Location

By GREG MAFFETT
Published: November 30, 2010

During one of our many Real Estate bubbles in the USA, “Location, Location, Location” was the mantra of the sales agents. Location gets you access. Access to?...Eh, whatever it is you want access to.

So taking this to the logical extreme, the best place to build would be right in the intersection of two major roadways. You could pop out of your house and be flying down the road in no time. So why don’t we do this? Oh right, your house would get run over by semi trucks as soon as you rebuilt it. Yes a small problem there.

So when you have a choice, you don’t build your house on an intersection of major thoroughfares. But on the global level we have these same intersections. Countries form in such places . And there is the problem. Those countries have a bad habit of getting overrun by semi’s.

At one end of the spectrum is Afghanistan. They are always hosting an invasion party. The locals head for the hills and do what they do while they are being sort of conquered by people who want the intersection.

At the other end is Scotland, a country that claims to never have been conquered at all…though it is curiously part of Great Britain.

Those puzzlements aside, the country I’m talking about today is another one that sits on an intersection. Korea. Roughly the same issue. Every few decades some horde would come tromping through, lay claim to the land, then the locals would take it back. Or a different horde would take it. You live in a place like this long enough, you get the drift. You are living in an intersection.

Perhaps you see life differently than Americans do, what with our near total domination of our continent. That was how my Dad saw Korea when he went there in the early 50’s. His paratroopers would take a hill. The local good guys would have the next hill. The Americans would go to sleep and wake up the next day to see that they are being shot at from the hill that was in safe hands the night before. Basically, the locals would go home and sleep in their own beds and not bother to tell the Americans that they were gone. The Chinese or the North Koreans would then take the hill over night and wake up the Americans with sniper fire.

My Dad didn't care for Korea after a few experiences like this. He never bothered to go back after the war. I’m going back there in three days. A week ago the North decided to blow up a South Korean Island with Artillery fire. Some people were killed. Some panic ensued both there and here. My youngest daughter is particularly concerned about me heading over there at this time. I won’t say I have zero concern, But I’m less concerned than she is.

Why? Well first off my Dad survived that country while being shot at from a distance of a few hundred yards. How did he do this? At the time he was attending the Korean War he skinny like me. Skinny guys are much, much harder to hit. It is almost like being invisible. So I got that going for me. Plus the bad guys are not within a few hundred yards. They are 20 or so miles north. Yes, they can rain artillery on Seoul. So I’m within range. But I’m not that concerned.

From a political and economic view, there is no reason for the North to launch a massive invasion of the South. The guy running the North has a personal fortune of $4 Billion. And he has a son to pass the country on to. In the process of amassing his fortune, he has been starving millions of his own people to death. Without aid from the south, millions more would die. I doubt that more than 10% of the population has the stored body fat to even make it to Seoul should the Army come over the DMZ. And if they did, the US and SK would have the skies controlled in about the same time it took us to control the skies over Iraq. Meaning we could wreak the same havoc on Pyongyang that we wreaked on Baghdad.

We are really good at blowing things up. The world knows this. Hence people with anything at all to lose, tend to avoid inviting us to come in and blow them up. The argument that Kim is a nutter doesn’t play. You can’t be a dictator and stay in power if you are a nutter. In every country, you have people who you have to pay off. It may only be a few top generals and provincial leaders, but in every country these people exist. You only continue to run things if you keep them happy, otherwise they overthrow you. It’s a pretty simple formula.

The argument for democracy goes much the same way. In a democracy you have to make at least 50% of the people happy to keep your job or you get thrown out. So the government has to “pay off” more people in a democracy that it does in a dictatorship, hence there is more quality of life and less starvation in an ongoing democracy with a solid economy. The whole idea that a “benevolent dictatorship” is the best form of government is pretty much nonsense to anyone who understands how the pay off system works.

So to my way of thinking, there is virtually no risk of the North coming South while the current Kim has his money and his heir. The only way he sends his Army across the DMZ is if he has nothing to lose. He’s broke and paranoid, that is the time to worry. So understanding this, what is the worry?

Well the south could actually get tired of these low level skirmishes and they could push North. They have the industrial capability. They have the well fed population. But the losses in the last 57 years have been negligible. Yes, four were killed on the island last week. 53 we killed earlier when the NK’s sunk a submarine. Still it less than a 100 people in a bad year. They go North and the numbers are probably in the thousands or tens of thousands. I don’t know the numbers, but they do. And they haven’t moved North in 57 years. Instead they are busy building up a pretty solid economy.

If you look at the sinking of the Submarine, there was no action after that. The Minister of National Defense offered to resign, but the offer was declined. This time it was accepted, but still, I get the sense that no one over at the MND has been sweating over a serious attack from the North. It’s just not in the cards as most people see it, at least that is my read of the hands being played. If they really were concerned, they would have beefed up the defenses on the Island that was attacked last week. But instead I imagine they are more focused on what to do after the US turns over control in a few years.

I mean there were risks to living in Korea back in the 90’s. At the time the two biggest risks were driving and standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Korea as a nation was just learning to drive after the Olympics in ’88. Driving there in ’91 was a lot like driving on the LA freeways if you replaced the regular crazy traffic with 6 Million teenagers who just got learners permits. In '91 the DMZ was much safer than the freeways around Seoul.

Then there was the other problem they were having. Concrete. Concrete is a simple mix-water, rock and cement basically. Water and rocks are cheap, cement is expensive. So the local contractors took to cutting back on the cement in concrete. The process was to keep cutting back until there was a problem. The problems started to appear in my second year there. Two or three bridges collapsed into the Han River, taking cars with them into the river. Then a high rise concrete building collapsed under its own weight. As Korea started to become rubble under its own accord, I was not really concerned about the North.

I knew that what was going on in the South was 10 or 100 times better than what was going on North of the border. And if the guys in the south were building a city that was falling down due to gravity…well really, the North didn’t much scare me. So yes, the North will keep doing what it is doing. Saber rattling and the like to not much avail.

I’m not worrying about the North. But I am looking forward to seeing the South. When I left they were obviously still struggling to get life figured out. But now, now I’m hearing they are getting it. They are building cars that work. They are building buildings and bridges that stay up. Oh and there is one more thing. When I left, you could get any kind of food you wanted, as long as it was Korean, Korean or Korean. From what I hear, they fixed that too.

This should be good.

Any Comments?


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