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The wicked cockroach of the North

For those interested in North Korea, this English language documentary from Japan is rather enlightening.

The journalists involved interviewed former North Korean officials who once carried out the orders of the glorious leader to bring money into the aptly named “Royal Court Economy”. I have said for years that North Korea is more like a Feudal system than a Communist one. I suspect a Teutonic Knight would understand the system straight away.

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29 comments to The wicked cockroach of the North

  • Photon

    More of a bronze-age palace economy, I’d say.

  • Paul Marks

    With the greatest of respect Dale….

    North Korea is just about the opposite of the “feudal” West.

    The “feudal” West was based on relatively secure private property rights – especially in land holding (a “feudal” land holder was far more secure, not less secure, than a land “owner” under the laws of the Roman Empire – where the Emperor could take whatever he wanted to).

    What North Korea actually is….. is a an extreme example of Oriental Despotism.

    Just about the opposite of the “Feudal” West which was already clear in the 9th century – the limits on the powers of Charles the Bald in relation to both private land holders and in relation to the independence of the Church.

    These things are not exactly marks of North Korea.

    The endless misunderstanding of what “feudal” law is (say English and Welsh land law up to the 1920s) is…. is starting to irritate me.

    For example, do people really thing that the island of Sark (which was fully “feudal” up till a couple of years ago) is anything like North Korea?

    Or that the Oriental Despotism of the Ottoman Empire (although mild compared to North Korea) was better than “feudal” France or England (or the “feudal” lands of the Hapsburgs facing the Ottoman Empire).

    And, please people, no confusion of feudalism and serfdom.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way – much of the law in many States in the United States is also based on “feudal” Common Law – including concerning land.

    Ditto the idea that the Church should be independent of the power of the state.

  • Paul, you said as much in a recent comment to another post here – maybe this calls for a whole article on the subject?

  • Mr Ed

    California is heading down the road from surfdom to serfdom.

  • The endless misunderstanding of what “feudal” law is (say English and Welsh land law up to the 1920s) is…. is starting to irritate me.

    Holding land in fief is not actually ‘owning’ it, because your feudal actually lord owns it by any reasonable definition of the word ‘own’ (and that is why I always refer to the LVT crowd as hanking for a return to a more ‘feudal’ approach to land as they make the state the superowner). That is the relevant facet of a feudal relationship and the rest not so important. And that is why using it as a “boo hiss” term is really quite appropriate if you think underpinning freehold title is actually what matters.

    And a feudal relationship does not require serfs for it to be feudal, so who mentioned serfdom?

  • Snorri Godhi

    What Paul Marks said! I was going to say something to that effect myself.
    Paul rightly distinguishes between feudalism and serfdom; perhaps we should also distinguish between feudalism as a political system and the feudal system of land ownership, which Perry dH finds so disturbing (though he seems to seriously oversimplify). We should also distinguish between feudalism as a political system and the feudal mode of production.

    People wishing to understand what feudalism means (or rather, originally meant) could do worse than have a look at the relevant chapter in Samuel Finer’s History of Government from the Earliest Times. Right away, in this chapter, Finer says (iirc) that feudalism was the first original form of government since ancient times. The 3 forms that he analyzed earlier on: absolute monarchy, constitutional government, and ancient Israel (under the rule of Divine Law — various Islamic empires were also supposed to be ruled by Divine Law but in practice they were absolute monarchies).

    North Korea is obviously an extreme form of absolute monarchy, an important difference wrt ancient forms being that the NK regime claims legitimization from popular will rather than divine right. In the Conceptual Preface to his magnus opus, Finer notes that monarchies/tyrannies based on the popular will, get away with much worse crimes than monarchies based on divine right; though i am not sure where Leopold II fits in this scheme.

  • Snorri Godhi

    At the risk of getting it wrong myself (and trusting that Paul will correct me) i’ll clarify what Perry seems to get wrong about feudal land ownership.
    First, land was not owned by the State, but by the Monarch; an important distinction: feudal relationships were personal.
    Second, and even more important, not ALL land was owned by the Monarch. IIRC in Germany in particular, most land was in freehold by dukes and such.
    Third, and perhaps most important, the freeholder had a contractual obligation to the vassal: he could not just give a month’s notice of termination of contract, like a landlord can do today. Either the freeholder or the vassal had to bring the other party to court if they wanted to change the terms of their relationship, and monarchs did not get to judge in their own favor.

