Friday, July 3, 2015

The Korean Military's Psychological Education

Last night, I read an article written on NK News. Typically, NK News is a publication that I have found to be informative and respectable. However, as I read this column about the Korean Army's jeongshin kyoyuk, the Korean military's psychological education that it administers to all members of the Armed Forces on a weekly basis, for the first time, I could not help but roll my eyes.

The following are my rebuttals to the points that were made in the column.

1. This writer over-estimates the effectiveness of jeongshin kyoyuk (the South Korean military's "psychological education.") In my time in the ROK Army, I learned that they are mostly PowerPoint slides that do nothing more than bore the listeners to tears.

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2. That being said, it is not a waste of time. Considering the fact that about half of South Koreans in their 20s seem to think that the Korean War began when the South invaded the North, the Korean military, despite its hamfistedness, is clumsily trying to correct this horrible wrong. Jeongshin kyoyuk can be streamlined and modernized, but it is not a waste of time.

3. "Since weekly sessions still regularly reference President Syngman Rhee and Park Chung-hee, whose administrations ended more than 50 and 30 years ago, respectively, education is outdated."

As someone who has served in the South Korean Army, I can say with absolute certainty that this was a load of bullshit. I only heard President Syngman Rhee mentioned once when the lecture was about the initial partition of the Korean peninsula and President Park Chung-hee was never even mentioned.

4. The military was not, is not, and will never be a warm and fuzzy organization that just wants the whole wide world to sing Kumbaya. The military's duty is to defend the country from its enemies when all other means fail. And that means it has to train to look at the North Koreans as the enemy and kill them if it is necessary.

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5. The North Koreans ARE the enemy. There are a lot of names of young boys etched on the War Memorial, some more recent than others, who were killed by North Koreans.

6. The North Korean system IS inferior. South Korea might not be perfect but unlike what happened in North Korea, millions of South Koreans did not die of starvation.

7. There are many reasons that North Korean defectors face many challenges in adapting to life in South Korea. Jeongshin kyoyuk is not one of them. The military states emphatically that North Korea is the enemy, but it has nothing but sympathy for North Korean defectors who are able to make it across.

8. Reunification policies come and go as politicians come and go. The Sunshine Policy was a disaster and this so-called Reunification Bonanza was nothing more than political posturing that was full of unsubstantiated irrational exuberance. It will have an even shorter footnote than the Sunshine Policy.

In the meantime, the North Koreans have thousands of artillery pieces aimed at Seoul (see here and here), various WMDs, and a huge special forces unit that has been trained to kill as many South Koreans as indiscriminately as possible.

So excuse me if I roll my eyes at this nonsensical sentimentalism in NK News and continue to view the North Koreans as a mortal threat to my country.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Samsung's Increased Maternity Leave

According to this article from The Korea Times, it appears that Samsung is unilaterally planning to allow its female workforce to take up to two years' of paid maternity leave.

The law, on the other hand, requires that businesses provide up to only one year.

It is not entirely clear why Samsung decided to be so generous suddenly. The article does state that it could lead to more loyalty from Samsung's employees and that other businesses from around the world calculated that they save quite a bit of money by doing this. However, considering how Korea is also referred to as the Republic of Samsung, employee loyalty might not be something that Samsung needs to be overly worried about.

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Regardless of the reasons, Samsung seems to have made this seemingly generous decision without being compelled to do so.

What is interesting, however, is the bit in the article that says:

As of last year, Samsung Electronics had 319,208 full-time employees globally, with South Korea taking up 31.1 percent. Entry-level female employees accounted for 48.3 percent, followed by senior working moms at 12.4 percent, the report said.

"The return rate after maternity leave was 91 percent last year after 92 percent in 2013," another company official said. "Therefore, we are not worried about a vacuum in our workforce as a result of this new policy and those who take a longer leave shouldn't be deterred by job insecurity."

Statistics can be odd sometimes. Samsung's spokespeople can probably say, without being disingenuous at all, that the company's return rate after leave is 91 percent, but it does not change the fact that entry-level female employees make up 48.3 percent of its workforce but that working mothers make up only 12.4 percent.

That is quite a significant difference. Is it possible that many of the entry-level female employees, who are mostly young and unmarried, tend to quit their jobs (or get fired) after they marry and/or get pregnant, rather than go on maternity leave; thereby guaranteeing that the company's return rate after maternity leave remains so high? Or is it possible that Samsung just does not employ pregnant women that much from the get-go?

