Friday, January 31, 2014

My Road to Happiness

I left the United States on a freezing and snowy morning in February 2011. God, how I was miserable that day. I put on a brave face and smiled as much as I  could, or at least I think I did. After the 2008 housing bubble burst and as the US economy continued to struggle to recover, I had no choice but to leave the country I so desperately wanted to call home. I was deeply miserable.

After I arrived in Korea, I spent the next four months being completely unproductive and wallowing in self-pity. Later, after receiving a letter from the Military Manpower Administration, which stated that I was to report for duty to begin my compulsory military service, I joined (was conscripted) the Republic of Korea Army. Though it didn’t feel like it was ever going to end, I was finally discharged in March 2013.

As much as the ROK Army wishes to modernize and train soldiers who can think critically, it is still the Army and like any other army in the world, one of the things that it takes most seriously is the chain of command. What that means is that High Command isn’t going to micromanage every little thing; it’s only going to try to micromanage as much as humanly possible.

So, as a peon, my job was to the do the job that I had been ordered to do the best way I could and only start to think critically when the chain of command had been broken, aka when High Command had been obliterated by North Korean artillery and/or rockets. Seeing how the ROK Army is only preparing for war and not actually at war, High Command is always there, and God, how it loves to remind the soldiers of that fact every waking moment of their lives. So, I didn’t ever really think on the job all that much. I just did as I was told.

Since being discharged, after a few months of unemployment, I had finally found a job that paid decently. But as far as thinking critically goes, however, it’s not all that different from the way I thought critically while I was in the Army.

This was how I felt being in the Army.  Here's the kicker.  I was in Military Intelligence.

As a result of the peculiar situation that I have found myself in, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder, question, and philosophize. And one of the many questions that I’ve asked myself is “Why am I so unhappy all the time?”

Seeing how many of you have never met me in person, the word that was most used to describe my personality for most of my life was “dour.”

My typical reaction to the sound of babies cooing.

To find the answer, I had to reexamine my most deeply held convictions and had to be honest with myself, no matter how much I hated what I was going to find. And my God, how I hated what I found.

The first step that Alcoholics Anonymous requires of its patients is that they admit to themselves that they have a problem. The next step about accepting that they’re helpless and needing to accept a higher power to drag them out of their hell hole, which allows them to avoid personal responsibility for their own actions, is a whimsical irony but the first step, I agree, is important. And I had a problem. My problem was that I was a resentful person.

Who and what was I resentful of? I think the better question to ask is who and what was I not resentful of. This might or might not come as a surprise to many of you but despite my ardent adherence to capitalism and the free market, I resented the rich; especially those whom I considered to be my intellectual inferiors. For example, let’s take everyone’s favorite punching bag – Donald Trump.

The man is easy to hate, isn’t he? He has the aesthetic tastes of a boorish philistine, the petulance of a spoilt child, the vanity of a prima donna, the intelligence of a slug, and the convictions of a whore. And his hairpiece looks pretty stupid, too. On the other hand, I like to think my tastes as somewhat refined, my diction and cadence polished; that I am well-read and well-educated, and though, at times, I find it bothersome, I do have a conscience.

The fact that such a man as Donald Trump is a billionaire whereas I live from month to month on my paychecks seems to be a gross mockery of Karmic justice. Only if society recognized my real self worth, well, I still probably wouldn’t be a billionaire but I’d easily be able to count myself as part of the upper-middle class.


At least that was what I thought. Actually, that wasn’t what I thought; it was what I felt. Thought requires logic and reason; emotion requires neither. And my resentment of Donald Trump and all those other rich people who attained their “unearned income” through inheritance was nothing more than an irrational tantrum. I had to ask myself whether I genuinely believed, more importantly, whether I could empirically prove that Donald Trump’s wealth somehow caused my poverty. The only logical answer that I could come up with was “No.”

I also had to admit to myself that I have no idea how to run a business successfully. In fact, not many people do. That is why most businesses fail within the first year of opening. The reason that Donald Trump is a billionaire while so many people in the world can’t even run a hot dog stand, despite all his flaws, is that Donald Trump has that something that many people lack – business acumen. Now I had to ask myself, “Is that gift of his something I ought to resent or something I ought to emulate?” The answer is obvious.