    Given all of the above, i believe that the relationship to the LVT is tenuous, and in any case not as unflattering as Perry seems to think.

  • First, land was not owned by the State, but by the Monarch

    Actually it is distinction without a difference: l’état, c’est moi. The only limitation was did the monarch have enough force to make it stick?

    And the whole thing about freehold is you are not holding it as a vassal, whereas the LVT people want all land to be the state’s and the occupier only retaining occupancy as long as they provide what the state demand of them. There is no possibility of actual ownership.

    And the fascistic element (which is where my “LVT is where fascism and feudalism intersect” remark comes from) is that you are not allowed to simply pay for and own land, because you must rent it from the state, only certain uses are effectively permitted (ones that generate rent). It is a bit like the fascist fiction of private ownership of the means production: you can own your labour, land and capital, just as long as you use them for things that serve the state’s interests. None of this buy property, build a house and just live there malarkey, Grandad! There is nothing in it for the state to use land that way!

  • affenkopf

    This seems rather unfair to the Teutonic Order.

  • Snorri Godhi

    l’état, c’est moi.

    Missing the point about feudalism _as a political system_ being completely different from absolute monarchy; or maybe simply failing to understand the difference.

    the LVT people want all land to be the state’s

    Missing the point about termination of feudal contracts not being a matter of a month’s notice.
    BTW isn’t all real estate in Singapore the property of the State?

    you are not allowed to simply pay for and own land, because you must rent it from the state, only certain uses are effectively permitted (ones that generate rent).

    I did not discuss the LVT apart from saying that the LVT is not at all what i was discussing. I note, however, that this is a gross misrepresentation: under an LVT system, you can do whatever you like with your land, as long as you pay tax. The tax need not be earned from the land. Further, if you fail to pay LVT, it is not necessarily your land that gets confiscated.

  • JimGill

    Serfdom or servitude may just as easily come about through the private ownership of all land – indeed if all the ‘means of life’, including land, are privately owned, then the logical conclusion is that those without property have no proper right to exist, let alone any liberty. This is why most classical liberals regarded land as a distinct form of property, as Benjamin Franklin wrote:

    “All Property, indeed, except the Savage’s temporary Cabin, his Bow, his Matchcoat, and other little Acquisitions, absolutely necessary for his Subsistence, seems to me to be the Creature of public Convention. Hence the Public has the Right of Regulating Descents, and all other Conveyances of Property, and even of limiting the Quantity and the Uses of it. All the Property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other Laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition.”

  • Mr Ed

    Coming back to the documentary, it appears that the North Korean gravy train might be experiencing some problems with the flow of hard currency. However, the role of terror in the maintenance of the system is rather downplayed in the documentary, whether this is since it is assumed that everyone knows about Red Terror, or whether they wish to pretend otherwise (out of ideology or otherwise), the fact is that the whole system is sustained by terror on a scale only surpassed in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, and perhaps Lenin, Stalin and Mao.

    North Korea looks very Communist to me, just consider the city of Münster under the Anabaptists and Jan van Leiden in the 1530s, as this generous account of the egalitarian hellhole puts it:

    More difficult to explain, is the splendour with which Jan van Leiden conducted his office as the “King of Jerusalem”, more so in the view of dire economical situation Münster found itself in during the siege. Clad in magnificent robes, in stark contrast to the uniform modest clothing that had been introduced for the rest of the citizens,and wearing all the paraphernalia of a “King”, inclusive crown and sceptre, Jan van Leiden made his public appearances into great spectacles. His apologists have argued that Jan van Leiden’s extravagance was not of his personal choice, but a clever propaganda move: to demonstrate the earthly splendour of the coming “God’s Kingdom”, the King had to set an example. It seems however true, that with the progressing dire situation of the city, the “King”’s role became increasingly dictatorial, and the Commune that by definition should have been egalitarian acquired a despotic rule. Much of the dictatorial measures, that the “King” and his officials applied, were again necessitated by the war, the sometimes brutal oppression of any opposition against the “King” was justified with the experience of previous treason inside the city.

