Have yet to actually read a steampunk book, Mistborn notwithstanding. Was about to buy “The Difference Machine”, but last minute I opted for the history/ fiction hybrid of “Red Plenty” (one of the books I keep returning to, btw, very rewarding read).
No squids, or parasites. Butt-kicking for goodness, from an imaginary country.
The proverbial light being internet, and in the meantime, adulthood. Martial Arts gyms were a bit of a curiosity here in Greece, when I started training in Tae Kwon Do as a teen (c. 1995). Sparse, definitely not next to each and every school, with a wild array of possible outcomes, ranging from genuine fighting skills to pure edgelord bs. No accessible standard for the “average services consumer” (apart from 70s/ 80s movies and some illustrated paper magazines – which were mostly promotional). So I joined the gym, whose owner and chief instructor was my uncle’s friend. The man was well versed in TKD and a few other styles. He did his own thing, a TKD base, sprinkled with Kick Boxing/ Muay Thai and some elementary grappling. I fell for it.
Experience is one thing. Getting the full picture can be another. Back then I learned that TKD is indeed Korean (hard to miss the fact, as there was also a South Korean flag on the wall, to which we observed respect), maybe or maybe not its national sport, not much more. As I quit four years later, in order to prepare for the nationally held university admissions tests (a Greek, but also a Korean, thing, more on this later), I left my black tipped red belt, and my relationship with this sketchy distant land, there. Twenty years later, I enrolled to another gym, and revisited the “martial arts” section, this time also thru the power of the net and the wisdom of my years (yeah!). What I saw was…interesting. Note: The martial arts content is generally sub-par, in my view. Too little good writing, too much sectarianism.
The TKD we trained in was of the International TKD Federation (ITF) kind, one of the two main branches in an art that has also many smaller organizations. TKD is not ancient, it only got assembled and standardized in mid-20th century, as South Korea built its national identity away from Japanese influence. The predefined sets of moves (Katas in Karate), called tuls (ok that I already knew), have names I consistently misheard. And then there were the critiques. Oh my. Post after post slamming TKD, its usefulness, its application, its training methods. This cancellation is already dated, it started like in early 00s and closed its circle in early 10s, but obviously I had not gotten the memo, and it pinched me more than it should.
I agree with the first line of criticizing. The spread of gyms, next to each and every elementary school (a sound decision business-wise), brought some softening of the art (for reference, in our gym the floor was covered with that rough, gray, rippled mat that you usually see in an office lobby, perfect for skinning bare feet. We got colored soft mats two years later). The second line is also credible. The early 90s saw a revolution in martial arts, with the advent of Mixed Martial Arts (another sound business decision, btw). The rise of the so-called “pressure tested” styles brought salience and “weights-n-measures” to a world rich in claims, but often poor in evidence. Nothing really novel, though. The underlying force is, of course, competition, which should be familiar to anyone taking interest in social systems and relations. With the renewal also came the blanket thrashing of traditional styles, deserved or not.
Coming to assess my TKD training, I get to see the holes in it, notably the low amount of free sparring and the “choreography” of self-defense scenarios. However, the athleticism was real, as was the fixation to perfect form (either in performing a basic punch or a complicated tul). And the sweat. Also, I lucky stroke with the gym selection, since the master had, as I understand now, introduced the then new, mixed normal in martial arts training. Another positive sign was that the gym competed in kick boxing/ Muay Thai tournaments (the older students, not we teens). So, bruised and battered, but not cancelled in toto.
That university admission is the only way forward for young Koreans and Greeks alike surprised me, somewhat. But taking into account that both countries entered the post-war landscape relatively late (the Greek civil war ended in 1949, the Korean war lasted until 1953), ravaged, poor and reliant on external aid, the differences get ironed out. Lacking a large enough private sector to offer vocational training and career opportunities, a university degree seems appealing enough as an investment to future. South Korea did its homework more consistently, however, and its top universities are ranked in the tens or fist hundreds of the world’s finest, while the Greek ones are way lower. It also became an export powerhouse and a “middle power” in world politics, through authoritatively introduced liberal economics reforms:
My second martial art, Hapkido, is Korean, too. It was also developed in mid to later 20th century and has a complex, fascinating history. It even played a – shady – role during Park‘s presidency. It is a solid art, but even more organizationally fractured than TKD or others. Unfortunately, I only trained for six months, as covid-19 (and life) blew me away. There is always some catch-up to do, it seems.