The same goes for the children of the wealthy. Yes, it goes without saying that those who inherit their parents’ fortunes will have a greater head-start in their lives than I ever had. But does the fact that they started out rich mean that they are guaranteed to stay rich? No. Even if someone inherits great wealth, the only way to maintain or even increase that wealth is via intelligent and profitable investments. If they squander it, or if they invest it poorly, they will end up losing everything. For proof, one only needs to read up on the litany of woes that befell those who won the lottery. Conversely, does the fact that I started out poor mean that I am destined to stay poor? No. With hard work, perseverance, rational thought, and a little luck, anything is possible. In the midst of my resentment of the rich, I tended to forget that.

This is NOT how people stay rich.

So instead of resenting the rich, wouldn’t it be more prudent of me to invest my finite time and energy to improve my own economic condition instead?

The second batch of people whom I resented were those men who were successful in love; particularly those men whom we all love to call ‘douchebags.’ You know which ones I’m talking about. Those boys who have that Chinese character that says “retard” tattooed on their arm; the good looking guy who knows that he’s good looking and because he knows that there is a line of women whose collective biological instinct is telling them to mate with this male right the hell now, he can treat them like dirt with impunity. The guys who smell like as though they’ve just bathed in a vat full of Axe body spray. And the amount of gel they’ve applied to their hair makes them look like they’ve just ripped off the scalp of one of those ridiculous looking mannequins from ‘Hot Topic’ and glued them onto their own heads. And they’re incredibly shallow. All they want is tits and ass whereas I want something so much deeper, like, I don’t know, the spleen? I meant love. Tits, ass, and love. Not spleen. And my God, their intelligence, or the lack thereof. Some of these guys make Donald Trump sound like Albert Einstein. All those guys seem to have is good genes and an unlimited stash of Axe body spray.

On the other hand, I can be kind, generous, sweet, and I can quote Shakespeare and Keats. The fact that these douchebags practically throw women away whereas I have difficulties competing with a dead man for a woman’s affections is just ridiculous. Life is just one giant cosmic gag reel, isn’t it?


But is it really? Some may think so (or at least Douglas Adams seems to have thought so) but upon closer inspection of myself, I am inclined to think that it’s not. Just like I had to ask myself whether or not I could empirically prove that Donald Trump’s wealth caused my poverty, I also had to ask whether I could prove that good looking men caused my being single.

Well, technically, yes, I can prove it; especially after one of those men steals a woman’s attention, whom I’ve been talking up all evening, by saying “Hey, what’s up? You want to check out my biceps?”

All right, those men aren’t actually that moronic but in my hate-addled mind, that’s what they sounded like.

Honestly, however, that’s blame-shifting. The real blame never lied with them. It lied with me. Being kind, generous, and sweet are indeed virtues. However, no one in the world holds a monopoly on kindness, generosity, or sweetness. Especially when it comes to getting a woman’s attention, everyone is kind, generous, and sweet. There’s just so much sweetness in the world that I’m constantly shocked that the entire world hasn’t gotten itself into a diabetic coma.

What did those men have that I didn’t? Plenty, as it turned out. They lived in nice apartments; I lived in an attic that leaked whenever it rained. They had jobs that paid well, or at least consistently; I depended on tips working in a bar that catered to people who seemingly have never heard of tipping. They could play the guitar; I can’t sing without making every song sound like a somber rendition of “Danny Boy.”

This is a crowd's typical reaction right after hearing my rendition of The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations."

They played football and ice hockey; I’m not even good at Frisbee golf – a game so lame that even those who are good at it can’t get laid. They drove convertible Ford Mustangs. On the other hand, when I had a car, briefly, it was a beat up lemon of a 1989 Dodge Shadow, which I bought for, I kid you not, US$150 from an English professor from my university, who was also poor at the time but now probably diving from a springboard into his pile of money, just like Scrooge McDuck.

