A tale of two Koreas: The power of freedom

George Allen Former US Senator
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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.

According to the U.S. State Department, South Korea’s economic growth has been “spectacular” over the past several decades. “Per capita [GDP], only $100 in 1963, is close to $20,000. South Korea is now the United States’ seventh-largest trading partner…”

In contrast, North Korea has a per capita GDP of $1800. In 2005, North Korea returned to centralized food rationing. Due to lack of electricity, fuel and industrial parts, the critical infrastructure is outdated and the energy sector has collapsed. Through 2008, the United States has tried to assist North Korea by providing electricity to hospitals through non- governmental organizations.

The object lesson learned after 57 years of economic development and energy deployment between two vastly different governments over the Korean people is clear. Oppression and heavy governmental regulation starve resources and diminish people on their own land. A free society with abundant energy enhances and improves the health and quality of lives. That is the power of unleashed freedom, enabling prosperity through electricity, energy and education. As the satellite image shows; it is the difference been darkness and light.

George Allen has served Virginia in the House of Delegates, in the U.S. House, as its Governor and in the U.S. Senate. He is Chairman of the American Energy Freedom Center.