Does Capitalism Make Us More Free?

North Korean soldiers parade in front a portrait of former North Korean President Kim Il-sung during a military parade in Pyongyang

Samantha Pritchett – Period 7 – Honorbound

America is known as the land of the free.  Living under a democratic system of government, we have a habit of taking our freedoms for granted.  The Constitution gives us the freedom of speech, religion, a right to own property, and loads of opportunities with education and professions as a US citizen.  In addition to living under a democracy, we live in a capitalistic system: American industries are privately owned, and not controlled by the State.  While many Americans agree with capitalistic beliefs, some think that the government should control more aspects of industry, and we should move over to a more socialistic way of life.  Some countries, mainly on the Eastern side of the globe, completely disregard these two systems and have the government control everything within the country, including things that Americans would consider personal rights: this is known as communism.  Ludwig von Mises, an Austrian philosopher and economist, believes that capitalism is the only appropriate structure for a country’s economy.  Through his article Liberty and Property, Von Mises proves that unlike other political and economic systems, capitalism guarantees individuals the most possible freedom they can have under a necessary government; North Korea, with a system completely contrary to capitalism, serves as a prime example of lack of freedom from their different form of government.

The dictionary defines capitalism as “an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production…is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations.”  Capitalism is prevalent in Western civilization more than Eastern, who lean more towards government controlled systems.  Von Mises argues that capitalism puts economic power “in the hands of the consumers” [1].  This is important because it will ensure that the most possible people can be served.  Because of this belief of benefitting the masses, America uses a capitalistic market so everyone can make their own economic decisions, from both the the producer’s and the consumer’s side of the market.  From this, it can be concluded that “the distinctive principle of Western social philosophy is individualism” [2].  In Western Europe and America, each individual has the power to make decisions for oneself, whether it may be what they want to buy, where they want to live, or what political candidate they choose as their leader.  The idea that comes along with capitalism is liberty for all.  Because of these benefits that go with capitalism, Ludwig Von Mises prefers it over all other economic systems of government; he believes that with capitalism, freedom prevails.

As stated earlier, there are many countries around the world that do not follow the ways of a democracy or of capitalism; the government controls the lives of those in these countries, and no one has basic rights or their own autonomies.  A prime example of one of these countries is North Korea.  Once it became its own country in 1945, North Korea became a communist one-man dictatorship.  The current leader, Kim Jong Un, is the successor of his father Kim Jong Il, and controls every aspect of the country, including the lives of the North Korean citizens [3].  The regime teaches North Koreans to start idolizing Kim Jong Un at a young age – propaganda for the leader starts during nursery school.  This is only one of the ways that the regime tells the citizens what to believe and think about their country [4].  This form of government completely goes against Von Mises idea of freedom within a country; when a government controls its citizens like this, it “no longer grants to people the opportunity to choose” how they live their own life [5].

The list of horrors in North Korea does not end there – basically, every person’s whole life is monitored from the day they are born.  The regime tracks where everyone is at all times; it is illegal to leave one’s part of the country or the country as a whole without getting permission from the regime; failure to do so can lead to harsh consequences.  The regime also set up an “information blockade” from all media sources outside of North Korea because they are the monopoly of all information reported to the citizens.  This means that everything the people hear has been constructed and modified by the government, so they get a skewed view of reality [6].  In the words of Von Mises, these people have never had a chance to live the life they choose for themselves; a North Korean is merely “a pawn in the hands of the supreme social engineer,” which in this case, is the dictator, Kim Jong Un [7].  With these types of restrictions, there is “no longer any need for free thought and autonomous action on the part of individuals” [8].  For, in the capitalistic view, “as far as individuals have the opportunity to choose, they are free” [9].  So, these North Koreans lack the freedom they deserve without living under a capitalistic system, because they are not allowed to make their own decisions.

Von Mises claims that government is essentially the negation of liberty” [10].  While a government is necessary for a society to run smoothly, there is a line between where personal rights begin and government intervention ends.  In North Korea, this line is nonexistent.  If someone is unhappy with the lack of personal space, the regime is fond of using their political prison camps they so kindly set up around the country.  Even though Kim Jong Un denies that such camps exist, proof has been found that they are true: each camp holds about 80,000 to 120,000 people.  The kicker is that many of the people found in these camps never committed a crime; most of them are simply people related to those who have done something against the regime.  If someone acts out in an “anti-state” manner, this person, their family, and the next three generations of the family are punished to prevent future problems against the regime.  Those born into the prison camps are said to have “guilty blood,” even though they have done nothing wrong [11].  Their government punishes innocent people for no reason.  Von Mises claims ‘the one party principle is in fact a no party principle; it is a suppression of any kind of opposition” [12].  With such strict rules and harsh consequences, people cannot live their lives for themselves, demonstrating that their government really does negate their independence.  Without even the simplicity of freedom of speech, how can North Koreans expect to have any freedoms at all?

