thousand pieces of gold” (일확천금 一攫千金). 

President Park probably was not thinking specifically about economic and political integration between Korea and Manchuria in the 1930s when she made that comment. But that process was the source of many Korean family fortunes that continue to the present day. A subtle resonance was most certainly audible. The concept was perhaps imbedded in her subconscious. 

After all, her father, the former President Park Chung-hee, learned about politics and economics, and found his path to power as an ambitious young man who ran off to Manchuria to take advantage of that economic boom. Just as many Americans were drawn by the siren call of “Go West!” in the 19th century, so were Koreans drawn to Manchuria’s open skies in the 1930s. 

The parallels between how North Korea’s development is explained to South Koreans today and how Manchuria’s development was sold to Koreans in the 1930s are disturbing. 

But we do not have to follow that tragic path this time. We have the ability to find our own way and to create new models for the development of the Korean Peninsula and of the region that do not depend on exploitation or massive capital investment. 

Unification must be a citizens’ movement. It must be an exchange between people that allows them to realize their full potential without any concern for the returns given to venture capitalists. Unification should be a cultural movement that revitalizes culture and expression so citizens can express a vision and then realize it. It should be a youth movement that allows youth from across the peninsula to join forces and to create a society in which they are empowered.

Unification should be a peace movement that seeks to direct attention towards social issues, environmental issues and other concerns that are shared by all, and away from militarism and great power competition. 

“没有智能手机的中国” 多维新闻



2018年12月 11日














然而尼古拉斯•卡尔(Nicholas Carr)在《浅薄:互联网如何毒化了我们的大脑》(The Shallows: Whatthe Internet is Doing to our Brains)一书中指出,大量科学研究结果表明,互联网以及智能手机会”毒化”我们的大脑:它们刺激神经元持续不断地做出迅速反应,同时削弱使用者沉思与专注的能力。











Let them eat Macron!

Let them eat Macron!

「スマートフォンのない韓国」 中央日報



2018年 12月 7日











“스마트폰 없는 한국” 중앙일보


“스마트폰 없는 한국”

2018년 12월 7일

임마누엘 페스트라이쉬

스마트폰이 없는 한국을 상상해 보자는 제안을 할 때마다 한국인들은 내게 무슨 엉뚱한 소리냐는 표정을 지으며 그 이유를 묻는다. 그들은 내가 안경이나 망막에 정보를 투사하거나 전자 칩으로 두뇌에 정보를 직접 전달해 스마트폰을 사용하지 않아도 되는 더 첨단화된 ‘스마트 도시’를 떠올리면서 그런 제안을 하는 것으로 생각하기도 한다. 하지만 내가 제안하는 ‘스마트폰 없는 한국’의 의미는 글자 그대로다. 지금과 같은 스마트폰의 사용은 없어지거나 반드시 변해야 한다.

지하철을 탈 때마다 거의 모든 사람이 스마트폰에 빠져있는 광경을 본다. 한국인들은 주변 사람과 ‘절연’된 상태로 있고 싶어하는 듯하다. 게임에 몰입하거나 초콜릿 케이크나 유행하는 옷이 등장하는 사진들을 빠르게 넘긴다. 동영상을 보는 이도 많다. 우리 시대의 심각한 문제를 다룬 책을 읽는 사람은 찾기 어렵다.

그들은 한국이 기후변화 위기와 미국•러시아•중국 사이의 핵무기 경쟁이나 핵전쟁 위험에 대응하는 방법에 관해 관심을 보이지 않는다. 대부분의 언론 보도는 엔터테인먼트 콘텐트처럼 취급되거나 지나치게 단순화돼 있다. 최근 국회에 계류 중인 법안의 내용은 말할 것도 없고, 현재의 복잡한 지정학적 문제를 알려는 노력도 좀처럼 하지 않는다.

한국의 대기환경을 일례로 보자. 나는 한국인들이 자신들과 밀접하게 관련된 이 문제의 원인을 규명하지 못하는 모습을 보면서 충격과 고통을 느낀다. 심지어 고등교육을 받은 사람조차 한국과 중국의 미세 먼지 배출에 대한 정확한 원인을 모르거나, 한국과 중국의 산업 규제 완화에 대해 소비자로서 무엇을 해야 할지 신중하게 생각하지 않는 것 같다. 다시 말해서 사회적 현상이 마치 페이스북에 게시하는 ‘잡글’처럼 개별 요소로 분해돼 복잡한 현상을 분석하는 능력이 머릿속에서 형성되지 않는 것으로 느껴진다.

스마트폰이 한국인의 두뇌와 사회를 장악해 불길한 방향으로 계속 나아간다면 한국에는 공동체의 목표에 대한 헌신적 삶과 정치적 인식은 쇠퇴해 사라져 버릴 것이다. 그 징후는 이미 나타나고 있다. 충동적이고 불분명한 응답을 장려하는 소셜미디어의 확산과 함께 스마트폰이 이 비극에서 중요한 역할을 하는 것이 두렵다.

스마트폰이 미래 사회에 끼치는 역할에 대한 분석은 다양하다. 많은 전문가가 스마트폰이 우리 삶을 더욱 편리하게 만들고 무한한 양의 정보에 접근하는 것을 가능하게 한다고 한다. 우리가 필요로 하는 것에 잘 대응하게 해 삶을 보다 편안하게 한다는 것이다. 스마트폰은 민주주의의 확장에도 기여한다. 2010년 아랍권에서 일어난 ‘재스민 혁명’은 스마트폰이 대중에게 선사한 ‘정보의 민주화’가 촉발했다고 볼 수 있다. 최근 한국에서 일어난 ‘촛불혁명’도 비슷한 흐름 중 하나다.

