• Posted: Apr 16, 2013 11:14:30
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Much analysis is being done these days regarding North Korea. Nobody is quite sure what to make of the boasts and threats coming from its government. The thing about behavior is that it is always, in some manner, rational. That is, it is biologically motivated and shepherded by a "reasoned" assessment of outward conditions bent on satisfying that underlying biological motivation. The underlying motivation could be anything from hunger or fear to desire for attention and belonging to nurturant caring or a jealous quest to get even. I put the term "reasoned" in quotes because we don't all agree each other's reasoning is valid or logical. But the fact is, it is reasoned. Scientists are getting to the point where they can actually look inside the brain and chart the course of an individual's deliberative processes. However, they cannot yet discern what outside conditions are being assessed or what meaning is being placed on them. Nor, can they pinpoint the most proximally pressing impetus for action being felt. But there are clues. And analysts are trying desperately to assess and understand what is driving North Korean leadership during these days of saber rattling.
Several months ago, NPR's Planet Money did one such assessment, of the North Korean economy. They asked: how does North Korea get their money? What they found was interesting. First of all, North Korea rents mining rights in the northern part of their country to China. Second, they monetize a portion of their labor force by selling cheap labor to South Korean entrepreneurs. Factories have been set up north of the demilitarized zone. The South pays dollars to the North Korean government for work done, who turns around and compensates North Korean workers in North Korean currency, which has internal value but is worthless on international markets. Third, North Korea counterfeits U.S. dollars and sells them beyond its borders for real U.S. dollars. Fourth, North Korea cultivates, refines, and manufactures heroin and methamphetamine, which it also sells for U.S. dollars. Fifth, North Korea sells conventional armaments and nuclear technology to anyone offering dollars.
What does North Korea do with the dollars it accumulates through its activities? It buys military technology from Russia and China while its people go hungry. Its people go hungry because sustainable agriculture within North Korea is vastly inadequate to the needs of its citizens. One theory has it that North Korea's recent saber rattling is meant to extort food for its citizens from all the rest of us under threat of nuclear war and nuclear proliferation. It's a very dangerous game, and yet another form of criminal behavior. Criminal because it seeks gain by undermining the health and wellbeing of others.
Contrast North Korea's criminality with domestic and international trade activities practiced by other countries. Most industrial and service activities exploit natural processes and/or the developed knowledge and talents of its citizenry for the purpose of supplying healthful goods and services to partners in trade for equally useful goods and services. Take, for example, modern agriculture. Research, experimentation, and knowledge sharing through education have increased modern agricultural production tens and sometimes hundreds of times over what was possible a century ago. And, while true that pesticides and fertilizer run off have created deleterious consequences, adjustments are now being made that promise to smooth out even those problems. In the meantime, overall population health and wellbeing has not only been sustained but has increased, all as a direct result of improved agriculture.
North Korea is not unique in its decision to abandon faith in its self and its people to recognize and sustainably exploit the healthful processes of nature and international trade for the purpose of feeding its people and growing its economy. All, in any country, who turn to corruption and crime have similarly abandoned faith in themselves and the potentials of honest effort and inquiry.
May you never succumb to such disillusionment.
Monday, April 16th, 2012
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