In 2011, an American journalist named Suki Kim traveled to North Korea for six months to teach English at a school for nineteen and twenty year old elites in the country.  This school flew under the North Korean radar; families paid for the school out of pocket, and the government had nothing to do with its construction.  In an interview with NPR, she discussed what she learned from the experience.  What she saw in North Korea made her pity these young men for the lack of independence they were to undergo for the rest of their lives.  The most prominent element she noticed about the school was that no one could talk about the world outside North Korea without a trace of fear in their voice.  If a student asked about something regarding another country or way of living (for example, she used democracy), she could not answer the question without worrying that she would be reported and then get in trouble.  Even worse, a student told her he agreed with what he thought; she then worried what would happen to the student later in his life because he questioned the system [13].  She gained the insight from this trip that agrees with Von Mises’ statement “the government alone plans and forces everybody to behave” [14]. The government instills fear on all these people; this force gives these innocent citizens no way to freely think and form their own opinions.  Anything outside of the opinion of the government is strictly punishable.  The final way Kim described North Korea was with two simple words: “claustrophobic” and “inhuman” [15].

Ludwig Von Mises makes the claim that “freedom is indivisible” [16].  This means that freedom cannot just be given halfway: it’s all or nothing.  “He who has not the faculty to choose among various brands of foods or soap is also deprived of the power to choose between various political parties and programs” [17].  This applies seamlessly to the deprived citizens of North Korea, unable to even use the internet or travel [18].  To have the freedoms necessary as an individual, the government needs a capitalistic system so everyone has a right to their own decisions, both personal and economic.  Countries under a severely communistic system, such as North Korea, lack freedom because they cannot make decisions themselves since they lack capitalism in their country.  As Americans, we should be thankful for the opportunities given to us under such a system where we have the freedom of choice.  As our Pledge of Allegiance says, we are promised “liberty and justice for all,” and capitalism surely aids in making this promise true.

Footnotes

[1] Von Mises, Ludwig, Liberty and Property (Auburn: Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 1956.)

[2] Ibid.

[3] “The World Factbook,” CIA.gov, Accessed December 8, 2014, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html.

[4] “The People’s Challenges,” Accessed December 8, 2014, http://www.libertyinnorthkorea.org/.

[5] Von Mises, Ludwig, Liberty and Property (Auburn: Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 1956.)

[6] “The People’s Challenges,” Accessed December 8, 2014, http://www.libertyinnorthkorea.org/.

[7]  Von Mises, Ludwig, Liberty and Property (Auburn: Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 1956.)

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] “The People’s Challenges,” Accessed December 8, 2014, http://www.libertyinnorthkorea.org/.

[12] Von Mises, Ludwig, Liberty and Property (Auburn: Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 1956.)

[13] NPR Staff, “Among The Young And Privileged In North Korea,” NPR.org, last modified October 22, 2o14, http://www.npr.org/2014/10/22/357632699/among-the-young-and-privileged-in-north-korea.

[14] Von Mises, Ludwig, Liberty and Property (Auburn: Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 1956.)

[15] NPR Staff, “Among The Young And Privileged In North Korea,” NPR.org, last modified October 22, 2o14, http://www.npr.org/2014/10/22/357632699/among-the-young-and-privileged-in-north-korea.

[16] Von Mises, Ludwig, Liberty and Property (Auburn: Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 1956.)

[17] Ibid.

[18] Schuelke, Olaf, “Behind the Veil: A Rare Look at Life in North Korea,” CNN.com, last modified March 27, 2013, http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/25/travel/north-korea-travel-gallery/.

Bibliography

“North Korean Soldiers.” Photograph. 2012.  Reuters. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/29/us-korea-north-army-idUSBRE88S0HX20120929&gt;.

NPR Staff. “Among The Young And Privileged In North Korea.” NPR. October 22, 2014. Accessed December 8, 2014.

“The People’s Challenges.” Liberty in North Korea. Accessed December 8, 2014. http://www.libertyinnorthkorea.org/.

“Person Waving American Flag.” Photograph. 2o11. The Examiner. <http://www.examiner.com/article/freedom-3&gt;.

Schuelke, Olaf. “Behind the Veil: A Rare Look at Life in North Korea.” CNN. March 27, 2013. Accessed December 8, 2014.

“The World Factbook.” Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed December 8, 2014. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html.

Von Mises, Ludwig. Liberty and Property. Auburn: Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 1956.

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One thought on “Does Capitalism Make Us More Free?

  1. Sam, I thought your analysis of the lack of freedom in North Korea was very interesting. I agree that the country seeks to take away with all freedoms. I agree that this might be because of a lack of capitalism

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