그러나 핵심은 ‘정보의 양’이 아니라 ‘정보의 질’이다. 스마트폰을 통해 확산하는 정보가 질적으로 과연 우수하다고 볼 수 있는가. 현재 한국의 기성세대는 스마트폰 없이도 대학 내에서만큼은 민주주의를 꽃피웠던 청년들이다. 그들은 어쩌면 스마트폰이 주는 정보를 비판적으로 사용할 줄 아는 마지막 세대가 될지도 모른다. 정부의 무능을 밝히는 ‘스마트 촛불’은 미래엔 기대하기 어려울 수도 있다.

잡지 ‘하버드 비즈니스 리뷰’ 편집장이었던 니컬러스 카의 저서 『생각하지 않는 사람들』은 인터넷과 스마트폰이 우리의 뇌를 재프로그래밍하고 신경계의 빠른 반응을 부추기지만, 사색과 깊은 사고를 어렵게 만드는 패턴에 뇌가 익숙해지게 한다는 과학적 증거를 제시한다. ‘생각하지 않는 사람들’은 사회의 임박한 위기를 파악하거나 해결책을 제시할 수 없는 시민들이다. 그들이 주류가 돼 사회를 운영하게 된다면 한국은 점점 더 악몽의 세계에 빠지게 될 것이다.

우리는 과즙이 가득한 한 꽃에서 다른 꽃으로 옮겨가는 나비처럼 하나의 자극적 이야기에서 다음 이야기로 흘러가는 일상을 살고 있다. 우리는 무엇인가 잘못되었지만 정확한 문제가 무엇이고, 그것이 우리의 행동과 어떤 식으로 관련이 있으며, 어떻게 이를 해결할 것인가에 대한 계획 없이 그저 막연한 의식을 가진 채 ‘읽기’에서 멀어지고 있다. 이 때문에 우리의 세상 인식 방법을 바꿀 수 있는 특정 기술이 민주적 과정에 어떤 영향을 미치는지 따지고, 그 분석에 따라 그 기술 확산 문제를 어떻게 통제할지도 생각해 봐야 한다. 민주주의는 복잡한 사회•경제•정치적 변화들을 이해하는 능력조차 없이 소셜미디어에서 최신 유행의 상품을 고르는 것처럼 이뤄지는 투표로는 발전할 수 없다.

Emanuel’s talk at Global Green Growth Institute on sustainable growth for North Korea

On December 4, the Governance Department of the Office of the Director General, invited Professor Emanuel Pastreich, President of the Asia Institute as a speaker for a Green Bag Seminar at the GGGI Seoul headquarters.

Emanuel Pastreich on North Korea, security and climate change 

During the Seminar, Professor Pastreich talked about North Korea’s potential as both the threat and opportunity in dealing with the adverse effects of climate change. He also discussed the resolution of tension in Northeast Asia through a complete redefinition of the concept of “security” that draws on highlighting the threat of climate change to the region. Specifically, he raised a question to ponder about how the future development of North Korea should be focused so that it sets a model for collaboration as a response to climate change and gives future debate on security a new relevancy.

Emanuel Pastreich with Keeyong Chung, Director, Governance & Hyoeun Jenny Kim, Deputy Director-General and Head of Green Growth Planning and Implementation Division

Furthermore, he underscored the importance of China-Japan-Korea (CJK) cooperation in global issues such as climate change through a joint effort by the three governments. He noted that GGGI also has been playing a facilitating role in the CJK initiative with the progress with its relationship with Japan. He believes that intergovernmental organizations like GGGI have a key role to play in tackling global climate change such as climate change.

The Seminar was attended by colleagues at the Seoul HQ and country offices.


Tears well up in my eyes

Over the last two weeks I have noticed that my eyes are filled with tears on occasion as I walk around the city. I do not know the cause. I honestly cannot tell whether my eyes fill up with tears because of increasing air pollution, or rather because I am deeply saddened by the tragedy that awaits humanity, but I cannot formulate, or express, that sadness. 

John Brown and the Provisional Constitution

“The Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the people of the United States”

“The Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the people of the United States,” in that it is even mentioned in historical texts, is dismissed as a document made up on the spot by John Brown’s lawyer Samuel Chilton when he defended Brown during the trial for insurrection for Brown’s actions at Harper’s Ferry in 1858.

But the more one thinks about John Brown’s actions, the clearer it becomes that this document was at the core of Brown’s actions, and the actions of his supporters, and that they saw their efforts, including the provisional constitution, as being entirely legal and entirely moral in nature.

From Brown’s perspective, he did not engage in insurrection at all, but rather the entire government of the South, and to a large extent, that of the entire United States was so corrupt and so far from the word and the spirit of its own constitution that it lacked any legitimacy. He presented a blue print for the rule by law and his actions were entirely legal and just from that point of view. “The Provisional Constitution” states that everyone, native, African American, immigrant, or otherwise is a citizen of the nation. It is radical statement only in comparison with accepted thinking of elites at the time. The provisional constitution represents a most obvious conclusion coming from the careful reading of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  

I am astonished at the degree to which his narrative has been distorted and ignored so as to make it almost impossible to see him as anything but a radical. In fact, it was Robert E Lee who attacked John Brown for standing up for the spirit of the constitution. Lee, not Brown, was the radical, the extremist.