For those who are fans of fantasy novels, this name might ring a bell, and just to say that I met and knew a famous person, that professor’s name is Pat Rothfuss.

But I digress.

And no, it’s not just that they had more money and toys than I did. They were also better looking than me. Way better looking than me. And I hated them for it, which made just about as much sense as hating the rich for being rich. Just as Donald Trump’s wealth didn’t cause my poverty, their good looks didn’t cause me to look like a fat slob. That was all my doing.

Pig out on crack-sprinkled fast food almost every other day? Check. Don’t ever exercise and limit my movement to the area between the microwave oven, refrigerator, and the couch? Check. Expecting any other result would have been a show of supreme idiocy.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you The Steakinator!

Fat people are always looking for excuses to feel better about themselves. “I have glandular problems, I am a stress eater, depression causes me to eat, society’s standard of beauty is unrealistic.” Etc. etc. It’s all a lie. And this lie serves two purposes. Firstly, it allows them to blame everything but themselves for being obese. Secondly, it gives them an excuse to stay obese.

The honest answer that fat people, and I, didn’t want to accept was that I became a ball of lard because I was lazy and I didn’t respect myself enough to take better care of myself. There is no other answer. Everything else is merely one excuse stacked on top of another.

So let’s see. I was broke, drove a car that could be barely called one, lived in an attic that leaked whenever it rained, terrible at sports, almost always drunk, an obese slob, miserable, hated myself, and the whole time I couldn’t understand what women saw in those good looking Neanderthals and why they couldn’t recognize me for my real worth.

Dear reader, if you have a friend who fits that description or anything similar along those lines and you really consider yourself their friend, stop being afraid of hurting their feelings. If they have any intelligence to speak of, they’ll get over being “hurt,” get a grip on reality, and start taking responsibility for their own lives. If they refuse to speak to you and stubbornly cling on to their pathetic lifestyles, forget them. No one can be made happy against their own will. People have to choose to be happy. Trust me, if you truly consider yourself their friend, tell them the truth in all of its gory detail. You’ll be doing them a favor. They might or might not thank you for it but if you really value them as friends, even if they don’t end up thanking you, you’ll at least have the satisfaction of knowing that you helped turn their lives around for the better.

As for me, as I said earlier, I served in one of the most combat ready armies in the world for a little under two years. When I left the United States, I weighed 230 lbs. I now weigh 185 lbs. Sure, I could definitely afford to shed a few more pounds but the point is that I’m in the best shape that I’ve been in years.

It wasn’t those Neanderthals’ fault that I couldn’t get a woman to like me. It wasn’t the women’s fault for not being able to see pass the drunk lard to find the “real me” either. There was no one to blame besides me.

Were there other people I resented? Yes, there were lots but if we go through everyone I ever resented, this will never end. Now we have to get to the heart of the matter. Realizing that resenting others for reasons that defied logic was asinine was, indeed, a positive step. But that was merely a symptom and as any doctor will tell you, treating a disease’s symptom is not going to cure the patient; that will require treating the cause.

What was the cause of all this irrational resentment? The reason was that like so many people in the world, I had confused cause and effect, and more importantly, my core philosophy was inconsistent.

How often do people really ask themselves whether they actually like themselves? Every once in a while, during those rare of moments of honesty and clarity, I asked myself whether if I were not me but a separate individual and knew me, really knew me as I knew myself and not merely the image of me that I portrayed to others, would I like me? Would I want to befriend me? The answer was always “No.“ I hated the answer and it always made me feel miserable. I am sure that I am not the only one who feels that way.

If you see this in the mirror, you should try to find out what is bothering you or check yourself into rehab ASAP.

I despised myself and in order to compensate for that, I tried to gain self-esteem from others. I wanted my friends to like me; to think highly of me. I wanted women to find me charming. And for the most part, I was successful. My friends did like me and some even thought highly of me and some women found me to be quite the charmer. However, none of it gave me the self-esteem I craved. I realize now that that was because friendship, love, and respect are not the cause, but an effect and an expression of a person’s sense of his own value, his own self-worth.