Colin Marshall is a blogger for the Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB), a great publication that has featured NOL‘s own Barry Stocker before. Marshall is puzzled by the fact that Seoul’s best marketing comes from independent filmmakers rather than the South Korean government. I guess I shouldn’t say “puzzled” because Marshall has a theory as to what is to blame, but I thought the piece was interesting because it highlights so well why libertarianism is so important.
Here is a link to Marshall’s piece. It is filled with lamentations about the Korean government’s inability to produce good marketing for the country. Instead of going for the jugular, though, and pointing out that incentives matter, here is where Marshall pins the blame:
I often wonder whether the problem has to do with the difficulty Koreans have in seeing Korea clearly, at least when looking for its good points; when dwelling on the negative, they suffer from no such lack of perceptual acumen. Many an acquaintance here has asked me, indeed insisted I reveal to them, what displeases me about Korea. For years I didn’t have a straight answer, but then I realized that nothing bothers me quite so much as Korea’s culture of complaint itself.
Got that? Marshall is wondering aloud (blaming) Korean culture for the bland marketing campaigns of the Korean government, even though he recognizes the brilliant marketing campaign of the independent filmmaker in the beginning of his piece. Not only does he blame Koreans for a problem that affects all governments, he attacks the “culture of complaint” that Koreans are well-known for.
Am I engaging in bad faith here? Is Marshall really that ignorant of markets and alternative orders that he fails to understand why the Korean government cannot produce anything creative? Is Marshall so stupefied by the predictable failure of the Korean government to produce anything creative that he would stoop to insulting his hosts? Help me out here, folks.
The tension on the Korean Peninsula can be felt throughout the entire Pacific Rim right now. North Korea, a dictatorship with a shaky grasp on its populace, has nuclear weapons and is launching non-nuclear missiles over Japan and threatening South Korea and the United States. To make matters worse, the only state in the region that Pyongyang deems worthy of dialogue, China, refuses to engage in much multilateral work to defuse the situation.
If I were South Korea and China I would have an advanced missile shield system right on the border of North Korea, and if I were Japan I would have an advanced missile shield system spread all along my massive coastline. However, China is engaging in trade sanctions against South Korea for trying to build a missile shield along it’s border with North Korea, ostensibly because such a missile shield would threaten Beijing’s territorial integrity. This is a huge strategic mistake on China’s part. North Korea is ruled by the son of a brutal dictator who is in the midst of remaking the People’s Republic in his image. Pyongyang is launching missiles over wealthy democracies and threatening perceived enemies with nuclear annihilation. China is ignoring all of this, and undertaking policies designed to underwhelm multilateral efforts at containing North Korea because Beijing wants North Korea to serve 3 purposes: 1) a useful buffer state (but read this), 2) a hostile reminder that it considers Taiwan as part of China, and 3) as a good bargaining chip when dealing with the United States in the region.
Given that the United States is not geographically a part of East Asia, and given that Washington figures prominently in not one, not two, but all three major reasons why China refuses to engage robustly in more multilateral actions against such a destructive neighbor, we must ask ourselves: Why is the United States still in South Korea? The answer is that Koreans want them there.
Check out the latest results of a Pew Survey asking people what they think about the United States:
75% of South Koreans have a favorable or somewhat favorable view of the US even after the election of Donald Trump. That’s higher than the other baseball-friendly countries like Italy (61%) and Japan (57%), and much higher than next-door neighbor Mexico (30%) and longtime NATO partner Germany (35%).
China is wrong to believe that an American withdrawal would suddenly make North Korea a breezy member of the international community of states. Kim Jong Un’s regime depends on foreign enemies to survive. James Madison put it best:
The means of defense against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending have enslaved the people.
North Korea would bully Seoul and Tokyo and cajole Beijing even moreso because Washington would not be there to bear the burden of Liberal Hegemonic Boogieman.
But I’m not a Chinese citizen and this is a post about a more liberal world, so I’d like to switch gears and focus on something that all libertarians are secretly obsessed with: money.
What kind of deal is the US getting by having troops stationed along the 38th parallel? I know the US is a target of a dictator’s nuclear arsenal because of troops along the 38th, and I know the US has to expend considerable resources on the Korean Peninsula to protect Seoul, so costs are understood, but what about benefits? What about payment? What does US get in return for protecting South Korea?
