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Havel, Kim Regimes Show the Importance of Economic Freedom

December 19, 2011

Over the weekend the world lost two figures that will undoubtedly be remembered in the history books: Vaclav Havel, an anti-communist playwright-turned-politician who led Czechoslovakia out from under an oppressive Soviet-style regime in 1989, and Kim Jong-Il, a brutal dictator who has enforced North Korea’s Soviet-style police state and thereby led his country into famine. The contrast could not be greater between these two leaders, nor could the mark they left on the economies and the people of their respective countries.

Havel was a nuanced figure and hardly a consistent champion of free-markets, but nevertheless will be remembered as a hero for exposing the hypocrisy and oppression of communist rule, for leading the non-violent “Velvet Revolution” that toppled it in 1989, and for laying the foundation for an open and free economy in the Czech Republic while serving as his country’s president in the 1990s and early 2000s. Thanks to Havel’s efforts, his country has been rewarded with a growing economy and a higher standard of living, including an inflation-adjusted 228 percent increase in per capita gross domestic product (GDP) since 1990 according to World Bank figures — faster growth than most European nations and four times faster than Russia.

Kim, in the words of the American Enterprise Institute’s Dan Blumenthal, “was a vicious and cruel man. He enriched himself and his cronies as the North Korean people suffered through famine, forced labor, and other cruelties.” While there is little reliable data coming out of North Korea, under one measure per capita GDP fell from $2,841 in 1990 to $1,122 in 2008. In other words, Kim’s hyper-militarized “mafia state” has sucked the very life out of the North Korean economy, and the country has literally moved backwards under his oppressive rule.

The lesson is that economic freedom matters in a very real sense. Throwing off the chains of government central planning has brought brighter lives to the people of the Czech Republic. Maintaining those same chains year after year has brought suffering to the people of North Korea. American leaders should take note.

[img_assist|nid=25851|title=Per Capita GDP, 1990-2008|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=579|height=347]

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