What to Be Thankful For
By Sean Hayes
Appeared in the Korea Times on Dec. 27, 2007
Christmas is a time of giving. So we should all give thanks that we live in one of the world’s great nations.
I often criticize Korea, in these very pages and elsewhere, for not fully protecting freedoms, favoring the vested elite, excessively taxing, creating and fostering a bloated inefficient bureaucracy, and over-regulating.
My cynical nature often gets the best of me. Korea is a great nation where those shortcomings are not as serious as in many parts of the world. Korea, in only a handful of decades, is a nation that has overcome a horrific war, demoralizing poverty, and brutal dictators to become one of the models for economic success in Asia.
Korea has also been moving in the direction of becoming, not in name only, a constitutional democracy.
However, don’t fret, I will continue, in the upcoming year, to criticize shortcomings, while hopefully balancing my inherent cynicism with a few mentions of hopeful developments.
So for this past year here are a few of things that I am thankful for.
Freedom of Speech and Press
In many places of the world, citizens, and of course foreigners residing in these countries, would not be able to criticize government in a local newspaper. In many parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East this type of column could place me in jail or lead to my deportation.
I have never feared that my writings will lead me to any difficulties in my life in Korea even when I criticize the very institutions that I owe my livelihood to.
Rule of Law
Korea has subordinated most of its power to law. Korea’s constitutional democracy has created mechanisms, including the Constitutional Court, to help guarantee that the government will not act arbitrarily.
No longer can kings, the vested elite, government officials, and the like take residents’ life, liberty, or property arbitrarily. Also, increasingly, the vested elite is being treated in a similar manner as the people. No longer can they rely on their power to avoid difficulties.
Korea has fostered the capitalist spirit. I owe my paycheck, the apartment I live in, the streets that I drive on, the health care system that I may employ, and the abundance of food that I consume, to the capitalist freedoms that allow private ownership of property and free markets.
The private ownership of property coupled with the ability to contract creates the incentive to create more wealth. Korea is a role model, in Asia, for the successful implementation of a capitalist market system.
For most of the world’s history we have created castes and strictly assigned individuals to certain castes. Korea was no exception. Article 11 of the Korean Constitution guarantees equality and the Constitutional Court and in recent years the Human Rights Commission has been willing to fight for equal protection for all.
The Constitutional Court has made numerous rulings striking down laws that discriminate against women and the Human Rights Commission has been actively promoting the rights of foreigners, the disabled, and women.
We should all be thankful and realize that without the freedom of speech and press, the rule of law, capitalism, and respect for equality many Korean would choose to forgo the Korean system and many foreigners would choose to remain in their home countries.
We all know Korea and the rest of the world are facing many difficulties, but we should also be thankful that in Korea we are living decent lives because of the willingness of Korea to protect and foster our rights and liberties, promote democracy, and maintain the rule of law.
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