TED Rule 17

Hue, Vietnam

Better late than never, today is monday, new TED rule!

I went to North Korea, it was amazing, unbelievable. Literally. You can see some pictures on flickr or facebook, and some bellow this article. I also edited a long video of the beautiful arirang mass games on youtube, trying to explain the story. Much more are coming, but video editing  takes a lot of time. I was going to explain what I did after, but an image is worth a thousand words:

Map of my trip from August to November

As you understand, I bought a nice old Minsk motorbike in Hanoi, went north of Vietnam, Ha Long Bay, and now I am going south to Ho Chi Minh city.

I spent the last 3 month in 3 of the 5 last communist countries (still missing Laos and Cuba). I must say I didn’t understand the impact of the cold war in Asia before, and its implications even today. I really like the aesthetic of the propaganda posters in North Korea, China and Vietnam, or the green military uniforms, but obviously there is more than that.

North Korea was richer than the South until 1975, and began to go economically backward only in the 90s (check this gapminder graph and play with the Time cursor). China and Vietnam are the 2 countries with the highest economic growth between 1991-2006 (respectively 10.2% and 7.6% average). Two communist countries beating all the capitalists at their own game? Looking at the news, it seems that for the European and US governments, nothing matters except growth. If growth is more important than the happiness of its people, should Europe and the US become communist to face their crisis?

You can say: “Yeah, but China and Vietnam are blocking access to facebook. If we become communist, what am I going to do? Maybe we can think a bit more!” OK, let’s look at other successful countries in East Asia (that doesn’t block facebook): Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Singapore. Some were ruled by authoritarian government during the 60s,70s and 80s. Maybe the solution for Europe is to become an authoritarian government?

Hopefully this is TED Rule, and I can call Yasheng Huang, professor of political economy at MIT, to help us fighting authoritarian ideas (and access to facebook):

” The problem with that view is like asking all the winners of the lottery: “Have you won the lottery?” And they all tell you “Yes, we have won the lottery!” […] For each of the successful authoritarian government in East Asia there is a match failure […] If you look at all the statistical evidences worldwide, there is really no support for the idea that authoritarian government hold a systematic edge over democracy in therm of economic growth”

Ouf, that was close… Watch the video for more: Does democracy stifle economic growth?

For the lazy, I can summarize: Yasheng Huang compares India (democracy) and China (less democracy). China is a superstar of growth not because of it’s political system: Infrastructures, strong government -no private property rights, and state capitalism and government ownership do not provide growth, but are the consequences of growth. China is succeeding because of its advantage on human capital: Education – life expectancy – women. What is important is not the static political system (authoritarian), but the change from less authoritarian to more democratic (more and more democratic reforms).

My TED rule for this week will be an easy one: Don’t forget that economic growth doesn’t come from authority, but from human capital.

In his talk Yasheng Huang is only talking about emerging economies. Let’s wait for a new TED Rule to know what to do in the old rich economies!

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TED Rule 16

Beijing, China

Long time no see! Almost one month without a new TED rule…  well, let’s take it on the positive side: I am so busy enjoying my exciting life that I cannot find time to watch TED talks and write the blog. From last month in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) I flew to Taipei (Taiwan), a wonderful crazy city with the best tea on earth (for the moment). I took a train to Chiayi to visit the countryside and the mountains, then back to Taipei and an other plane to Hong-Kong. After a week in Bruce Lee (and Jacky Chan) country to get the proper visa for China, I arrived yesterday to Beijing.

To summarize: I spent the month in big crazy modern Chinese speaking cities, each very different from the other, each having so much to do and see. I took many pictures – and videos – but had no time to process them. And I will not have time in the following week because of TED Rule 16.

TED Rule 16 is about peace, walk and tourism. It comes from a TED talk from William Ury, a mediator who worked on negotiations to avoid war (and was successful in Indonesia and Venezuela for example). In the talk, he presents his vision of the 3 sides of a conflict: 2 who disagree, and the third side: us.

The secret to peace is us. It’s us who act as a surrounding community around any conflict, who can play a constructive role.

If you watch the video, William is talking mainly about the middle east conflict, but his vision is way bigger. With other people he created the Abraham path, a way for the third side (us) of the middle east conflict to remind the two other sides (Israel/Palestine) the story (Abraham) that unites them. But it is more than that:

Terrorism is basically taking an innocent stranger and treating him as a enemy who you kill in order to create fear. What’s the opposite of terrorism? It’s taking an innocent stranger and treat him as a friend who you welcome into your home in order to show and create understanding, or respect, or love… […] The potential is basically to change the game. And to change the game you have to change the frame, the way we see things. To change the frame from Hostility to Hospitality. From Terrorism to Tourism.

I like that. From Terrorism to Tourism. Where could I try that? I could go to a country that scares a lot of people (who’s the enemy in video games nowadays?). An hermit country that is just opening his frontiers to few tourists, showing a will to move from terrorism to tourism. A country where the outside world is demonized, all subject of the american imperialism (they are not so wrong). A country mixing communism and fascism, with beautiful kitsh propaganda. So good that it was predicted in 1948 – in 1984. I could go to North Korea!

I may not make a big change going there, like William with the Abraham path. But starting the habit and opening the country, talking about it, sharing pictures, videos, experiencing the biggest truman (human?) show in the world may be quite a fun!  at least this is what I was thinking from books and documentaries, until I read “Nothing to Envy” and watched “Children of the secret state” – the only 2 medias showing compassion for North Koreans.

So I’m going to North Korea tomorrow  for a week! Of course no internet there (and no cellphone or GPS – but good surprise, laptops are permited), so I leave you with our great leader Kim Jong Il looking at things – and looking at you from his spy monitor.

Late TED Rule 16: Visit North Korea