Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table. 3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.
I just returned from a fascinating experience in Seoul — including a Presidential election in Korea that saw a landslide victory for a socialist leaning and ‘pro-North’ candidate Moon Jae-in, and a visit to the DMZ. The reformer Moon Jae-in is a reaction against charges of corruption and cronyism.
Since 1953, Korea’s development is nothing short of miraculous, but obviously there are tensions in the system that must be explored. I wasn’t there long enough or studied the system in-depth enough to offer a constructive answer, but my priors would lead me to think in terms of the differences between industrialization and development.
But that might not be the right way to think about it. In my book The Collapse of Development Planning, Young Back Choi has an excellent chapter on the Korean model, and Ben Powell’s dissertation written in the early 2000s explored this difference between industrialization and development in the context of the debate concerning the Asian Tigers.
My short visit convinced me of the importance of revisiting these issues. This was, of course, nowhere as stark as in looking across the divide between North and South as well as the satellite imagery that is now well-known showing the respective countries at night. Whether real or not, I haven’t personally felt the scars of socialist-communism in visiting a country since my travels in the early transition period in East and Central Europe and the former Soviet Union.
As a comparative political economist, Korea reaffirmed my fascination with how alternative political, legal, social and cultural institutions impact the economics and financial practices of a nation. As a human being, I was reminded of the horrors of war and the tragedy of political oppression.
The Mont Pelerin Society Regional Meetings themselves were fantastic in content and organization. It was a jam packed program put together by the organizing committee of Kyu-Jae Jeong (Co-chair), Tae-shin Kwon (Co-chair), Inchul Kim (Co-chair), Hong Yeol Kim, and Youngsul Kwon (Secretary General), and it included talks by local scholars on the Korean economy, but also international scholars on the general problems that liberalism must face.
A highlight for me — as an economist — was the panel featuring Lars Hansen, Vernon Smith and Israel Kirzner. The organizing committee and the program committee put together a first-rate intellectual experience and despite the political situation with heightened tensions in the region the conference had a great attendance with rooms full to capacity to hear the speakers.
MPS was founded to cultivate a constructive conversation about liberalism, and its continuing relevance for the practical problems of the day. As I said in my opening speech — the Walter Lippmann Colloquium — from which Mont Pelerin Society (MPS) derives — was concerned with the challenges to classical liberalism that the (real or imagined) inefficiency, instability and inequality of the market represented.
This is still our challenge today. And meeting it requires a reconstruction of the liberal project for our time. But in that reconstruction there are also time honoured principles that must be adhered to I would argue. Reconstruction is not abandonment.
Peter Boettke is an American economist of the Austrian School. He is currently a University Professor of Economics and Philosophy at George Mason University; the BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism, Vice President for Research, and Director of the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at GMU. He is President of the Mont Pelerin Society.
When the regional meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society (MPS) was scheduled to be held in Seoul, few people would have predicted that it would take place at a time when tensions between North and South Korea would be at their highest level for several decades — partly fuelled by a hyper-hawkish Trump administration.
Even fewer people would have foreseen there would be a presidential election in South Korea during the meeting, due to the impeachment of Park Guen-Hye over corruption allegations.
While this national security context troubled some participants in the lead-up to the MPS meeting, there was never any indication it might be moved or rescheduled. In fact, it was highly appropriate for MPS to hold their nerve, because the ideals it embodies and promotes are crucially important for the continued peace and prosperity of South Korea.
Free market economics are at the core of MPS but the classical liberal philosophy it espouses goes beyond monetary policy and economic output measures. It is also about the morality of freedom and the dignity of human life. The ultimate goal of any policy or political system is to protect and preserve freedom and dignity, and there is little doubt that free market economies and robust democracies are the most effective at achieving those aims.
While South Korea still has a long way to move on the freedom index, its progress has been astonishing. In the four decades from the 1960s, its GDP grew from one similar to poor African and Asian countries to a competitive trillion-dollar world economy. Infant mortality rates per 1000 births dropped from 80 in 1960 to 3 in 2015.
Despite living under the threat of attack from North Korea every day — to the extent that there are sign-posted bomb shelters dotted throughout the CBD of Seoul — the people of South Korea still palpably yearn for peaceful re-unification. A powerful symbol of this hope is the Dorasan train station, constructed 15 years ago near the Demilitarised Zone (aka the DMZ) that marks the border between South and North. A functioning train station, it sits largely idle, ready and waiting for the day the two halves of the nation are reconnected.
MPS meetings are characterised by debate, discussion and, at times, respectful disagreement. One thing was unanimously supported, however — the aspiration that one day soon there will be the opportunity to attend an MPS meeting in PyongYang.
Islamist attacks on Christian churches in Egypt last month finally prompted authorities to try and clamp down on religious extremism.
Dozens of Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 per cent of Egypt’s 92 million people, have been killed in suicide attacks since December.
Now an Egyptian Muslim cleric and TV host, Salem Abdel Galil, has been barred from preaching for saying Jews and Christians follow corrupt religions and would not go to heaven.
“This is a slander of religion and threatens Egyptian unity,” said Coptic Christian lawyer, Naguib Gobrail. The Endowments Ministry, which controls Egypt’s mosques, is taking action against Galil.
The problem is that Galil’s pronouncements about the status of Christians and Jews living in a Muslim country is consistent with Islam’s uncompromising teaching about unbelievers.
Purity of existence is a central component of Islam. Believers are exhorted to engage in struggle or ‘holy war’ to defend the faith.
“Fight against those who do not believe in Allah nor in the Last Day, and do not make forbidden what Allah and His Messenger have made forbidden,” declares sura 9:29 in the Qu’ran.
A ‘pact of protection’ (ar dhimmi) provided the ancient basis for handling those who refused to convert to Islam. Today, dhimmitude defines the status of non-Muslims who live under Islamic rule.
“Islam is the religion of masters,” reported one Muslim convert to Christianity, “Christianity is the religion of slaves.” Little wonder that non-Muslim critics of Islam are met with anger and outrage.
The point where the sacred meets the profane lies at the heart of the religious worldview. In Islam, that meeting point is the text of the Qu’ran that was delivered, in perfect form, to the Prophet.
When teachings that sit uncomfortably with democratic ideals — and threaten civic unity — are derived from Islam’s sacred text, it is very difficult to call religious leaders to account for what they do.
At the very least, citizens of western, liberal societies must learn to take religion — and the claims of believers — seriously. Those who place their ultimate trust and hope in God do so already.