BY DON C. BRUNELL
Governor Gregoire's recent trade mission to South Korea and Taiwan should remind us all that economic freedom and personal freedom are inseparable.
Just compare North and South Korea.
North Korea is a grim, closed Communist dictatorship. No private enterprise is allowed and there is no free flow of information. While the government focuses on military spending and nuclear weapons, the nation's industrial sector and infrastructure have been neglected for decades and are virtually beyond repair. Without China providing the lion's share of its trade and aid, including 90 percent of its oil, North Korea would implode.
Malnutrition is rampant, and according to the World Health Organization, North Koreans are five inches shorter than South Koreans. In some villages, the bodies of starvation victims lie in the streets where they fell. Guards are stationed along the country's border not to keep people out, but to keep people in. When escapees are sent back by China they are executed on the spot.
In contrast, South Korea is a republic with a booming economy. While North Korea's government restrains economic freedom, South Korea's government actively pursues partnerships with the private sector to grow its economy.
People are also free to demonstrate against government policies. In fact, when the U.N. imposed sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear testing, some South Koreans organized demonstrations in Seoul that were reported in the The Korea Herald. Contrast that to Pyongyang where the only reported reaction was a massive televised torchlight parade carefully orchestrated by the government.
The South Korean economy has made great strides over the last 40 years, and in 2005 the government proposed labor reforms and revamped corporate pensions to help make the labor market more flexible. Today, South Korea has moderate inflation, low unemployment, an export surplus, and fairly equal distribution of income.
How much difference can a free economy make? South Korea has twice the population of North Korea, but the South Korean economy is 24 times larger than the economy of its neighbor to the north.
In South Korea, as in the rest of the free world, economic freedom and personal freedom go hand in hand. In fact, one does not exist without the other. Economic freedom, the opportunity to work hard to build a better future for you and your family, is the very foundation of individual freedom. Some might say it is the key to individual freedom.
We in the United States are fortunate to live in a society that encourages and promotes innovation, creativity and freedom. But even here there is a tendency in some quarters to believe that government controls are the key to economic stability and parity.
Yes, the free market can be bumpy at times, and yes, some government oversight and regulations are needed. But too many controls and too many regulations stifle innovation and growth - and by extension, the freedoms we hold so dear.
According to the Heartland Institute in Chicago, American employers last year spent more than one trillion dollars dealing with federal regulations - not counting state and local regulations. That's equivalent to 20 million jobs paying $50,000 a year.
But statistics alone don't tell the whole story. Imagine the brighter futures those $50,000 a year jobs could mean for 20 million American families: home ownership, a better school, college funds, and a secure retirement. Those brighter futures are made more difficult, and in some cases impossible, by excessive and costly regulations.
People from all over the world want to come to America because they know they can be free here - free to work hard and build a better future for themselves and their children. They know better than anyone that economic freedom and personal freedom are symbiotic.
As Thanksgiving approaches, we should be very grateful that America is freedom's shining example around the world.
Don C. Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business.