[Outlook]Hunger solution is political freedomKim Il Sung, North Korea’s former leader, promised in 1962, right after he began the first phase of a seven-year economic plan, that the people would enjoy rice, meat soup, silk clothes and tiled roof houses. Now, 50 years later, none of that has come true, and worse, millions of people starved to death and hundreds of thousands of people are now wandering about the vast wasteland of Manchuria to find something to eat. The questions now are why North Koreans are still living below the starvation line, how they can overcome hunger, and what South Korea should do to help them out. We have continuously provided unconditional aid to the North under the humanitarian cause that we, as the same nation, should support them, without raising any questions and seeking answers to those questions. However, no one has ever recognized that such food aid does not address the food shortage of the country and even hampers its agricultural industry.
There are two fundamental reasons behind the starvation that cost the lives of millions of people in the North: dictatorship and the wrong system.
Hunger comes from its political system, not natural causes. Without political freedom, contrary to the hope of the people, precious resources are being squandered to build the leader’s image and weapons. Building memorial halls and developing nuclear weapons has been thrusting the North’s people into poverty.
If political freedom is allowed, people will struggle to overcome hunger so that hunger does not come about, in most cases. Even if some problems arise, there will be solutions for them.
North Korea’s food shortage began in the 1980s after the North Korean “juche” method of farming was introduced starting from the mid-1970s. It failed, and socialistic collective agricultural management undermined productivity.
Floods and drought may have exacerbated food shortages, but the fundamental cause is a socialistic planned economy that does not allow private property and freedom of choice. In order to increase productivity, it is necessary to give farmers the motivation, but the North’s socialism denies this.
For 50 years, North Korea maintained a “planned pricing system” under the socialistic planned economy. But after introducing measures to improve economic management in July 2002, it has been making step-by-step efforts, including decentralization of farming, giving cooperative farms some leeway and expanding individual arable acreage to improve productivity. In other words, Pyongyang attempted to introduce a market economy. Against this backdrop, giving unconditional food aid will only hamper the North’s agricultural business in the long term.
Excluding cases of natural disasters and other contingencies, gifts of food aid to the North from the South or international organizations will make the country more dependent on foreign aid. Food aid will push down food prices there, which will lead to lower productivity.
This will increasingly aggravate food shortages. Expecting food support from the outside, the North will become lazy in increasing production. The fundamental solution to this will be to guarantee private ownership and to introduce a free market economic system that allows free trade of goods.
North Korea can learn a lesson from China, which overcame the poverty which plagued the country in the early 1980s. China’s suffering from hunger is attributed to Mao Zedong’s Communist revolution, which forced traditional small- income farmers to shift to collective agricultural management.
Deng Xiaoping, who was concerned about China’s starving people, met Professor Hayek and asked for advice to solve the hunger crisis in the country. The professor’s solution was to privatize farmland and crops. The then Chinese leader followed his advice to implement the system, and in three years, food shortages and hunger were addressed.
The best solution to hunger is giving political freedom and implementing a private property system.
Our policy toward the North should be carried out knowing that the North will be better off if it introduces a market economy that allows free trade based on a private property system, rather than getting foreign aid for it to overcome hunger and poverty.
*The writer is a professor of economics at Hankook University of Foreign Studies.Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Choi Kwang