The same can be said of wealth. Wealth does not, in fact, come from mere material resources nor is it without intellectual root or meaning. Wealth does not appear out of thin air in order to favor some while cursing others. It has to be created and earned. A wealthy man earns his wealth by providing goods and services that the masses want or need. And he retains his wealth by doing that cheaper than his competitors.

Money, to be sure, is a poor barometer to judge one’s morals or integrity. Just because a man is wealthy doesn’t mean that he is good as poverty doesn’t make a man evil. That being said, money is a very good barometer to gauge one’s social worth, ie., to be considered as a source of good for society. The late Steve Jobs may have had his flaws but he supplied society with goods and services that the masses, directly or indirectly, want or need. Resenting him is a poor use of one’s finite time and energy. It would be far more profitable, in more ways that one, for people to want to emulate him instead.

Sure the Joker is a popular character but he'd be even more popular if he didn't kill so many people... or perhaps the Joker should find someone else to emulate instead.

Whether we like to admit it or not, the wealthy possess what many of us merely pretend to have – a rational mind. And wealth concentrates only around rational minds. If we look at an iPhone, many of us just see the iPhone. We take its existence for granted. What many of us neglect to recognize is that the iPhone we’re looking at is the end result of a rational mind. Someone had to first imagine a small handheld device that could act as a telephone, computer, camera, television, radio, navigation device, dictionary, journal, calculator, calendar. etc. all at once, and then, using that same rational mind and knowledge, had to work to make what was a mere imagination into a reality. That is what the iPhone and every other device or commodity that we all use and take for granted are – the end result of a rational mind. Before the advent of the iPhone, the vast majority of humanity could not even imagine such a device, much less create it.


Of course, not every rich person attains his wealth from possessing a rational mind. There are criminals who steal and launder money, politicians who raid the public treasury, businessmen who ‘earn’ their wealth through political influence. However, people tend to forget that wealth has to be created before it can be looted by parasites. People also tend to forget that money has an intellectual root – the rational mind.

Money will not serve the mind that cannot match it. For evidence, look at all those major corporations that have needed one bailout after another. They do not have the ability to create and sell goods or services that people want – they lack the rational mind that translates to business acumen. That’s why they’re always out of money no matter how much of the public treasury is handed over to them on a silver platter.

It turned out that that "giant sucking sound" was not the sound of American jobs going to Mexico, as Ross Perot once predicted, but rather the sound of bailing out Bank of America

Money, that is, the fruits of the rational mind, is so honest a medium that it will never allow itself to be cheated. For those men whose minds cannot match their wealth, money, the very thing that they think is the cause of their self-worth rather than their effect, becomes a scourge. Money will not purchase self-esteem nor happiness nor admiration nor respect for the man who never had any of it within himself to begin with.

All the money they have looted may give them a momentary satisfaction but on some gray morning, in one of those rare moments of honesty and clarity, when they ask themselves whether they like themselves, when they ask themselves whether they truly think that they deserve their wealth, then that momentary satisfaction that they felt will be all but forgotten as they realize that their money is not a tribute to their greatness but rather a reminder of their shame, incompetence, and lack of self-worth. And they will live out the rest of their days loathing themselves and their money that had failed to buy them the self-esteem that they so desperately crave but cannot have.

The same can be said for love. I have often heard people say to their friends, “There is nothing wrong with you. You don’t have to change a single thing about yourself. You’ll meet the right person soon enough.” I have also heard people say to themselves, myself included, “I just want to be loved for myself.” This is utter rubbish.

Just as money is the fruit of a rational mind, the effect, rather than its cause, love is not the cause of one’s self-worth; it is the effect. Even the Dalai Lama fails to understand what love really is when he utters nonsensical bromides such as “Love is the absence of judgment.” Love is neither universal nor blind. Just as money must be earned, love must be also.

Seeing how those monks thought that this was the ultimate form of protesting, is it any wonder that after you see peer through their soundbites, they are just as bereft of rationality as any other mystic?