Trade – a big aspect of libertarian foreign policy – is not that big of a deal for either country: the United States makes up about 14% of South Korea’s exports, and South Korea makes up nearly 3% of the United States’ exports. This means that China, for example, is a larger, more important trading partner to both countries than either is to each other.
One of the benefits I’ve found is South Korea’s participation in multilateral military actions undertaken under the umbrella of US military leadership. South Korea has provided troops for dozens of current UN missions in sub-Saharan Africa and post-British Asia, and also participated in the US-led invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq (Seoul’s troops left Iraq in 2008 and Afghanistan in 2014). I also learned that South Korea deployed 325,000 soldiers to South Vietnam from 1964-1973, losing roughly 5,100 soldiers and welcoming home another 11,000 wounded soldiers.
Seoul’s participation in Vietnam was a shocking discovery for me. It forced me to reassess America’s relationship with South Korea. The status quo is actually a decent trade-off. The status quo is cooperative, not coercive. The status quo isn’t so bad from a libertarian standpoint: There is a trade-off with mutually beneficial exchange involved, there is a cooperative rather than coercive relationship between both sides, and tens of millions of people are freer than they otherwise would be because of it.
We can still make the alliance marginally better, though. We can still take small steps to a much better world. Consider federation between the two countries.
Deudney’s book uses theory and history to show that, among other things, republican security theory is, and always has been, from antiquity to the present day, the most important question that scholars of international relations have had to grapple with. For centuries, republics started out with the best of intentions, the best of circumstances, and always managed to decay into despotism or succumb to conquest by neighboring despots. The United States, Deudney goes on, managed to get out of this trap through federal union and, because of its peculiar geographic situation, a full-fledged republican security bargain was able to come to full fruition.
Deudney bases this part of his argument on Hendrickson’s little-known but immensely persuasive book. Hendrickson argues that the newly independent 13 states and their eventual federal union should best be viewed in an international relations framework. In order to protect themselves not only from powerful empires but more importantly from each other, the 13 states entered into a federal union that held them responsible for a limited number of shared responsibilities (such as international security and ensuring republican government in their domestic realms) and left plenty of space for each of them to exercise policymaking as they saw fit. In order to avoid a race to the bottom – where the 13 states formed security blocs between themselves and used Spain, France, and the UK to undermine their rivals – the 13 states built, piece-by-piece, a cooperative international system and called it a federation.
With America’s domestic liberties under increasing assault, largely because the current situation places so much emphasis on certain checks and balances over others, adding additional “states” in the form of South Korea’s provinces would breathe new life into all of the institutions necessary for both security and republican domestic governance.
The inevitable Korean bloc
The biggest fear that such a federation would bring about is the fear of a Korean bloc, or the disintegration of the precarious balance of power between the two parties in the US. Although partisans on both sides no doubt loathe that their side is even with the other in terms of influence and numbers, most Americans are very happy with the two party status quo (if they weren’t happy there would no longer be a two party status quo).
Admitting 5 to 7 new “states,” former Korean provinces, makes it seem like this delicate two party balance would be quickly destroyed with the advent of a Korean bloc which has no interest in traditional American politics. I assure you there would be no Korean bloc. Look at the most recent Korean elections:
There is a Left-Right divide focused on policy and to a lesser extent ideology rather than an ethnic one, just like here in the States.
The Korean Left would line up nicely with Democrats (it even has an anti-American streak that isn’t anti-American at all, only anti-GOP, just like the Democrats!). The conservative wing of South Korea might form a Korean bloc but it would be ineffective in the House and Senate because of its small number.
Libertarians are often dissatisfied with the status quo, even though they’re often the first to point out that life in Western states continues to get better and better. The status quo relationship between South Korea and the United States is great. But it could always be a little bit better.
For those of you who don’t already know, Warren is the math reader for EJW and one of NOL‘s co-founders, Fred Foldvary, is an editor for the journal, so this is very much a family affair. Here are some of the articles that caught my eye:
You get what you measure: Daniel Schwekendiek explains how South Korea followed a proven template of incentivizing exports to boost Web of Science publications and raise the rankings of its academic institutions.