    Much has been made of a “proto- communist character” of the Anabaptist Münster, but if it was the realisation of the Utopian tenets of Anabaptism or the demands of a city under siege, is open to debate.

  • under an LVT system, you can do whatever you like with your land, as long as you pay tax.

    That is exactly my point, you cannot just buy land and live on it when you retire. The tax, which is actually a rent, means unless you have other means to pay the rent, you cannot stay there. It is not even a service charge, like sewerage and water, it is simply a land rent. You have become a vassal renter. LVT is a means by which land is forced into uses that generate rent for the state.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Perry: if you are determined to paper over the obvious contradictions in your own position, then there is no point in me arguing about them.
    There is, however, something which is not contradictory, but just plain wrong. I’d like to point it out, because it has an interesting relationship to feudalism sensu lato:

    [The LVT] is not even a service charge, like sewerage and water, it is simply a land rent.

    But it IS a service charge: the State charges you for protection from poachers, squatters, burglars, and home invaders, not to mention foreign invaders … not to mention that the LVT, like all taxes, is “protection money” in the sense that, in return for your paying it, the State will not use, to confiscate your possessions, the power that it needs to protect you from foreign invasion.

    Now you claim that all this protection should be provided free of charge: the protection of retired freeholders being provided by productive leaseholders. This is not just contrary to my moral intuitions (but apparently not to yours): it is also risible to rely on the State not to use its power to extract protection money (with or without scare quotes) from those who have the property most in need of protection, ie real estate.

    The connection to feudalism is this: there were in fact feudal states in which the landed aristocracy was largely exempt from taxation: the burden fell on the commoners. France was one such state. (England wasn’t.) Points to note:
    1. The French feudal system was in fact one in which the property rights of the aristocracy were much more solid than they are today: not only the King could not confiscate land, he could not even tax it without the consent of the aristocracy. Hence the calling of the Estates-General in 1789.
    2. Subsequent events in 1789 show that, even if the ruling class persists in defending the property rights of the landowning class (especially when the 2 classes have a large overlap) with money extracted from the productive classes, the latter classes won’t tolerate this abuse indefinitely.

  • But it IS a service charge: the State charges you for protection

    Then by that logic all taxes are and it makes no difference to differentiate them. Which is nonsensical because the manner in which states fund themselves matter hugely.

    The key difference between LVT and most other taxes is that it is an occupation tax, a rent. It taxes nominal ownership rather than some kind of production or exchange. Your blather about protection is completely irrelevant.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Perry: your problem is that you rush to reply without reading properly the argument to which you are replying.

  • Dale Amon (Belfast, Northern Ireland/Laramie, Wy)

    We can look at North Korea as a state that is evolving into feudalism and is taking on the appearances of that system over time as it faces similar problems to those which must have appeared to the Roman villa owners as order collapsed around them. We are now into the third generation of the North Korean royal lineage. The serfs work for the vassal lords and in return for their labour are fed and clothed. Sort of. The lords of the various bureacratic posts are in turn vassals to the king. They use their fiefdom to extract value from their serfs and in turn pass it on to the King’s Treasury. As was indicated by the documentary, at least some of the lords are of the royal blood line. If the King feels a vassal is becoming too powerful, he has him eliminated. That was rather common in Europe as well. Loyalty is bought by perqs doled out by the King to the Lords. It may be a bit different than in the Dark Ages and Middle Ages, but times have changed and power may rest in any bureaucracy which may extract rents and extort value from those under its thumb.

    Vassals are tied to the King by blood and by mutual need. The King needs their support to keep the Royal Family going; the Lords need the King to protect their power base against other vassals and to legitimize it. The King also has a trump card. In the Middle Ages a misbehaving or rebellious Lord might find the Kings Knights at his castle door to extract confessions with torture if needed and then to kill him; in these more modern times, the Kings Men drop much of the charade of being gentlemen and are just killers and torturers.