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The article, as per The Korea Times' usual standard of journalistic excellence, does not explain. So one can't help but use one's own imagination. However, I doubt that one needs that much imagination (see here and here).

So, will Samsung's sudden generosity be beneficial for women? Personally, I don't think it will be helpful for women at all. And that is because I think these added benefits will simply compel a significant number of Samsung's Human Resources managers to accept fewer female job applicants from the get-go.

Case in point, according to this article from The New York Times, when the Spanish government passed a law guaranteeing greater maternity benefits, it was revealed that:

Over the next decade, companies were 6 percent less likely to hire women of childbearing age compared with men, 37 percent less likely to promote them and 45 percent more likely to dismiss them, according to a study led by Daniel Fernández-Kranz, an economist at IE Business School in Madrid. The probability of women of childbearing age not being employed climbed 20 percent. Another result: Women were more likely to be in less stable, short-term contract jobs, which are not required to provide such benefits.

Of course, in Samsung's case, upper management chose to increase the company's maternity benefits as opposed to getting their arms twisted by the Korean government. So, this might be comparing apples and oranges. However, it should be noted that Samsung is a very big multinational corporation; and like any large organization chock full of people, there is bound to be competing interests. And it should come as no surprise that some of those interests might not always be on the same page as that of corporate headquarters.

What is true, however, is that for the past few years, more women in their 20s have been employed than people from other demographic groups, especially compared to men in the same age group. However, it is also true that fewer women in their 30s and 40s are employed compared to younger women.

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The problems that women face are much more deep-seated in Korea's corporate culture, as well as Korea's familial culture. Therefore, without first making a serious effort to challenge accepted norms and mores, I think that increasing maternity benefits will only exacerbate matters further, rather than alleviate them.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Irrational Rational Fear of Cancer, MERS, and Terrorism

At the time of this writing, there have been fourteen deaths that have been attributed to MERS.

As a result, thousands of schools have closed, despite cooler heads warning that this was unnecessary. More than 20,000 tourists called off visiting Korea since June 5th, costing Korean businesses millions in lost revenue. Subsequently, the Bank of Korea has cut interest rates to a record low of 1.5 percent amid fears of a sharp fall in consumer spending.

As I had said before, however, I think that the fear of this virus has spread faster than the virus itself and that this fear is irrational. After all, this is not the first time an unusually strong strain of the flu virus spread in Korea. Also, statistically speaking, people ought to be much more worried about cancer and hypertension than about influenza or SARS or MERS or Ebola.

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So why do people overreact to relatively less dangerous things such as MERS and react so coolly to much more dangerous things like cancer? After all, the smoking rate in Korea is 42 percent – and even after the new tax takes effect and helps suppress demand, 34 percent of Koreans will remain smokers.

For all intents and purposes, people react disproportionately to different things due to different reasons.

Firstly, there is a difference in timing. Of the fourteen people who have died after having contracted MERS, the time that it took for them to die was a matter of days. Cancer, on the other hand, is often perceived as something that will occur some day far in the future. Despite what people say, we are all afraid of death. However, the further away death is perceived to be, the more abstract it becomes and the less we fear it.

Secondly, it's a matter of how much control we have. When we think of cancer, many of us tend to think that we have some control over it. We can quit smoking, eat less junk food, drink less coffee, apply more sunscreen, go for annual checkups, etc. Of course, we might not necessarily choose to exercise our convictions. How many times have we made the same New Year's resolution to drink less and exercise more and quit smoking? The point is that we feel that we can exert some control over cancer if we choose to do so.

But what about MERS or Ebola? Unlike cancer, diseases like MERS and Ebola feel like they are beyond our control. What if the disease is airborne? What if the lady sitting next to me on the bus is one of those patients who was quarantined but chose to go out to play a round of golf? We cannot see a virus; nor can we taste it nor smell it. And when we cannot control something, well...

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Thirdly, we also cannot ignore the power of imagery.

Many years ago, I saw a family friend die of cancer. She wasted away in the hospital. She lost weight, her hair, her youthful vigor, the sparkle that used to twinkle in her eyes. And the screams...

But toward the end, there was a calmness to it. Her system had been filled with morphine and she was finally asleep, peacefully. Her family had gathered all around her to bid her farewell. There were tears, hugs, and prayers. And then she was gone. The death of a loved one is tragic, but when people are given time to prepare for death, sometimes death becomes a little easier to accept.

On the other hand, however, what is the imagery associated with MERS? Violent fits of coughing, increased body temperatures, isolation and quarantine from all those that you love. Doctors and nurses wearing hazmat suits? Death suddenly seems abrupt and lonely.

