A Famine of a Different Kind

“I have fond memories of my days at the university, even though the leftist students often riled me. They always tried to make me see the shortfalls of the South Korean system of government. At least the North wasn’t corrupted by a fierce, never-ending battle for profit! Though I lacked the theoretical arguments to counter their claims, I wasn’t impressed. ‘Go to the North,’ I told my contradictors, ‘and you’ll stop trying to excuse Kim Il-sung’s failures. Go find out for yourselves.'” – Kang Chol-Hwan, The Aquariums of Pyongyang

In the mid to late 90s, North Korea experienced a severe famine. An estimated 2 or 3 million people starved to death. Usually when we think of a severe famine, we think of drought, or flooding, or locusts – some natural disaster that destroys the food, leaving people to starve.While there was flooding in the case of the North Korean famine, it is does not account for the severity of the crisis.  Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the North Korean government began encouraging citizens to eat two meals a day instead of three. By 1994 there were remote towns that just couldn’t get food. This all predated the floods in 1995.

So what precipitated the famine that killed so many? In a word – communism. This system of government does not work. It removes any incentive to work hard or innovate. (A man will not reap any benefits from his labor.) Communism is utterly and massively inefficient at allocating resources and producing goods to meet the needs of the citizens.

In The Acquariums of Pyongyang, Kang Chol-Hwan gives a first-hand account of the beginnings of the ultimate failure of the agricultural production and distribution system. Inept managers leading unmotivated workers and a lack of innovation has led to unproductive farms. On top of this, the distribution system has broken down. Areas that do have food are unable to transport it to starving population centers. The food will rot in stationary rail cars. It doesn’t take much to push this type of rigid, fragile system over the edge – and the floods of 1995 did just that.

Such floods in America would likely have led to higher prices at the grocery store and less disposable income for frivolous entertainment choices – not 2 million deaths by starvation. The last 100 or so years of human history have demonstrated in dramatic ways that communism and other centralized economic forms are utter failures. They pale in comparison to free market systems where individuals choose for themselves and spend the fruit of their labors as they see fit. (In changing environments, self-organizing systems will always be more adaptive, more flexible, and more stable to change … and thus way more efficient.)

Christians, such as myself, are often accused by the “enlightened” or even “scientific” community of ignoring the facts for the sake of our religion. They believe that certain evidences point to errors in the Christian worldview and that we ought to follow the more accepted explanation of the phenomena and reject Christ. We, naturally, disagree.

I will note though that whatever the Christians stand accused of in terms of adherence to “faith over reason” – progressives and leftists are far worse. Kim Jong-Il would rather starve an entire population to death than admit that communism doesn’t work. It is a religious argument for him, and an article of faith. It’s no different here. Whatever damning evidence is presented of the failures of progressive policies, indicating that a change of course is the only rationale and sane choice, progressives will stand their ground. They claim that we unenlightened buffoons don’t really understand what’s going on. Quite the contrary. We know exactly what’s going on, and we see your denials for what they are. Progressives are unwilling to give up their religion in the face of dramatically contradictory evidences.

That’s fine, I won’t force them to convert. I will note that it is hypocrisy to accuse Christians of this very thing when it is far more common amongst progressives.

As for North Korea, I again urge everyone who prays to pray for the end of the regime and its oppression. These people have struggled long enough under this rule. It is time for freedom, time for deliverance.

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