A tale of two Koreas: The power of freedom

As we mark the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War, the Korean Peninsula provides the world a living, object lesson. On this peninsula, approximately the size of Minnesota, the Korean people are ethnically identical. But, upon gaining independence after World War II, the Korean people took separate paths to self-government. The North led by Soviet occupying forces, the South by U.S-Allied forces. The armistice in 1953 that ended the Korean War split the war-ravaged Korean people with a totalitarian regime in the North and a society based on freedom of expression, religion and private property rights in the South. Both new countries were considered relatively “poor” though North Korea had much more heavy industry and resources compared to the mountainous, rural southern part.

Today, 60 years later, a satellite photograph of the Korean Peninsula tells a profound story of freedom vs. totalitarianism. The electric power behind the economies is a compelling part of the object lesson. Only 20 percent of North Koreans have access to electricity while nearly 100 percent of South Koreans have access to electricity. Largely without electricity, North Koreans do not have access to the Internet. Yet nearly 100 percent of South Koreans are able to communicate and conduct transactions across the Internet. North Koreans have very little refrigeration for their food, few lights, non-existent air conditioning, no automobiles and practically no computers, radios or television. There is very little electricity to develop a manufacturing base, much less provide basics of living for people.

After over fifty years of two systems, the result is a stark difference in the quality of life between the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). First, the life expectancy in South Korea is longer, 78.72 years in comparison to North Koreans’ 61.23 years. The most telling human statistic is that at just four years of age, the toll on living children is pronounced: South Korean preschool children are approximately 3 inches taller than their North Korean peers. Women of childbearing age in North Korea are up to 19 pounds lighter than South Korean women and have a significantly higher maternal mortality rate. The Infant Mortality Rate is 12 times higher in North Korea.

Communist Party doctrine continues to control every aspect of life in North Korea. Although North Korea instituted Kim Il-Sung’s ‘juche’ or doctrine of self-reliance as the state ideology, the country remains heavily dependent upon government subsidies for housing, food and other needs. Land use is heavily regulated by the state, with little or no private property rights. North Korea ranks last, at 179, in the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal’s world rankings for economic freedom.

Starting a small business in North Korea is virtually impossible as central planning rules the economy. By comparison, an entrepreneur in South Korea could start a business within an average of 17 days.

In the past several years, the “Tiger” economy of South Korea has catapulted to between the world’s 10th and 13th largest economy. With unlimited access to electric power, mostly generated from coal and nuclear, the country has vibrant, sophisticated electronics and electrical products, telecommunications, motor vehicles, mining and manufacturing, petrochemical, industrial machine, steel and shipbuilding industries.