As we wrestle with the complete decay of the rule of law today, it is critical that we read again what John Brown wrote back then. It is also critical that we understand that the tradition of constitutional law that we see in the United States Constitution of 1787 did not grow merely out of enlightenment thinking and the Magna Carta, but that it also has deep roots in the “Great Law of Peace” of the Iroquois Confederacy and other native constitutions. Written down in 1722, the “Great Law of Peace” dated back hundreds, if not thousands, of years and offered a powerful alternative to the exploitative tradition of the English colonies.

The Provisional Constitution was an attempt to fully embody the words of the constitution and perhaps its origins in the “Great Law of Peace” and as such was perhaps not anywhere as radical as its critics later claimed.

Here is the full text of the “Provisional Constitution”

Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the people of the United States.


Whereas slavery, throughout its entire existence in the United States, is none other than a most barbarous, unprovoked, and unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens upon another portion-the only conditions ‘of which are perpetual imprisonment and hopeless servitude or absolute extermination-in utter disregard and violation of those eternal and self-evident truths set forth in our Declaration of Independence:

Therefore, we, citizens of the United States, and the oppressed people who, by a recent decision of the Supreme’ Court, are declared to have no rights which the white man is bound to respect, together with all other people degraded by the laws thereof, do, for the time being, ordain and establish for ourselves the following Provisional Constitu­tion and Ordinances, the better to protect our persons, property, lives, and liberties, and to govern our actions


Qualifications for membership

All persons of mature age, whether proscribed, oppressed, and enslaved citizens, or of the proscribed and oppressed races of the United States, who shall agree to sustain and enforce the Provisional Constitution and Ordinances of this organization, together with all minor children of such persons, shall be held to be fully entitled to protection under the same.


Branches of government.

The provisional government of this organization shall consist of three branches, viz: legislative, executive, and judicial.



The legislative branch shall be a Congress or House of Representative, composed of not less than five nor more than ten members, who shall be elected by all citizens of mature age and of sound mind con­nected with this organization, and who shall remain in office for three years, unless sooner removed for misconduct, inability, or by death. A majority of such members shall constitute a quorum.



The executive branch of this organization shall consist of a President and Vice-President, who shall be chosen by the citizens or members of this organization, and each of whom shall hold his office for three years” unless sooner removed by death or for inability or misconduct.



The judicial branch of this organization shall consist of one Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and of four associate judges of said court, each constituting a circuit court. They shall each be chosen in the same manner as the President, and shall continue in office until their places have been filled in the same manner by election of the citizens. Said court shall have jurisdiction in all civil or criminal causes arising under this constitution, except breaches of the rules of war.


Validity of enactments.

All enactments of the legislative branch shall, to become valid during the first three years, have the approbation of the President and of the Commander-in-chief of the army.



A Commander-in-chief of the army shall be chosen by the President, Vice-President, a majority of the Provisional Congress, and of the Supreme Court, and he shall receive his commission from the President, signed by the Vice-President, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the Secretary of War, and he shall hold his office for three years, unless removed by death or on proof of incapacity or misbehavior. He shall, unless under arrest, (and until his place is actually filled as pro­vided for by this constitution,) direct all movements of the army and advise with any allies. He shall, however, be tried, removed, or pun­ished, on complaint of the President, by at least three general officers, or a majority of the House of Representatives, or of the Supreme Court; which House of Representatives, (the President presiding,) the Vice-President, and the members of the Supreme Court, shall consti­tute a court-martial for his trial; with power to remove or punish, as the case may require, and to fill his place, as above provided.



A Treasurer, Secretary of State, Secretary of War, and Secretary of the Treasury, shall each be chosen, for the first three years, in the same way and manner as the Commander-in-chief, subject to trial or removal on complaint of the President, Vice-President, or Commander in-chief, to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or on complaint of the majority of the members of said court or the Provisional Congress. The Supreme Court shall have power to try or punish either of those officers, and their places shall be filled as before.


Secretary of War.

The Secretary of War shall be under the immediate direction of the Commander-in-chief, who may temporarily fill his place in case of arrest or of any inability to serve.


Congress or House of Representatives.

The House of Representatives shall make ordinances providing for the appointment (by the President or otherwise) of all civil officers, excepting those already named; and shall have power to. make all laws and ordinances for the general good, not inconsistent with this Constitution and these ordinances.


Appropriation of money

The Provisional Congress shall have power to appropriate money or other property actually in the hands of the treasurer, to any object calculated to promote the general good, so far as may be consistent with the provisions of this constitution; and may, in certain cases, appropriate for a moderate compensation of agents, or persons not members of this organization, for any important service they are known to have rendered.


Special duties.

It shall be the duty of Congress to provide for the instant removal of any civil officer or policeman, who becomes habitually intoxicated, or who is addicted to other immoral conduct, or to any neglect or unfaithfulness in the discharge of his official duties. Congress shall also be a Standing Committee of Safety, for the purpose of obtaining important information; and shall be in constant communication with the Commander-in-chief; the members of which shall each, as also the President, Vice-President, members of the Supreme Court, and Secretary of State, have full power to issue warrants, returnable as Congress shall ordain (naming witnesses, &c.,) upon their own information, without the formality of a complaint. Complaint shall be immediately made after arrest, and before trial; the party arrested to be served with a copy at once.


