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A wedding present for North Korea

Friday, August 17, 2012

I guess I am a sucker for old-fashioned romance. When I heard about the stunning marriage of Kim Jong-eun, the young new leader of North Korea, to the lovely Ri Sol-ju, apparently a professional singer, I hurriedly buried the ideological hatchet and grabbed the latest "Brides" magazine to figure out what would be a trendy wedding present for the happy couple.

Let's face it: Humdrum daily life tends to be so difficult----and not only in very troubled North Korea----that these rare moments of inspired ritual and ceremony are just not to be ignored.

It was a cruel disappointment not to have been invited to the wedding. For more than half as long as new leader Kim Jong-eun (29) has been alive, I have been writing about Asia, America and North Korea's tenuous relationship with the outside world, not to mention reality. I shouldn't take it personally and I definitely will not let it get me down.

What to send? I mean, what do you buy for a couple that may have everything but whose country has next to nothing? Given all those hungry if not starving North Koreans, the usual Tiffany vase or whatever somehow seems not the right gesture. And, by a similar token, a sack of rice would somehow seems, oh, patronizing.

I think I've decided. What the First Couple of North Korea needs is something that not only the entire populace is desperate for but also something that the political leadership lacks too.

They need new ideas----even more than rice, not to mention vases.

Or at least they need to start thinking about ideas that are new to them. And so I am putting together a gift bag of books for Pyongyang's groom Jong-eun and bride Sol-ju.

For starters, the book bag includes that old classic "The Road to Serfdom" by the late libertarian Friedrich von Hayek. Sure, it's a 1940s book but its theme is one that is ageless. It's that dogmatic overly centralized economic planning, by all-powerful government foolishly believing it is also all knowing, will inevitably produce economic ruin, and eventually fascism or totalitarianism.

I throw in one of my all-time favorites: "Conversations with Stalin," the unforgettable memoir published in 1969. The author was Milovan Djilas, an intellectual member of the inner circle of Marshal Tito, a thinking-man's communist who shaped Yugoslavia. Djilas ended up a doubt-filled critic, a devoted deviationist.

The third book is "The Wealth of Nations" by Adam Smith. It basically makes the case that market economics, which Smith called a "system of natural liberty," has a much better chance of making life better for people than feudalism, which was then quite prevalent in the world.

The book was published in 1776. I know, three old tomes as gifts. But, you see, North Korea is behind the times. A good start with this trio of classics can't hurt. Next year, on their first wedding anniversary, I'll send them some newer books. But they need to start with these three. They are way behind in their reading.

Journalist Tom Plate is the Distinguished Scholar of Asian and Pacific Studies at Loyola Marymount University.

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