What is the imagery associated with terrorism? Google ISIS and you will see. Or don't Google ISIS and spare yourself the unpleasantness.

Seriously, don't Google ISIS.
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Consider that MERS has killed only fourteen people and that thousands of schools have shut down. Also, despite the fact that only one Korean teenager has so far volunteered to join ISIS, the media spent a disproportionate amount of time worrying about ISIS's influence among Koreans. Also, the government has created spyware for smartphones that will watch out for, among other things, mentions of “IS” and “terrorism.”

So, for various reasons, we fear the wrong things much more than we need to and we fear those things that we do need to fear less than we ought to.

The kicker, however, is that this messed up set of priorities is perfectly rational; so long as we define “rational” as “that which is based on or in accordance with reason or logic.” So, it's the reasoning that is faulty.

I am reminded of a phrase that I once learned in a computer science class I took in school a long time ago – Garbage In, Garbage Out (GIGO).

For good or for ill, humans have never achieved the status of homo economicus and probably never will.

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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Documentary Review – The True Cost

Today, a correspondent who goes by the moniker “TheBoss” shared with me a link to a documentary called “The True Cost.” For those who are interested, you can watch it for free here.

This documentary explores the “hidden costs” of fast fashion. The filmmaker, Andrew Morgan, highlights the terrible work conditions and pay in garment factories located in third-world countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia. The film goes to list the hardships that these workers face – urban squalor, polluted environments, deteriorating health conditions, broken families, etc., and, of course, also focuses on the avarice and ignorance of shoppers in the developed world, all the while accompanied by a moody score.

I have already written an article where I defended the existence of sweatshops. You can read it here.

However, I felt that I had to add a bit more for this particular documentary. Although this documentary lasted for about ninety minutes, one question that is never asked throughout the whole film is “as compared to what?”

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This is a very important question. Essentially, this documentary is about economics and it calls for economic reform. However, it is calling for sweeping economic reforms but, at the same time, refuses to talk about economics by ignoring this question.

When we compare the work conditions and the pay that workers in Bangladesh receive to those of workers in the developed world, they are, indeed, awful. There is no doubt about that. However, that comparison is misleading.

The real comparison that has to made is those Bangladeshi workers' current pay and work conditions with these workers' realistic alternatives in Bangladesh.

What this documentary gets absolutely right is that their working conditions are dangerous as evidenced by the collapse of a factory building in Bangladesh, which resulted in the deaths of more than a thousand workers. So the question is why do so many of these workers still choose to endure such harsh conditions and low pay? After all, no one is forcing them at gunpoint to work in these factories.

The fact that they still choose to work in these dangerous sweatshops is powerful evidence that these workers' alternatives are even worse.

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Throughout the film, various activists, and Mr. Morgan himself, call for changes to be made in the fashion industry. It demands that workers be guaranteed a living wage. It demands that consumers in the developed world change their shopping habits and attitudes about materialism in order to alleviate the strains that those workers suffer.

Let us be generous and assume that they succeed in their efforts. Let us say that those workers are paid a living wage (whatever the hell that means) and affluent shoppers' demand for clothing produced in the third world drops significantly. Then what would become of those workers?

Naturally, they would be forced to choose to toil at jobs that pay even less and in conditions that are even dirtier and more dangerous. Case in point, local NGOs in Bangladesh estimated the total number of female prostitutes was as many as 100,000 and UNICEF estimated in 2004 that there were 10,000 underage girls used in commercial sexual exploitation in the country, but other estimates placed the figure as high as 29,000.

The intent of this documentary appears to be shame its viewers into believing that we are pointlessly destroying the environment and prolonging the suffering of the poor with our materialism, over-consumption, and avarice.

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As Milton Friedman used to say, these people are soft of heart, but, unfortunately, they are also soft in their heads. This documentary was all emotion and no perspective.

Never mind that most of the documentary was filmed in countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia – countries with poor records of protecting property rights and encouraging market activities that promote industry, trade, and economic growth – things that Mr. Morgan seems to think are harmful.

What this documentary did not focus on at all are the benefits that would not have existed had the global trade that fast fashion helped to spur did not occur. For example, this documentary did not mention at all that in the past eight years, Bangladesh's GDP has doubled and the same can be said for Cambodia.

This is how economies develop. Before the Miracle on the Han River, Koreans, too, lived in conditions that were not too different from those conditions that we now see in places like Bangladesh and Cambodia.