Many of you already know that two of NOL‘s Senior Editors are associated with Econ Journal Watch, thus making its publication a family affair. Fred is on the editorial board and Warren is its math reader. Here are some of the highlights I found worth noting in the latest issue:
Eli Heckscher’s Ideological Migration Toward Market Liberalism: Benny Carlson explores the intellectual evolution of a great Swedish economist.
Symposium: Classical Liberalism in Econ, by Country: Authors from around the world tell us about their country’s culture of political economy, in particular the vitality of liberalism in the original political sense, historically and currently, with special attention to professional economics as practiced in academia, think tanks, and intellectual networks.
I’ve known about the relative poverty of Western Europe compared to the United States for quite some time now, but it’s always nice to see this little tidbit get some love in the national and international press. Fraser Nelson, a journalist at the Spectator (in the UK) gives us the run-down on the numbers. According to Nelson, the UK is poorer than any US state save for Mississippi. Over at Forbes, Tim Worstall points out that the UK is actually poorer than Mississippi, too. Poor Mississippi!
Both men are calculating wealth with GDP (PPP) per capita, which is what I use as well. GDP (PPP) per capita means Gross Domestic Product (Purchasing Power Parity) per capita. Worstall explains how and why social scientists like using GDP (PPP) per capita to gauge a society’s standard of living:
Just to explain PPP for you. Prices vary across places. In the US food is generally cheaper than it is in Europe, medical care generally more expensive. So what we try to do with PPP is work out what exchange rates would need to be in order to make prices of all of these different things the same in the different places. It’s not an exact science, more of an art. But if what you’re trying to measure is living standards then it’s somewhere between useful and essential as a part of your workings.
It isn’t just the UK that is poorer than the poorest US state, either. Economist Mark Perry did these same calculations using 2010 data back in 2011 and pointed out that only Luxembourg and Norway would be in the Top 30 states were Western Europe and the United States to meld into one federal republic. The rest of Western Europe is on par with the living standards of the American South (which is considered to be the poor, culturally backwards region of the US). Be sure to check out Perry’s 2010 data and compare it to Worstall’s and Nelson’s 2013 data, too.
Careful readers will notice extremely small differences in the calculated purchasing power parity of all three authors (the IMF’s is also a little different), but each data gives us a similar approximation for standards of living in each country and each US state. Suffice it to say here a political union between the United States and the wealthy countries of Western Europe would significantly diminish the GDP (PPP) per capita of the US overall. A political merger with Japan, South Korea, and Mexico would also diminish the overall purchasing power parity of the average US citizen. Canada might (might) make the Top 40 for US states (somewhere between Michigan and Ohio – states of the Rust Belt).
Now, if I had my way, the calculation standards for non-US countries would be the same as they are for US states. That is to say, I think a better way of measuring standards of living would be to break up the countries I’ve mentioned and measure the GDP (PPP) per capita of the administrative units that operate just below the national governments of these states. So, for example, instead of measuring the GDP (PPP) per capita of the Netherlands, I’d measure the GDP (PPP) per capita of the 12 provinces that make up the Netherlands.
Then, in my libertarian utopia, the 50 US states would join together politically with the various administrative units of Western Europe, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and South Korea. Instead of 50 administrative units (the US states) there would be hundreds, maybe even thousands, of them. Talk about decentralization!
Given that a political (and therefore economic and social) merger between Western Europe, the NAFTA states, and Japan-South Korea would diminish my PPP, why should I support such a proposal?
Update 8/30: Some commentators on Facebook have been clamoring for a map, and I found a great website that has devoted lots of time to creating maps based solely on administrative units. The name of the site is Kelso’s Corner and they have a great blog post on the “Natural Earth Vector,” which is the project that maps out administrative units.
It doesn’t have detailed maps of the Anglo-Saxon world or Mexico (presumably because these are so well known), but I found a couple of great maps of Western Europe and Southeast Asia.
Imagine if all of these units were to send representatives and senators to Washington (or a new geographic equivalent): Decentralized political power and integrated markets and cultures would be the new norm for much of the world in a political system based on Madison’s federal republic. I reckon that, in a libertarian utopia, the world would look like this map and be united under Madison’s minarchist federal government:
I understand that my utopia is not much of a utopia (people will still die and there will be plenty of conflict), but I think this is actually a strength rather than a weakness.
