Friday, April 26, 2013

What could possibly be worse than having Kim Jong-un as your next-door neighbour?

Conceivably, not having him.

Think about it. At the moment, North Korea is constantly making belligerent threats and acting like it's going to go crazy and attack South Korea, Japan and/or the US at any minute.

The smart money says this is just bluster. Their main business is shaking down rich countries for money by threatening them with "annihilation". Of course, Brecher pointed out how absurd this prospect is:
It’s grotesque that the US is afraid of North Korea’s handful of tiny nuclear weapons. To see how weird that is, go back to the Nukemap site and see the effect of North Korea’s tested nuclear weapons on Beijing (so you can compare this radius with the huge American and Soviet weapons). Set the app for North Korea’s 10kt nuke, tested this year. You’ll see that the kill radius is limited to the core of downtown Beijing. Then, when you have some sense of how small the death-circle for the NK bombs really is, try them on an American city.
I used L.A., because it’s the nearest big city, and was amazed what a tiny hole the North Korean bomb would make in the giant ant’s nest of greater Los Angeles. It basically carves out a rough square where I-5, 10, 1o1, and 110 slice through downtown.
The same is not necessarily true for South Korea. The North Korean artillery, not to mention its numerous hidden tunnels, could likely impose serious damage on Seoul should the North be feeling so inclined. 

America's response has been, effectively:
Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away.
In other words, they don't really believe it's in North Korea's actual interests to start a war. They just need to bluster to keep the coin coming in. South Korea puts up with the ritual humiliations, because it's easier than calling their bluff and risking a war that nobody wants.

So from this perspective, what's going on is just another round of the charade. It's annoying and embarrassing to the South, and every now and again they lose some soldiers or sailors to a random attack, but it's probably not going to get to the level of real threats.

On the other hand, what exactly would happen if the west got its way, and Kim Jong-un announced that he was going to implement a peaceful transition to democracy and unification with the South?

Well, the good news is that it would take a lot of the military tension from that part of the world, which would be a huge relief to South Korea. But then what?

Then, they'd have to attempt the gargantuan task of trying to integrate 24 million starving peasants into their society.

For comparison, think about the effort it took to integrate East Germany into West Germany. And East Germany was perhaps the most industrially developed of the Soviet bloc countries. Still, East Germany has been a veritable sinkhole of money and effort for the West. Even now it's still not as developed.

According to the most recent CIA numbers (the only ones that list an estimate for North Korea), the North Korean GDP per capita is around $1800 in PPP terms, with a population of 24.4 million. South Korea, by contrast, has a GDP per capita of $31,200 in the same dataset, and a population of around 49.7 million.

So in the short run, if the South wanted to make each North Korean as luxuriously rich as the average Cuban ($9900 per year), it would cost the average South Korean $3977 per year.

Given that the current South Korean government spending is 30% of GDP, or $9360, this would mean that South Korean government spending would have to go up by over 42%. Per year. Possibly forever.

By contrast, South Korea's defense budget is only 2.7% of GDP, or $824 per person. Even if you could eliminate your army altogether as a result of reunification, it wouldn't even come close to paying for itself.

If the South were to fully equalise the wealth per person, the GDP per capita ($21,519) of the combined country would be between that of Aruba and that of Estonia.

To make matters worse, North Korean civilians have been brainwashed from a very young age to think that South Korea and America are the devil. I'm guessing this is going to cause some teething problems. Living under such a psychotic state must be incredibly scarring. I wonder whether you don't just 'end up like a dog that's been beat too much', as Mr Springsteen eloquently put it. If you think that this isn't going to create all kinds of untold social problems, then you're much more optimistic about human nature than I am.

As a starting point, given these people would have the right to vote, it would be a scary and wacky experiment to see what happens when you add an extra 50% to the electorate made up of people who have been starving to death for the past few decades and may or may not believe that the United States is the reason for this.

It can't be fun living next door to a country with a leadership as psychopathic as the Kims. But it's not clear that the likely changes will be much better in the near future either.

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