Many people in the developed world take our affluent societies for granted. Our ancestors had to suffer for our affluence to exist. The only difference is that we can see Bangladeshis and Cambodians suffer now but we cannot see the suffering that occurred in our own past.

Mr. Morgan and those other activists in his film may have good intentions. However, it does not change the fact that they all suffer from a debilitating case of economic ignorance; and it is this ignorance that is the true enemy of the poor.

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However, the point is that all of this may be moot in the not-too distant future because of improvements in technology. According to this article in The Economist, robots that can stitch and sew keep getting better and cheaper. Mr. Morgan might get his wish some day after all. The question is whether he will be happy with the results.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Feeding the MERS Panic

As MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) continues to spread in Korea, over a thousand people are now under quarantine as it has been confirmed that a third person has died after having contracted the virus.

As a precaution, hundreds of schools have been closed, too.

Also, about a hundred airmen from Osan Air Base have been placed under quarantine at a military hospital when an NCO tested positive for MERS. This is the one to watch out for. Considering how people are packed together in the military, a virus like MERS could be even deadlier than the North Koreans could be.

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Personally, despite all that, I think that the fear of this virus has spread faster than the virus itself and that it is important that people should have some perspective. After all, this is not the first time an unusually strong strain of the flu virus spread in Korea. Also, statistically speaking, people ought to be much more worried about cancer and hypertension than about influenza or SARS or MERS or Ebola.

That being said, however, the public's concern is not entirely hard to understand. After all, wanting to be safe is certainly an understandable response.

Therefore, considering the fact that most of the people who have been quarantined are those who had been unlucky enough to have been in close proximity to the initial patients, especially those who had been in the same hospitals, the government could have publicized the names of those hospitals where the patients were quarantined so that the rest of the public could take precautions and avoid those places.

However, the government chose to keep those names a secret. The government reasoned that publicizing those names would create panic. The government's reasoning is not without merit. If the rest of the public chooses to avoid those hospitals like the plague (pun intended), those hospitals could lose badly needed revenues.

The fact remains, however, that there is something grossly perverse about the government refusing to share information with the public that could be in the public's best interest.

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I think that this is as good a time as any for the government and the country's hospitals to discuss a new insurance policy that hospitals can choose to purchase should epidemics like this occur again in the future. However, that is a discussion for another day. For now, this fire has to be put out first. 

Whether the government's action is justifiable or not, however, for every cause there is an effect. In response to the government's refusal to release the names of those hospitals, members of the public have taken matters into their own hands.

The public's response ranges from the benign, such as recommending that people apply Vaseline inside their noses and buying up tens of thousands of masks (that might or might not work), to the dangerous, such as using social media to create and disseminate their own list of hospitals that they suspect are under quarantine. For all intents and purposes, this list does not seem to be entirely accurate.

When people are afraid, they will seek safety wherever they can find it. And for understandable reasons, the public does not feel safe when the government is keeping tight lipped about this. Therefore, it is only natural that some members of the public have begun to panic. Again, it is not entirely rational, but when was the last time the masses were ever rational in the face of a contagious and potentially deadly disease?

The government could have taken control and ended this panic. If it had decided to publish the names of those hospitals, it would have been able to provide authoritative information that could have put all those false rumors and silly homeopathic medical advice to rest.

On top of that, if it is ever revealed that any of those people under quarantine or patients suffering from MERS contracted the disease because of the government's failure to publicize this information, the government is going to find itself being sued by a lot of angry people.

The government could still act now and allay the people's fear. Instead, the government chose to arrest two people for spreading false rumors about MERS.

Until this virus runs its course, members of the public are going to do whatever they can to feel safe. Unless the government chooses to change tact, any panic that might (or might not) result will be the government's fault.

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Economic Rhetoric vs. Economic Reality

Minimum Wage and Unions

When Los Angeles voted to increase its minimum wage from US$9 an hour to US$15 an hour by 2020, it was touted as a victory for the working class.

Proponents of the minimum wage claimed that people deserved a life of dignity, that workers were “worth more,” etc. There was no talk of freedom of association or freedom of contract or the possible unintended consequences that the law could have on marginal workers.

(Just to be clear, I have not only opposed raising the minimum wage for a long time, I have also long opposed the very idea of the minimum wage itself.)