When people tell their friends that they don’t have to change a thing about themselves, I wonder if they ever truly valued their friendship at all. People are not loved in spite of things, but for things. People are loved for their courage, ambition, ability, intelligence – the virtues that they possess. People often claim that love is universal but no one practices it. No one can practice it. It is an impossible ideal. If a man is cowardly, slothful, foolish, and evil, what rational person could possibly love him?

Of course, no one is perfect. Earthly perfection is impossible. Everyone has virtues and vices. People are loved in spite of their vices only if their vices are outweighed by their virtues. True love is not blind. Blind love is not love, but childish infatuation. True love judges and just as wealth can only be kept if it is earned daily anew, love, too, must be earned daily anew.

Unless you're Anne Hathaway.  Then you're perfect and can do no wrong whatsoever.

And to desire to be loved for no other reason than “for being myself” is absurd. It is the desire to be loved merely for existing, an unearned love. To demand to be loved when one hasn’t earned it is to demand of others to surrender their values, their reason. And anyone who voluntarily abdicates his values or reason is no longer a rational being. He is no different from a zombie. Such a being is not capable of love. And anyone who makes such a demand is one who wants to be loved without the necessity of possessing the qualities that are needed to be loved. Such a love is not merely an abomination, it is also an impossibility.

It seems to me, therefore, that the root of all unhappiness is not so much poverty or being unlucky in love, but, rather, one’s own lack of self-worth. And self-worth cannot be faked. People can lie to themselves, as people are wont to do. They can pretend that they are happy with their own integrity and values. But all the self-deception one may come up with will never fool one’s own subconscious.

A man who lies to himself will be living a contradiction and it will cause his soul, for the lack of a better word, to be halved in two. All the money he loots will not buy him the self-worth he wants and he will begin to hate money and will accuse it of being the root of all evil when in reality, what he will really hate is not money but rather himself. The woman that he professes to love will not arouse within him any passion and he will instead seek any whore he can find because he will, mistakenly, believe that those sexual conquests will give him self-worth.


So where does all this philosophizing leave me? The circumstances that surround me have not changed. I still have very little money saved up for what can only be described as an uncertain future; my job, though it pays decently, bores me; and I still haven’t found a woman I can love who will reciprocate my feelings.

As for the state of the world and humanity in general, well, as the song goes, the wheels of the bus go round and round. However, there is one thing that has certainly changed. I reexamined my core values, confronted them, found them wanting, and began the process of becoming a man of self-worth that I can be proud of. For the first time in my life since I can remember, I am not racked with miserable self-loathing. I am beginning to love myself. Armed with this knowledge, I am no longer afraid to live.


And I leave you now with a quote from Goethe’s Faust who recognizes at the “highest moment” that “the last word of wisdom” is:

No man deserves his freedom or his life
Who does not daily win them anew.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Why Is Going To College So Expensive?

Author's Note: This blog post was originally published in my previous (and less successful, and now defunct) blog in 2010 while I was still living in the United States.  Though the data, where applicable, might be a little dated and the references are US-based, the main points are still relevant today not just in the United States, but in Korea, too.

A college education seems to be one of those things that most everyone wants. Parents want it for their kids, employers want to hire those who have had it, a lot of college students think that it ought to be a right, and politicians extol its virtues.

Getting a college education is indeed a good thing. In my own experience, I can tell you that it has helped me to understand complex ideas and philosophies and especially because I studied the social sciences, going to college has helped me to reaffirm some of my own beliefs, changed some of my opinions and has also helped me to understand ideas that I do not agree with. My college life, with everything else that came along with it, was a wonderful journey and it’s a memory that I will forever cherish, even if I do not remember some of those nights.

This might have had something to do with it.
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Now there are several government aid programs that allow students to pursue higher education.

As for the GI Bill, it allows enlisted men and women in the armed forces to pursue an undergraduate or graduate degree at a college or university, a cooperative training program, or an accredited independent study program leading to a degree. It is the least that the men and women of uniform who have fought for their country deserve. On the other hand, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) ensures that all eligible individuals can benefit from federally funded financial assistance for education beyond high school. The stated intentions of those two services are difficult, if not impossible, to argue against.

