Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Fly Me To The Moon

I find it comforting somehow to know that South Korea has wack jobs as demented as any we have in the US of A. According to this article in the Korea Times, for example, a distinguished Professor Emeritus at Yonsei University, Kim Dong-gil, claims that a sinister (but unnamed) Someone is the puppetmaster directing the recent protests by Buddhists complaining of religious discrimination by Lee Myeong-bak's administration.

"I've never witnessed the Lee Myung-bak government engage in policies suppressing Buddhism,'' the 80-year-old scholar said in the article. Noting that such collective moves may be caused by "illusion,'' or "misunderstanding,'' he said "the government should endeavor to resolve ongoing miscommunication.'' On the heels of it, he added, "what's more important is that the government team up with investigation and information agencies to verify whether some anti-government figures instigated the demonstrations.''

It seems, though, that President Lee does have a history of promoting Protestantism and demoting Buddhism. And though Professor Kim (who, judging by the prominent photo of Lee featured on his website, is another of the President's cronies) warned that "
it cannot be ruled out that ongoing protests could develop into an unprecedented religious dispute between Buddhism and Christianity", there's nothing unprecedented about Korean Christian attacks on Buddhist institutions.

Then the Korea Herald featured an op-ed by Kim Jong-han, a Hong Kong-based Korean lawyer, exulting that, especially thanks to its athletes' performance in Beijing this summer, "Korea is clearly recognized as a global sports power." He gives special credit to former dictator Chun Doo-hwan:

Although many are critical of President Chun's iron-fisted, authoritarian rule, one undeniable fact is that President Chun made an invaluable contribution to the global standing of Korean sports. Without President Chun's dedication and commitment to this cause, Korea's successes at the Olympic Games or other global sporting events would not have been possible.

From there, Mr. Kim praises former dictator Park Chung-hee, who brought the Korean economy into the twentieth century by a brutal forced march:

When he took over the control of his nation in 1961, South Korea was so devastatingly poor that the Philippines and North Korea were far wealthier. In the ensuing two decades, he built the steel mills in Pohang, shipyards and automobile plants in Ulsan and factories all over Korea, laying the foundation for Korea's economic miracle.

Kim even manages to praise President Kim Dae-jung:

When Kim Dae-jung was elected president in 1997, most people expected that the former dissident (once sentenced to death by the military regime for sedition) would act out his vengeance and spend all of his time erasing the authoritarian traits embedded in the Korean society. Yet, his presidency was thrusted into chaos from day one by the unexpected Asian financial crisis that hit Korea in late 1997. To everyone's pleasant surprise, for the next several years, President Kim not only skillfully navigated the Korean economy out of the financial crisis, but he also made the economy, particularly the financial sector, even stronger.

More significantly, however, he truly opened up the closed Korean economy to the world for the first time. As a result of President Kim's liberalization policies, foreign businesses invested tens of billions of dollars into the Korean economy, investing in financial institutions and real estate, among other things. To date, President Kim is remembered as the leader who globalized the Korean economy.

This picture is probably a bit too sunny: President Kim "opened up the closed Korean economy to the world" under pressure from the International Monetary Fund, which forced Korea to sell off much of its assets to foreign businesses at fire-sale prices, increasing unemployment and poverty; the Korean economy has not fully recovered since then. And even Mr. Kim Jong-han isn't totally happy with its present state:

For a major capitalistic economy, Korea carries an unusual and unfortunate load that is impeding its economy. From frequent bureaucratic intervention to high tax rates (up to 60 percent on capital gains tax on real estate gains) to punitive tax audits on "uncooperative" corporations to indirect taxes, there seems to be certain socialistic features entrenched in the Korean economy.

Such characteristics are pervasive beyond the economic sector, however. In education, even as college admission is one of the most competitive in the world, the government has pursued policies that stifle competition and creativity at primary and secondary levels. In the name of fairness, the government is forcing all students to receive the same identical education regardless of ability and competence.

"Certain socialistic features"? Without those socialistic, even communistic features, the Korean economy would not be where it is today. President Park's "economic miracle" was the result of centralized planning, control of capital, and harsh repression of Korean workers. It was the lowering of Korea's trade and financial barriers, which protected it against destructive speculation, that led directly to the financial crisis of 1997. (As for education, Korean education hardly needs to become more competitive.)

Maybe this is why I feel so much at home in Korea. Despite the intelligence, kindness, and warmth of its people, it has plenty of right-wingers who remind me of the Dean Clarence Manions, Barry Goldwaters, and Phyllis Schaflys of my midwestern youth. Ah, nostalgia!