A recent op-ed in Foreign Policy highlights South Korea’s very successful rent-seeking campaign in regard to US military services:
When it comes to taking charge of coalition forces here on the Korean Peninsula, South Korea has been a little gun shy. South Korea and the United States this week are celebrating the 60-year anniversary of an alliance forged after the Korean War; there were two parades, a big dinner, video retrospectives, and a lot of talk of katchi kapshida (“we stand together”). But after decades of confidence-building joint exercises and billions of dollars in military assistance, it’s time for the South Koreans to step up and assume what’s called “operational control” of all forces stationed here if war should break out. The problem is, the South Koreans aren’t quite ready.
This brings out two interrelated but distinct trains of thought in my mind. First, it destroys the arguments, found on the hard Left, about a brutal US imperialism in the region. Seoul has made a US military presence on its soil a top priority for sixty years now. This has been the case during the autocratic period and it is now the case for the democratic one as well. A state cannot have a brutal presence in another state’s territory if the latter state continues to make the former’s presence a top priority.
Second, this is not to say that the US is not imperialistic. Here is how Merriam-Webster online defines imperialism: “the policy, practice, or advocacy of extending the power and dominion of a nation especially by direct territorial acquisitions or by gaining indirect control over the political or economic life of other areas.” With this useful definition in mind, South Korea’s rent-seeking necessarily brings up anti-imperial arguments from the center and the Right; namely, that South Korea is taking US taxpayers for a ride (the Cato Institute has done some especially good work on this topic).
So here are the relevant circumstances: the US military is currently on the Korean peninsula, and it is fairly entrenched, and the South Koreans overwhelmingly want it there, and US citizens don’t seem to mind all that much the presence of their military along the 38th parallel. So what exactly is the problem? Why is Foreign Policy, a traditionally interventionist publication, highlighting South Korea’s rent-seeking now? The answer, I think you all know, is government gridlock. Notice first how gridlock is not necessarily a bad thing. It forces Americans to reassess their priorities and to make tough compromises.
Libertarians have long called for Washington to withdraw its troops from South Korea (and correctly so). Among their grievances are the aforementioned rent-seeking tactics of the South Koreans, the unnecessary expenses that accompany such arrangements, and the fact that a US military presence causes unnecessary problems with China and North Korea.
Given the costs and the unnecessary dangers associated with occupation, I am in full agreement with libertarians. However, given the four circumstances mentioned above, I think there is a better way to go about pursuing a more just situation: federate with each other. By federate I do not mean that Seoul should send two senators and X number of representatives. That would be extraordinarily unfair. However, if the 17 provinces in South Korea each sent two senators and X number of representatives, justice would be achieved.
The objections to such an idea are numerous. They include political, cultural and economic angles, and none of them ever hold up to scrutiny. But what exactly is wrong with the status quo? What’s wrong with a complete military withdrawal? My answer to the first question is simply that the status quo is unfair. The South Koreans are ripping the Americans off. My answer to the second question is a bit more complicated.
A complete withdrawal implies that South Korea is not paying its fair share. Indeed, that it is not paying its share at all. A complete withdrawal also implies that foreign occupation creates unnecessary dangers, and it is indeed difficult to imagine a nuclear-armed North Korea without the presence of the US military along the 38th parallel (would Beijing or Tokyo stand for that? Would there be two Koreas? Korea today, without the war, would look like Vietnam).
A withdrawal also implies that the US no longer cares about the South Korean people. Only the hard, fringe Korean Left wants the US out. It’s not the threat of China or North Korea I’m concerned about (only demagogues are concerned about that), but rather the lost opportunity to enhance liberty and equality under the law in both the US and South Korea.
A federation would go a long way toward tackling these problems. South Korean provinces would suddenly find themselves paying their fair share. Two armies would become one (that means soldiers from the province of Jeollanam would be fighting in Afghanistan and not just patrolling the 38th parallel). The propaganda about American imperialism coming from the socialist paradise of North Korea would be rendered obsolete. A new peace – based on consent and equality – would begin to arise. My inspiration for these thoughts comes from a segment of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (pgs 681-682; bottom of 779-794 in the Bantam paperback edition), musings from Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (223-236 in the definitive, paperback edition) and Mises’s fascinating argument in Liberalism (105-154 of the paperback edition from FEE; here is a pdf of the book from mises.org). I’d even go so far as to claim that it is a more libertarian position than the calls to withdraw from the region. At any rate, it would certainly address the problem of rent-seeking that the US now finds itself facing (which in turn proves that the libertarians were correct all along).