Now that I have gotten all the niceties out of the way, it’s time to rip them a new one.

The GI Bill was established in 1944 and it was the first of the federal government’s many forays into higher education. It wasn’t until 1958 that the National Defense Education Act, which was the precursor to the Federal Perkins Loan program, the very first federal student aid program for low-income students, was passed by Congress. Before 1944, politicians in the federal government did nothing to subsidize or regulate education.

Conventional wisdom dictates that the GI Bill and FAFSA (and all of its successors) allowed countless students to afford a college education; and had those services not been enacted by Congress, the United States would be lagging far behind other industrialized nations and could not have achieved the rate of economic growth that it has experienced since the end of the Second World War. What we have to ask ourselves is whether or not that conventional wisdom is actually correct.

The philosophical argument that is given in support of getting a college education is education itself. Education is indeed a journey that begins at birth and ends with death and the more educated people are, the better off everyone’s lives is.

But what is the practical argument that is given in support of getting a college education? I can think of only one – to be eligible for a better paying job. For that reason, many people who support the subsidization of education claim that the GI Bill and FAFSA have allowed for many people to escape from the drudgery of manual labor to become doctors, engineers, accountants, lawyers, etc.

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Don’t get me wrong; I’m certainly not against higher education. However, the problem is that many people seem to make the mistake of judging the GI Bill and FAFSA to be good because of their stated intentions rather than their results.

If the only argument in support of the GI Bill or FAFSA is the philosophical one, then my argument would be merely philosophical as well – as much as I agree that having an educated populace is a desirable thing, I do not think that the government subsidizing education is the best way to approach that goal. The thing about philosophy, however, is that it is something that people are free to, and do, disagree with ad infinitum. However, once people try to make the practical argument in support of the GI Bill or FAFSA, then my argument becomes more fundamental – has it worked?

Case in point, how many new college graduates do you know who deliver pizzas or bag groceries or sell insurance over the phone or bartend or work entry-level jobs of one kind or another? In other words, how many new college graduates do you know who work jobs that really do not need 4-year degrees to accomplish? How many college graduates do you know who absolutely needed the on-the-job training that they received from their employers because the four years that they took to major in English or Music Education or Communication or Political Science did not teach them anything about escrow?  Or how many times have you personally not been able to apply for a job because one of the job requirements is work experience and that seems to be the same requirement that all other businesses require?  I know many such people and considering my readership, chances are that you are one of them.

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Considering the fact that less than 30% of college graduates get into professions that are related to their college majors, basically, by subsidizing college education as heavily as it has done for the last several decades, the federal government has turned the college degree from a mark of important personal accomplishment into just another credential that doesn’t necessarily mean anything except that the student managed to accumulate enough college credits.

It’s true that many employers now require a college degree as a job qualification. But how many of those jobs actually require particular skills or knowledge that an applicant could have acquired only in college? The vast majority of the time, the college degree requirement is generally used by an employer as a screening device to keep from having to interview applicants with only a high school diploma or less even for the most mundane jobs because of the perception that those with only high school diplomas are less reliable than those with college degrees. Then the question that arises is that if a college degree for the most part acts as merely a screening device rather than a sign of acquired knowledge that is in need, is that expensive college degree worth it?

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But what does the cost matter to the recipient of government aid to go to school? He/She is not paying for his/her education; not directly out-of-pocket anyway. It matters for two reasons.

Firstly, nothing is for free. Just because the recipient of the GI Bill is not paying for his/her education doesn’t mean that taxpayers aren’t paying for it. And is it right for taxpayers to be forced to pay for an education whose value is not worth the price tag?

Secondly, it matters because after the government began meddling in education, it has arguably cheapened education. The GI Bill was signed into law in 1944 in order to reward the millions of soldiers who were forcibly drafted into the Second World War. Originally, it was not meant to go on after all of the military personnel who participated in the Second World War who could take advantage of the program had chosen to do so. It was supposed to be a temporary thing but then came the Korean War, the Vietnam War and so on and so forth and so not only did the GI Bill remain, it also got a post-9/11 makeover.