Trial of President and other Officers

The President and Vice-President may either of them be tried, removed, or punished, on complaint made to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, by a majority of the House of Representatives; which house together with the Associate Judges of the Supreme Court, the whole to be presided over by the Chief Justice in case of the trial of the Vice-President, shall have full power to try such officers, to remove or punish as the case may require, and to fill any vacancy so occurring, the same as in the case of the Commander-in-chief.


Trial of members of Congress.

The members of the House of Representatives may, any and all of them, be tried, and, on conviction, removed or punished, on complaint before the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, made by any number of the members of said house exceeding one-third; which house, with the Vice-President and Associate Judges of the Supreme Court, shall constitute the proper tribunal with power to fill such vacancies.


Impeachment of Judges.

Any member of the Supreme Court may also be impeached, tried, convicted, or punished by removal or otherwise, Oil complaint to the President, who shall in such case, preside; the Vice-President, House of Representatives, and other members of the Supreme Court, consti­tuting the proper tribunal, (with power to fill vacancies,) on complaint of a majority of said House of Representatives, or of the Supreme Court; a majority of the whole having power to decide.


Duties of President and Secretary of State.

The President, with the Secretary of State; shall, immediately upon entering on the duties of their office, give special attention to secure from amongst their own people, men of integrity, intelligence, and good business habits and capacity, and, above an, of first-rate moral and religious character and influence, to act as civil officers of every description and grade, as well as teachers, chaplains, physicians, sur­geons, mechanics, agents of every description, clerks, and messengers. They shall make special efforts to induce, at the earliest possible period, persons and families of that description to locate themselves within the limits secured by this organization; and shall, moreover, from time to time, supply the names and residence of such persons to the Congress, for their special notice and information, as among the most important of their duties; and the President is herebyauth9rized and empowered to afford special aid to such individuals, from such moderate appropriations as the Congress shall be able and may deem advisable to make for that object. The President and Secretary of State, and in all cases of disagreement the Vice-President, shall appoint all civil officers, but shall not have power to remove any officer. All removals shall be the result of a fair trial, whether civil or military.


Further duties.

It shall be the duty of the President and Secretary of State to find out (as soon as possible) the real friends as well as enemies of this organization in every part of the country; to secure among them inn­keepers, private postmasters, private mail contractors, messengers, and agents, through whom may be obtained correct and regular in­formation constantly; recruits for the service, places of deposit and sale, together with all needed supplies; and it shall be matter of special regard to secure such facilities through the northern States.


Duty of the President.

It shall be the duty of the President, as well as the House of Rep­resentatives, at all times, to inform the Commander-in-chief of any matter that may require his attention, or that may affect the public safety.


Duty of President, continued.

It shall be the duty of the President to see that the provisional ordinances of this organization, and those made by the Congress, are promptly and faithfully executed; and he may, in cases of great urgency, call on the Commander-in-chief of the army or other officers for aid; it being, however, intended that a sufficient civil police shall always be in readiness to secure implicit obedience to law.


The Vice-President.

The Vice-President shall be the presiding officer of the Provisional Congress, and in cases of tie shall give the casting vote.



In case of the death, removal, or inability of the President, the Vice President, and, next to him, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall be the President during the remainder of the term; and the place of the Chief Justice, thus made vacant, shall be filled by Con­gress from’ some of the members of said court; and the places of the Vice-President and Associate Justice, thus made vacant, filled by an election by the united action of the Provisional Congress and members of the Supreme Court. All other vacancies, not heretofore specially provided for, shall, during the first three years, be filled by the united action of the President, Vice-President, Supreme Court, and Commander-in-chief of the army.


Punishment of crimes.

The punishment of crimes not capital, except in case of insubordinate convicts or other prisoners, shall be (so far as may be) by hard labor on the public works, roads, &c.


Army appointments.

It shall be the duty of all commissioned officers of the army to name candidates of merit, for office or elevation, to the Commander-in-chief, who, with the Secretary of War, and, in. cases of disagreement, the President, shall be the appointing power of the army; and all commissions of military officers shall bear the signatures of the Commander in-chief and the Secretary of War. And it shall be the special duty of the Secretary of War to keep for constant reference of the Commander-in-chief a full list of names of persons nominated for office or elevation by the officers of the army, with the name and rank of the officer nominating, stating distinctly, but briefly, the grounds for such notice or nomination. The Commander-in-chief shall not have power to remove or punish any officer or soldier, but he may order their arrest and trial at any time by court-martial.



Courts-martial for companies, regiments, brigades, &c., shall be called by the chief officer of each command, on complaint to him by any officer, or any five privates in such command, and shall consist of not less than five nor more than nine officers, non-commissioned offi­cers and privates, one half of whom shall not be lower in rank than the person on trial, to be chosen by the three highest officers in the command, which officers shall not be a part of such court. The chief officer of any command shall, of course, be tried by a court-martial of the command above his own. All decisions affecting the lives of per­sons, or office of persons holding commission, must, before taking full effect, have the signature of the Commander-in-chief, who may also, on the recommendation of at least one third of the members of the court-martial finding any sentence, grant a reprieve or commutation of the same.



No person connected with this organization shall be entitled to any salary, pay, or emolument, other than a competent support of himself and family, unless it be from an equal dividend made of public prop­erty, on the establishment of peace, or of special provision by treaty; which provision shall be made for all persons who may have been in any active civil or military service at any time previous to any hostile action for liberty and equality.