    Even in Merry Olde England it was not all that uncommon for a King to remove a Lord and give his Lands to some one who was more amenable to his wishes.

    If not for the impact of the outside world I would expect them to evolve more elements of the system over the next few generations of the House of Kim.

    So in answer to much of the discussion, the answer is yes, I do see North Korea evolving into a feudal system right before our eyes.

  • Snorri Godhi, “all taxes are protection” is not an argument worth replying to at any length.

  • Laird

    “not an argument worth replying to at any length.”

    Good. Frankly, I was already tired of seeing a thread about North Korea (and, tangentially, feudal legal systems) metastasizing into yet another tedious LVT debate, especially since none of the usual Georgist apologists are even participating in it.

  • Paul Marks

    As I have pointed out many times – “freehold” under “feudal” law was a lot more secure than “private ownership” under Roman Law (at least Roman Law under the Empire or later).

    Those countries that “received” Roman Law in the West (with the decline of “feudal” law) actually received the idea that the ruler (or rulers) could change the law as they wished – that they were above the law.

    This island did not “receive” Roman Law.

    Not the only place that did not – some Swiss Cantons did not (and neither did Norway – for some reason or other).

    The trouble is that the old view of the fundamental principle of the Common Law (to give it its proper name) have been overturned.

    To someone like Chief Justice Sir Edward Cook or Chief Justice Sir John Hold (he of the 1688 period – that “feudal” revolt) the Common Law expressed (via tradition) the universal principles of justice applied to concrete cases.

    With Blackstone and co – the idea became fashionable that Parliament could do anything it liked.

    In short Blackstone (and scumbags such as the Victorian legal writer Maitland) introduced certain principles of Roman Law (even whilst they denounced Roman Law).

    Namely the rulers were above the law (that judges were “lions UNDER the throne” as that degenerate Sir Francis Bacon put it) and that the rulers could change the law (without regard for any principles of justice) in any way they liked – including land law.

    Alisa.

    I have written extensively on these matters over the years.

    But I am never sure what remains over at “Counting Cats”.

  • The point I am taking away from this discussion so far (pending further comments) is that the term ‘feudal’ taken on its own is neutral – i.e. there can be good or bad feudal system. My guess is that the crucial attribute that makes a feudal system bad or good is the rule of law (as opposed to the rule of men), or lack thereof. Just like with any other system, in fact.

  • Thanks Paul, I’ll look it up on CC.

  • lost-lost cousin

    JimGill:

    But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other Laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition

    So, what you’re quoting is “You didn’t build that!” if I understand you correctly?

  • Dale Amon

    I did a quick search and came up with this confirmation that Franklin did say that. Surprised the hell out of me. I am definitely one who would have been amongst those he decries:

    http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch16s12.html

  • Snorri Godhi

    From the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the year 1000, the population of Europe and the Med roughly doubled*. Then it continued to grow until the Black Death. That’s pretty good going for a supposedly backwards social system, innit?
    In fact, feudalism might well be the best that can realistically happen to North Korea.

    * The exceptions were Italy and Greece, which i suppose is where most of the contemporary chroniclers of the Middle Ages were located. Presumably they were angry at not being able to continue sponging off the rest of the former Empire.

  • Snorri Godhi

    “all taxes are protection” is not an argument worth replying to at any length.

    Except that that is not what i said. Hence my complaint about your not reading what you reply to.
    (Sorry about the delay in answering.)

  • Snorri Godhi

    Laird: allow me to clarify that my end of the debate had little or nothing to do with the LVT and everything to do with feudalism (for which i offered a qualified defense) and the Havilland philosophy of taxation of real estate (which i attacked without qualifications).
    I don’t know much about the pros and cons of the LVT, all what i claims is that Perry’s arguments against it are based on a pernicious philosophy.

  • all what i claims is that Perry’s arguments against it are based on a pernicious philosophy.

    Yes, severalty and not having a society that revolves around having a vassal relationship to the state is very pernicious.

    I don’t know much about the pros and cons of the LVT

    Then STFU