As Dr. Milton Friedman once said, it just goes to show you that there really is nothing as permanent as a temporary government program.

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However, people do argue that government needs to subsidize education because it is so incredibly expensive. “Think of the poor,” they say. But they are not asking the important question – why is college education so expensive?

Since 1985, overall inflation in the US has been about 107.05% whereas the inflation rate for college during the same timeline has been around 466.8%.

When something makes no mathematical sense, it’s usually because government is involved. If you are a recipient of the GI Bill’s benefits or that of FAFSA loans, think of how readily the bursar at whatever university or college or accredited school you attended accepted those checks without ever asking you a lot of questions. And why wouldn’t they? Those checks are never going to bounce. After all, it is guaranteed money by the government – it’s free money, money that has either been taxed or practically freshly printed, or in some cases, yet to be printed.

When there is subsidization and guaranteed money involved, two things happen.

Firstly, subsidization inevitably always leads to overproduction. Just ask the Iowa corn farmers.

Secondly, guaranteed money inevitably always leads to higher prices. If I can charge any price I want for the product that I am selling and I am guaranteed to be paid no matter what, what reason would I have to not increase my price? The same logic applies to colleges. If the GI Bill allows you to go college for up to $100,000 or if FAFSA allows you to borrow up to $100,000 in student loans, then like magic, the cost of going to college goes up to $100,000. Never mind the fact that the value of your education might not be worth $100,000.

By subsidizing education, the government has transformed the college experience from being one of expanding the mind to becoming a mere credential to get an entry-level job for which people are mostly over-educated. It has raised the cost of going to college so much so that very few people can now go to college without the GI Bill or FAFSA thus creating a vicious never-ending cycle. And it has allowed the marketplace to be so saturated with college degree holders that despite the fact that so many young people are in serious debt, many young people can only find work in entry-level jobs that pay peanuts, which in turn compels people to support higher minimum wage rates, which in turn exacerbates things even further.  It's a vicious cycle.

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So the next time you hear someone say that education ought to be a right that the government ought to help pay partially for or fund outright, people ought to be reminded to think of one very important thing – that famous road to hell that has been paved with the purest of good intentions.

As for that future bubble burst, the Education Bubble, that is the direct result of more and more students not being able to repay their student loans that is going to pummel the economy yet again, well, that’s a nightmare scenario that I don’t even want to think of right now.

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Ahn Cheol-soo: The Great Demagogue

With the upcoming provincial elections about to held in June, Ahn Cheol-soo has begun to take bigger steps into making his mark in politics. His most recent move was finally naming his political party, albeit a tentative name – The New Politics Party.

Considering his dithering “will he, won’t he run” and capitulations in past political campaigns, the fact that he gave his party a name, even a tentative one, is a rather big deal.

But what is Ahn bringing to this age old game of thrones (insert Cersei Lannister’s quote here) that is so new? Rather unsurprisingly, not very much.

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He has very few problems with attacking the current political framework and the ruling party; accusing it of abandoning the concerns of the lives of the people. Verbally attacking the ruling party for throwing the people under the bus is not entirely impressive. It’s what every member of the opposition has done since the invention of politics, some under harsher threat of punishment than others.

However, when it comes to providing specific ideas about what he would like to see implemented, as is the nature of almost every politician, he says as much as possible to say as little as possible.

In fact, the closest thing to a concrete statement that Ahn made was when he accused the existing parties (Saenuri and Democratic Parties) of engaging in factional politics and that those who achieved the country’s democratization and industrialization should go hand in hand. Whatever the hell that means.

One needs to look no further than the (as yet not fully developed) website for his oddly-named think tank – “Policy Network Tomorrow” (정책네트워크 내일).

The thing that ought to catch the attention of those who visit this website is the section about the think tank’s “three promises,” which can be found here.

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The following is a translation of Policy Network Tomorrow’s three promises. I translated this to the best of my abilities and any error in the translation is strictly mine and mine alone.