Treaties of peace.

Before any treaty of peace shall take full effect it shall be signed by the President and Vice-President, the Commander-in-chief, a majority of the House of Representatives, a majority of the Supreme Court, and a majority of all the general officers of the army.


Duty of the military.

It shall be the duty of the Commander-in-chief and all officers and soldiers of the army to afford special protection, when needed, to Con­gress or any member thereof, to the Supreme Court or any member thereof, to the President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, and Secretary of War; and to afford gen­eral protection to all civil officers or other persons having right to the same.



All captured or confiscated property and all property the product of the labor of those belonging to this organization and of their fami­lies, shall. be held as the property of the whole, equally, without distinction, and may be used for the common benefit, or disposed of for the same object; and any person, officer, or otherwise, who shall improperly retain, secrete, use, or needlessly destroy such property, or property found, captured, or confiscated, belonging to the enemy, or shall willfully neglect to render a full and fair statement of such property by him so taken or held, shall be deemed guilty of a misde­meanor, and, on conviction, shall be punished accordingly.


Safety or intelligence fund.

All money, plate, watches, or jewelry captured by honorable war­fare, found, taken, or confiscated, belonging to the enemy, shall be held sacred to constitute a liberal safety or intelligence fund; and any person who shall improperly retain, dispose of, hide, use, or destroy such money or other article above named, contrary to the provisions and spirit of this article, shall be deemed guilty of theft, and, on con­viction thereof, shall be punished accordingly. The treasurer shall furnish the Commander-in-chief at all times with a full statement of the condition of such fund, and its nature.


The Commander-in-chief and the treasury.

The Commander-in-chief shall have power to draw from the treasury the money and other property of the fund provided for in article twenty-ninth; but his orders shall be signed also by the Secretary of War, who shall keep strict account of the same subject to examination by any member of Congress or general officer.


Surplus of the safety or intelligence fund.

It shall be the duty of the Commander-in-chief to advice the President of any surplus of the safety and intelligence fund, who shall have power to draw such surplus (his order being also signed by the Secretary of State) to enable him to carry out the provisions of article seventeenth.



No person, after having surrendered himself or herself a prisoner, and who shall properly demean himself or herself as such, to any officer or private connected with this organization, shall afterward be put to death, or be subject to any corporeal punishment, without first having had the benefit of a fair and impartial trial; nor shall any prisoner be treated with any kind of cruelty, disrespect, insult, or needless severity; but it shall be the duty of all persons, male and female, connected herewith, at all times and under all circumstances, to treat all such prisoners with every degree of respect and kindness that the nature of the circumstances will admit of, and to insist on a like course of conduct from all others, as in the fear of Almighty God, to whose care and keeping we commit our cause.



All persons who may come forward, and shall voluntarily deliver up their slaves, and have their names registered on the books of the organization, shall, so long as they continue at peace, be entitled to the fullest protection of person and property, though not connected with this organization, and shall be treated as friends and not merely as persons neutral.



The persons and property of all non-slaveholders, who shall remain absolutely neutral, shall be respected so far as the circumstances can allow of it, but they shall not be entitled to any active protection.


No needless waste.

The needless waste or destruction of any useful property or article by fire, throwing open of fences, fields, buildings, or needless killing of animals, or injury of either, shall not be tolerated at any time or place, but shall be promptly and properly punished.


Property confiscated.

The entire personal and real property of all persons known to be acting either directly or indirectly with or for the enemy, or Found in arms with them, or found willfully holding slaves, shall be confis­cated and taken whenever and wherever it may be found in either free or slave States.



Persons convicted on impartial trial of desertion to the enemy, after becoming members, acting as spies, or of treacherous surrender of property, ammunition, provisions, or supplies of any kind, roads, bridges, persons, or fortifications shall be put to death, and their entire property confiscated.


Violation of parole of honor.

Persons proven to be guilty of taking up arms after having been set at liberty on parole of honor, or, after the same, to have taken any active part with or for the enemy, direct or indirect, shall be put to death, and their entire property confiscated.


All must labor.

All persons connected in any way with this organization, and who may be entitled to full protection under it, shall be held as under obligation to labor in some way for the general good; and persons refusing or neglecting so to do, shall, on conviction, receive a suitable and appropriate punishment.



Profane swearing, filthy conversation, indecent behavior, or indecent exposure of the person, or intoxication or quarreling, shall not be allowed or tolerated, neither unlawful intercourse of the sexes.



Persons convicted of the forcible violation of any female prisoner shall be put to death.


The marriage relation, schools, the Sabbath.

The marriage relation shall be at all times respected, and families kept together, as far as possible; and broken families encouraged to reunite, and intelligence offices established for that purpose. Schools and churches established, as soon as may be, for the purpose of reli­gious and other instructions; for the first day of the week, regarded as a day of rest, and appropriated to moral and religious instruction and improvement, relief of the suffering, instruction of the young and ignorant, and the encouragement of personal cleanliness; nor shall any persons be required on that day to perform ordinary manual labor, unless in extremely urgent cases.


Carry arms openly.

All persons known to be of good character and of sound mind and suitable age, who are connected with this organization, whether male or female, shall be encouraged to carry arms openly.


No person to carry concealed weapons.