So you can imagine the fit of laughter that I had this morning when I read in The LA Times that labor union leaders, who had been one of the strongest proponents for raising the minimum wage, are advocating last-minute changes to the law that could create an exemption for companies with unionized workforces because:

With a collective bargaining agreement, a business owner and the employees negotiate an agreement that works for them both. The agreement allows each party to prioritize what is important to them... This provision gives the parties the option, the freedom, to negotiate that agreement. And that is a good thing.”

Way back in the day, Milton Friedman once said that the real purpose of the minimum wage is to “reduce competition for the trade unions and make it easier for them to maintain the wages of their privileged members higher than others'.”

If this does not wake people up to the fact that unions only look out for their own interests, rather than the interests of the working class, then nothing will.

Mandated Family Leave

As though I did not get a good enough chuckle from The LA Times, I got another good laugh when I read The New York Times, which reported that mandated family-leave “benefits” often harm many of the same workers that these mandated “benefits” were meant to help.

Here's an excerpt from the article:

Spain passed a law in 1999 giving workers with children younger than 7 the right to ask for reduced hours without fear of being laid off. Those who took advantage of it were nearly all women.

Over the next decade, companies were 6 percent less likely to hire women of childbearing age compared with men, 37 percent less likely to promote them and 45 percent more likely to dismiss them, according to a study led by Daniel Fernández-Kranz, an economist at IE Business School in Madrid. The probability of women of childbearing age not being employed climbed 20 percent. Another result: Women were more likely to be in less stable, short-term contract jobs, which are not required to provide such benefits.

So passing laws that increases the cost of employing women compels businesses to hire fewer women? And to add insult to injury, it just makes the glass ceiling just that much thicker? Shocking!

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Income Mobility

Gawker loves to claim that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Robert Reich loves to make that claim, too. In fact, almost everyone seems convinced that that is true.

Yet today in The Economist, I read an article that showed how much progress Indian immigrants have made in Western countries, particularly the United States. Here's an excerpt:

On the usual measures of success they outstrip all other minorities, including Jewish-Americans. They are educated and rich. In 2012 some 42% held first or higher degrees; average family income was over $100,000, roughly double that of white Americans (see chart). Over two-thirds of them hold high-status jobs. They have done so well that many migrants from Pakistan or Bangladesh like to call themselves Indian, hoping that some of the stardust will rub off on them.

The stereotype of Indians as keeping shops or running motels in their adopted country is thus outdated.

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People who loudly claim that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer can make that boast because they are not talking about real flesh and blood people, but rather about abstract categories like the top or bottom 10 percent of families or households.

These categories have always existed and will always exist. However, the people who make up those groups change. It wouldn't surprise anyone to know that a 25-year-old recent college graduate makes less money than an experienced 45-year old manager because it is a given that older and more experienced workers tend to make more money. It also wouldn't surprise anyone to know that immigrants who have degrees in chemistry or computer science are able to earn more money than native-born workers who majored in Political Science or Women's Studies.

To have a serious discussion about income mobility and the so-called wealth gap of real people, then we have to talk about people's real income per capita – a topic that all these Chicken Littles avoid like the plague precisely because talking about that would expose their little game for the fraud that it is.

It would seem that the distance between rhetoric and reality is quite far, indeed.

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Movie Review – Mad Max: Fury Road

WARNING: The following blog post contains a lot of spoilers. If you have not yet seen Mad Max: Fury Road and wish to do so without having the plot given away, then do not read this.

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I had never seen any of the original Mad Max movies. I knew that they existed but for some reason, I was never interested in watching any of them. I would have also ignored Mad Max: Fury Road had it not been for the hubbub that was generated by a Men Rights' group that claimed that the movie was “a feminist piece of propaganda posing as a guy flick.”

So I went to watch Mad Max: Fury Road the other day and it was amazing. The cars looked like it might have come out of Henry Ford's most feverish nightmares, the music was in-your-face, the sets were over-the-top, the action scene was breathtaking and kept me on the edge of my seat, Tom Hardy's Max did not sound as ridiculous as his Bane's voice (it was still a little ridiculous), Charlize Theron can do no wrong, and there was actually a story in the middle of all that! I thought the cherry on top of the whole movie was an extra who played a flame-thrower electric guitar on top of a moving stereo-car.

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However, having a one-track mind, while watching the movie, I could not help but be drawn to the world's economic system.

The movie's antagonist, Immortan Joe (who was played by Hugh Keays-Byrne who apparently was in the original Mad Max movie) is a diseased old man and the tyrannical cult leader of a desert tribe.