No person within the limits of the conquered territory, except regularly appointed policemen, express officers of the army, mail carriers, or other fully accredited messengers of the Congress, President, Vice President, members of the Supreme Court, or commissioned officers of the army-and those only under peculiar circumstances-shall be allowed at any time to carry concealed weapons; and any person not specially authorized so to do, who shall be found so doing, shall be deemed a suspicious person, and may at once be arrested by any officer, soldier, or citizen, without the formality of a complaint or warrant, and may at once be subjected to thorough search, and shall have his or her case thoroughly investigated, and be dealt with as circumstances on proof shall require.


Persons to be seized.

Persons within the limits of the territory holden by this organiza­tion, not connected with this organization, having arms at all, concealed or otherwise, shall be seized at once, or, be taken in charge of some vigilant officer, and their case thoroughly investigated; and it shall be the duty of all citizens and soldiers, as well as officers, to arrest such parties as are named in this and the preceding section or article, without the formality of complaint or warrant; and they shall be placed in charge of some proper officer for examination or for safe­keeping.


These articles not for the overthrow of government.

The foregoing articles shall not be construed so as in any way to encourage the overthrow of any State government, or of the general government of the United States, and look to no dissolution of the Union, but simply to amendment and repeal. And our flag shall be the same that our fathers fought under in the Revolution.


No plurality of offices.

No two of the offices specially provided for by this instrument shall be filled by the same person at the same time.



Every officer, civil or military, connected with this organization shall, before entering upon the duties of his office, make solemn oath or affirmation to abide by and support this provisional constitution and these ordinances; also every citizen and soldier, before being fully recognized as such, shall do the same.


The president of this convention shall convene, immediately on the adoption of this instrument, a convention of all such persons as shall have given their adherence by signature to the constitution, who shall proceed to fill, by election, all offices specially named in said constitution, the president of this convention presiding, and issuing commissions to such officers elect; all such officers being thereafter elected in the manner provided in the body of this instrument.

Source: Provisional Constitution 

“Korea without smartphones”

Korea Times

“Korea without smartphones”

December 2, 2018

Emanuel Pastreich

Imagine Korea withoutsmartphones.

When I make this suggestion, the response I receive from Koreans is one of intense fascination. But the assumption they make is that I am going to describe a futuristic “smart city” in which we no longer will use smart phones because information will be projected on to our eyeglasses, or our retinas, or perhaps relayed directly to our brain via an implanted chip. 

But I mean exactly what I say. The unrelenting takeover ofour brains and of our society by the smartphone is taking an ominous turn. 

Each day I watch almost every person on the subway lost in their smartphones, and increasingly lacking empathy for those around them as a result. They are mesmerized by video games; they flip quickly past photographs of chocolate cakes and cafe lattes, or fashionable dresses and shoes, or watch humorous short videos. 

Few are reading careful investigative reporting, let alone books, that address the serious issues of our time. Nor are they debating with each other about how Korea will respond to the crisis of climate change, the risk of a nuclear arms race (or nuclear war) between the United States, Russia and China. Most media reporting is being dumbed down, treated as a form of entertainment, not a duty to inform the public. 

Few people are sufficiently focused these days even to comprehend the complex geopolitical issues of the day, let alone the content of the bills pending in the National Assembly. 

We are watching a precipitous decline in political awareness and of commitment to common goals in South Korea. And I fear that the smartphone, along with the spread of a social media that encourages impulsive and unfocused responses, is playing a significant role in this tragedy. 

What do those smartphones do? We are told that smartphones make our lives more convenient and give us access to infinite amounts of information. IT experts are programming smartphones to be even more responsive to our needs and to offer even more features to make our lives more comfortable.

But Nicholas Carr’s book “The Shallows: What the internet is Doing to our Brains” presents extensive scientific evidence that the internet as a whole, and smartphones in particular, are in fact reprogramming our brains, encouraging the neurons to develop lasting patterns for firing that encourages quick responses but that make contemplation and deep thought difficult. 

Over time, we are creating a citizenship through that technology that is incapable of grasping an impending crisis and unable or unwilling to propose and implement solutions. 

If smartphones are reprogramming our brains so that we are drawn to immediate gratification, but lose our capacity for deeper contemplation, for achieving an integrated understanding of the complexity of human society, and of nature, what will become of us?

But consumption, not understanding, let alone wisdom, is the name of the game for smartphones. 

In the case of the worsening quality of the air in Korea, I observe a disturbing passivity, and also a painful failure of citizens to identify the complex factors involved. Even highly educated people seem not to have thought carefully about the exact factors behind the emissions of fine dust in Korea, and in China, and how that pollution is linked to the deregulation of industry, or to their behavior as consumers. 

That is to say those phenomena in society have been broken down into discrete elements, like postings on Facebook, and that no overarching vision of complex trends is ever formed in the mind. 

We float from one stimulating story to the next, like a butterfly flitting from one nectar-laden flower to another. We come away from our online readings with a vague sense that something is wrong, but with no deep understanding of what exactly the problem is, how it relates to our actions, and no game plan for how to solve it. 

There is a powerful argument to be made that certain technologies that can alter how we perceive the world should be limited in their use if there is reason to believe they affect the core of the democratic process. Democracy is not about voting so much as the ability to understand complex changes in society, in the economy and in politics over time. 

Without such an ability to think for ourselves, we will slip into an increasingly nightmare world, although we may never notice what happened.

“NK sanctions: Green light for profit seekers and red light for concerned citizens” Korea Times

Korea Times

“NK sanctions: Green light for profit seekers and red light for concerned citizens”

December 1, 2018

Emanuel Pastreich

Although the newspapers give us wall-to-wall reports about the tight economic sanctions that North Korea is subject to, sanctions meant to bring it to its knees and make it give up its nuclear weapons program forever, we also observe a steady flow of articles about meetings between government officials, Korean corporations and North Korean officials to discuss investment, infrastructure and other business opportunities. The Japanese and Chinese media have also offered occasional references to such confidential business negotiations.

Then the North Koreans came to South Korea to check out Pangyo’s Techno Valley on November 14 for a special tour of its facilities. That program was obviously only part of a larger program of negotiations and discussions for North Korea’s development.

So what is the point of those “crippling” economic sanctions that limit all interactions with North Korea? Well, it appears as if the sanctions are intended to block the participation of little people in the dialogue with North Korea that is obviously advancing quickly. We have lots of discussions with major corporations and North Korean officials. But we do not have Korean environmental groups, or other NGOs concerned with the environmental impact of the projects being discussed, travelling to North Korea. In fact, we do not even have a discussion in the Korean press about the criteria by which it is determined who is subject to the sanctions, and who is not.

Let us focus in on one important shift in South Korean policy toward North Korea that may have tremendous significance.

When President Moon Jae-in recently shook up his economic team, supposedly to make it more “market friendly,” he appointed, on November 7, Goldman Sachs economic analyst Kwon Goo-hoon as chairman of the Presidential Committee on Northern Economic Cooperation, a position with the rank of minister. Kwon had previously been based in Hong Kong.

The official story is that President Moon was moved by Kwon’s talk on KBS about the Fourth Industrial Revolution entitled “Brilliant Insights reaching out 10,000 miles” and then personally decided to appoint him.

The most serious problem, buried by much of the press, is the fact that Kwon will keep his position as an analyst at Goldman Sachs while serving as chairman for this committee. The conflict of interest is blatant, as Goldman Sachs could potentially stand to make billions of dollars from speculation in North Korean development, and other economic interactions of South Korea with Russia and China related to the work of the committee. That would be truer if it has access to juicy information that is not shared with others because of the so-called “economic sanctions.”

The previous chairman of this critical committee for coordinating North Korean policy for government and industry, together with China, Russia and other nations, was the National Assemblyman Song Young-gil, who stepped down in July. Song has had a long and deep interest in North Korea dating back to his undergraduate days, and he was fully qualified, with no conflict of interest, to serve as chairman.

When it came to finding a replacement, there were plenty of government officials, politicians and academics who could easily have replaced Song.

The official statement from the Blue House regarding the reasons for Kwon’s appointment reads:

“In response to the movement of relations with the North into a period of action, Mr. Kwon was most appropriate because of his work with international organizations and investment institutions.”

In a sense, his blatant conflict of interest is presented as his strongest point. Perhaps if you are working with the allegedly corrupt Trump administration there is some truth to that statement.

We can infer something about what Kwon’s role may be from an article that appeared in the Financial Times on November 4.

The opening sentence of the Financial Times article says it all:

“South Korea has named a senior Goldman Sachs economist to help bolster economic ties with North Korea amid growing signs of discord between Seoul and Washington over how to deal with Pyongyang.”

The poorly formed sentence speaks volumes. The author is trying to explain how the decision was made without giving away the story ― he fails of course, and spills the beans.

What does Goldman Sachs have to offer that will “bolster economic ties” with North Korea? Certainly someone who spent the past few years in Hong Kong handling portfolios for a global firm that will try to squeeze money out of anything, from the destruction of rainforests and mining of low-grade coal, to investments in factories around the world that employ people under miserable conditions ― a firm that devotes itself to casino speculation in currencies and in commodities and has no expertise on North Korea as it is lived by North Koreans. More importantly, he has been trained not to care about people or about the long-term of a country.

Goldman Sachs has no interest in educating North Koreans about climate change, in advocating for the right of North Koreans to organize labor unions, or to drink safe water, or ensuring that they will have pensions and excellent medical care.

Kwon will be deeply involved in plans for North Korea’s development but has the wrong motivations and the wrong training to do what needs to be done.

The Goldman Sachs connection is helpful to the Blue House in that it can be used as a conduit in making a deal with the vultures surrounding Donald Trump. Perhaps the relationship will give some financial benefits to some in Seoul when Wall Street carves up North Korea Iraq-style. Certainly Kwon has an acute sense of what those around Trump actually want.

The Financial Times goes on the explain that “Seoul is pushing for greater economic engagement, while Washington has maintained a hard line on enforcing sanctions in an effort to spur the denuclearization of North Korea.” Maybe. But we have not seen a ghost of a trace of efforts to promote denuclearization by Trump and associates.

If Trump was interested in reducing the threat of war in Northeast Asia, he would push the United States to adopt a no “first strike” policy for nuclear weapons and he would honor and expand existing treaties.

The article cites a Blue House official, spokesman Yoon Young-chan stating why Kwon is so qualified,

“(Kwon) is going to provide us with new insight and imagination to create the new growth engine of our economy by pushing ahead with northern economic co-operation, such as energy links and the development of a northern sea route.”

Let us parse this cryptic statement. How might it be that the Goldman Sachs analyst imagines Seoul will create a “new growth engine” through “northern economic co-operation,” “energy links” and “northern sea route?”