Presumably as a result of the nuclear war that destroyed Earth's mighty civilizations, his back is covered in boils. He hides his back from being seen by everyone else using a plastic body armor, which actually has what looks like military ribbons painted onto the chest plate. He also hides his face throughout the whole movie behind a wicked looking mask. He also promises Valhalla for his soldiers who martyr themselves for him (amazing how despite the fact that almost everyone has very funny sounding names, Valhalla's name doesn't change at all).

Whereas Immortan Joe's subjects look like they're dying of thirst, he lives in his mountain-lair, which only a select few are allowed to enter – those select few being his sons and his harem of slave-wives. There is plenty of clean water that is pumped from underground and the water is used to grow fresh green vegetables. He occasionally releases the mountain's valve system and allows water to fall onto his subjects for a precious few seconds; after which he admonishes his subjects not to become addicted to water lest they become angry at its absence.

During the movie, it is revealed that he considers his slave-wives and the children they bear him to be his property. Some of his slave-wives whom he no longer uses to breed have another job – being milked. Yes, Immortan Joe literally milks his women dry.

Tyrant. Cultist. Slaver. Hypocrite. Liar. Immortan Joe does not possess a single redeeming quality.

That IS a wicked looking mask though.
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While I watched the movie, however, it struck me that Immortan Joe was running a rentier state, which is a state that accumulates revenue through the exporting of natural resources rather than through taxation. To be specific, there are several characteristics that have to be met in order for a society to be considered a rentier state.

  • Revenues are paid to the governments in the form of rent.
  • Revenues are directly accrued by the state.
  • Revenues must be accumulated via exports.
  • A significant portion of the state's wealth must come from this revenue.

Judging from the scenes in the movie, Immortan Joe did not tax his people. For all intents and purposes, there seemed nothing worth taxing. The same is true of rentier states. As rentier states accumulate their wealth from natural resources, rentier governments have very little incentive to institute extractive institutions such as a tax agency or other ancillary bureaucracies that gather information about their subjects. Of course, this is not to say that rentier states do not gather information about their subjects at all. After all, even rentier states have to carry out the census. However, for most rentier states, patronage works far more effectively than legal institutions.

That is why rentier states (such as Brunei, the country that I was born in) tend to be omnipresent in the lives of their citizens vis-à-vis religion.

Immortan Joe's rentier state was certainly an exaggerated and over-the-top version of the real thing. I don't know if the director, George Miller, actually set out to depict an exaggerated rentier state but regardless of his intent, he did a remarkable job doing so.

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Now let's jump to the end of the movie. At the end, Immortan Joe's dead body is brought back to his city, where he is quickly set upon and mutilated by his former subjects. Immortan Joe's only remaining son is a deformed midget who now fears for his life. The bulk of his army is either dead or stranded in hostile territory somewhere in the desert. More importantly, his wives, who are led by the battered but alive Imperator Furiosa (played by Charlize Theron) are finally free from his iron grip.

Right before the movie ends, however, Immortan Joe's former slave-wives, the ones whom he milked, happily release the mountain's water valves and allow the long-suffering subjects to finally drink to their hearts' content.

From an action movie's point of view, this was a great ending. A tyrant is dead, people are free, and everyone lives happily-ever-after. Down with the hateful patriarchy! Long live the loving matriarchy!

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From an economist's point of view, however, there remain unanswered questions. There is no doubt that Immortan Joe was an evil man, that his regime was tyrannical, and that his belief in his right to own his women and children is a perversion of property rights. But what happens when that water, which Immortan Joe guarded so zealously, is just given to anyone who wants it?

After all, one would think that fresh drinking water is a very valuable, rare, and finite commodity in a post-nuclear apocalyptic world. If all of those pitiful people who understandably and rationally want to drink as much water as possible are allowed to do so, would that not eventually lead to a quick depletion of the water supply and thus be contrary to the best interests of the whole group? In other words, wouldn't this be the perfect example of the Tragedy of the Commons?

In order to ensure that everyone survives, would the new matriarchy establish a socialist utopia where everyone is given just the right amount of water that each person needs? If that happens, then one is immediately reminded of Friedrich Hayek's seminal book The Road to Serfdom where he warned that government control of economic decision-making through central planning inevitably results in tyranny. Will the matriarchy eventually become as evil as the patriarchy it deposed?

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Alternatively, would the new matriarchy establish a form of currency so that individuals can create a rudimentary market and allow market forces to decide how much water can be consumed and by whom?

We will never know. The movie simply ended far too soon.

I give Mad Max: Fury Road four-and-a-half out of five stars.