The vague term “new growth engine” refers to the false assumption that the speculative activities of investment banks will create real jobs for ordinary people. The incentive for such banks is to drive down wages, not raise them, and they are attracted to North Korea in that its wages are lower, not because of any potential it has to develop its potential or increase its standard of living. The only way to improve the situation in North Korea is to severely limit the actions of foreign banks (much as Park Chung-hee did in the 1960s and 1970s) and build up domestic expertise.

“Energy links” refers to money to be made by investment banks by pumping oil and gas through pipes from Russia, over North Korea, and on into South Korea, and perhaps beyond. The investment banks are deeply concerned with this pipeline. They want to make sure that the operation of the pipeline is private, and it is not cooperative, or run by the government. They want the discussions about who will own and run the pipeline to be opaque and the profits to be made to be kept out of the public record.

Needless to say, there is no discussion in the media about the catastrophic impact of oil, coal and natural gas on the climate regionally and globally. “Energy links” may also refer to strip mining North Korea for coal. One thing is for sure, Goldman Sachs is never going to suggest that the coal should be left in the ground, or the use of fossil fuels be quickly reduced to zero to avoid catastrophic climate change.

There are multiple interpretations possible for the expression “northern sea route,” but most likely it refers to the current bid to make money off of the melting of the Arctic by establishing new sea routes to Europe to the north of Russia, thus further damaging the ecosystem, releasing more emissions and of course making money for a handful of people.

But the kicker in the article is this line, “Amid sluggish growth at home, Seoul has increasingly looked to North Korea, with its untapped markets, substantial mineral deposits and inordinately cheap workforce.” That is to say that the creation of a destructive consumption economy in North Korea, and the construction of highways and apartment buildings will make some people quick cash, even if that process is ultimately destructive to the culture and society of North Korea.

There is a great attraction for some in that coal, iron and rare-earth metals can be mined in North Korea without concern for environmental impact, or for the rights of labor, or concern about where the profits go. What do you think the priority will be for a Goldman Sachs economist?

I find the term “inordinately cheap workforce” to be inordinately offensive. North Korea is attractive to Kwon and his friends because it offers laborers who have a good work ethic and will accept low salaries so they can be used as a substitute for laborers in Vietnam, or Myanmar, or China. The concern is 1000 percent about overseas profits and zero percent about North Koreans.

If anything, investment banks would like to use North Korea as a lever to drive down labor costs in South Korea and perhaps as a hammer to crush South Korean labor unions in the same way that American banks financed right-to-work factories in the South as a means of breaking the power of unions in the North.

What exactly is Goldman Sachs best known for? One of its greatest recent achievements was its work in Greece, where it engineered a program in 2015 that hid the true debt that the country took on and doubled the amount before producing a financial crisis that leveled the country. Goldman Sachs promoted the predatory lending in the United States that brought on the subprime crisis and destroyed many middle-income families in that country, and around the world. Goldman Sachs also lobbied for government policies that cut essential services to ordinary citizens and took advantage of tax dollars to generate private profit.

Goldman Sachs is expert at exploiting local residents to create profits for its clients overseas and engaging in open deceptions about the impact of the policies it pushes. Any careful analysis of its credentials would suggest that its former employees, let alone current employees, should be banned permanently from government work.

Of course, the claim that someone with a Goldman Sachs background could be helpful for resolving problems with the Trump administration is entirely appropriate. The Trump administration is dominated by members of this Goldman Sachs to a degree never seen in American history. The “vampire squid” that makes a profit through parasitic economic leveraging produced Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who had run various hedge funds and then gutted Sears for personal profit, before taking on the U.S. economy.

The short-sighted, profit-driven view of North Korea is not limited to the supercomputers calculating profits at Goldman Sachs. The National Land Forum on “Land use and infrastructure in an age of North-South Economic Cooperation” that was held on November 19 featured presentations by four professors, all experts in construction and development, who gave their perspectives on the potential of North Korea. The underlying assumption behind all four presentations was that the massive industrialization of South Korea, its tremendous dependency on imports of petroleum, coal and foodstuffs, the development of a consumption society that encourages waste and alienation, and a ruthlessly competitive culture were positive developments that should be introduced into North Korea quickly.

Two talks described North Korea as a “blue ocean” for building infrastructure that would revive the construction industry where some once imagined under President Lee Myung-bak that they would make a fortune in the Middle East and Central Asia.

There was no discussion in any of the talks about educating North Koreans, about training North Koreans to conduct environmental impact studies, about renewable energy, or about the impact of climate change on North Korea. Nor was the need to restore lost soil in North Korea touched on, or the need for reforestation.

Professor Choi Ki-ju of Ajoo University mentioned a fascinating statistic in his presentation. He noted that domestic transportation in North Korea is 86 percent rail, 12 percent highways and roads and 2 percent waterways. South Korea is, according to him, the reverse, with about 85 percent of transportation carried on by highways and roads.

But the implication of his talk was that North Korea should start building freeways and filling them with automobiles that release deadly emissions. The conclusion should have been that South Korea should adopt the healthier ratio that North Korea has kept since before highways were introduced en masse by Park Chung-hee as part of his development scheme.

North Korea does offer tremendous opportunities for South Korea, but the focus on development must change. We need to spend more time thinking about how individuals, families and local communities can work together with North Koreans to build new systems for education, for culture and for public service. A healthy integration will take place between individuals over years. It cannot possibly be achieved by those who calculate short-term profits. Moreover, climate change has altered the entire game so that ideas about development, even from recent history, no longer apply. Anyone who is accustomed to thinking only in terms of profit does not have much of a role in North Korea at this critical moment.