정첵네트워크 내일은 국민 여러분께 세가지를 약속 드립니다. 
Policy Network Tomorrow makes three promises to the people.

정첵네트워크 내일의 연구과제는 국민들의 삶의 문재입니다. 모든 정책은 전문가의 머리에서가 아니라 국민의 삶에서 나온다는 믿음을 잊지 않겠습니다.
Policy Network Tomorrow’s focus will be on the problems that the people face in their lives. We will not forget the belief that all of our policy proposals will come from the people’s lives, and not the minds of experts.

우리 사회의 약자를 먼저 생각 하겠습니다. 아이들과 장애인, 노약자들을 대변하겠습니다. 중소기업, 자영업, 청년실업, 비정규직 끌어안는 따뜻한 변화를 만들어 가겠습니다.
We will put the concerns of society’s weakest members first above all else. We will represent the children, the handicapped, and the elderly. We will pursue compassionate changes that relate to small businesses, the self-employed, youth unemployment, and temporary workers.

국민 모두에게 열린 수평적 네트워크가 되겠습니다. 수직적 일방적 공간이 아닙니다. 정첵네트워크 내일은 머리가 아니라 가슴으로 생각할 수 있는 소통의 장을 마련하겠습니다.
We will be a balanced and open network that will be open to everyone in the general public. This is not a space for vertical hierarchies or unilateral decision-making. Policy Network Tomorrow will provide a space where people can think -- not with their minds, but with their hearts.

It was stated not once, but twice that the people in this think tank will think not with their minds, but rather their hearts. Because, as we all know, pursuing ad-hoc goals that can change at the drop of a hat while discarding rationale, knowledge, and experience has never led to anything bad in the history of mankind!

In other words, Policy Network Tomorrow is a think tank that refuses to think. A think tank that thinks that gut-thinking is the way to go!

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Our emotions are not the same as that of our minds. Our emotions are not tools of cognition. If we fail to differentiate between our thoughts and our emotions, we might as well jump into the rabbit hole. Without a ruthlessly honest commitment to introspection, we can never truly understand whether our feeling is an appropriate response to the facts of reality, or a mistaken response, or a vicious illusion produced by years of self-deception.

So why would Ahn, a man who was once a doctor, a computer programmer, a successful businessman, the youngest man to have ever served as a dean at Seoul National University, and an elected member of the National Assembly, be so averse to thinking?

Credit has to be given where it is due.  He has a resume worth killing for.
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In order to answer that question, we have to understand Ahn’s supporters, who seem primarily to be people who are disappointed with the current status quo, rather than those who agree with his principles or ideological goals.

In other words, Ahn’s supporters are the kind of people whose political views are tainted with aversion to party politics, rather than a goal. Considering that Ahn has been vague on how to accomplish any of his goals of bringing about an age of “new politics” or economic justice or concrete solutions to the country's structural economic problems, that is the only conclusion that makes any sense.

And of course, this is most likely Ahn’s strategy to retain his (increasing) popularity. Prior to his election, then Senator Obama was also very loose and vague with his promises and political vision as he relied more on flowery rhetoric such as “hope and change.” The more vague a political candidate is, the more his supporters can fill in the blanks with their projections of what they hope that the candidate will represent.

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In this case, as far as his supporters are concerned, Ahn represents change. But what kinds of change? How will those changes come about? What will be the results, intended and unintended? They have no answers. At least none that doesn’t reek of spiked Kool-Aid. The fact of the matter is that many of Ahn’s supporters, who tend to be younger people, are more driven by existentialist angst than by ideology.

They support Ahn for “speaking-truth-to-power” while doing their utmost to find a job in Chaebol companies that they purportedly hate. They support government-administered welfare programs all the while simultaneously disdaining having to pay the necessary taxes for the welfare programs that they want. They support raising the minimum wage while failing to understand why their employment prospects are not improving. All this goes to show just how muddled the minds of Ahn’s supporters are.

Ahn’s supporters are just a spark away from becoming a violent and angry mob; young people who refuse to or cannot look beyond their immediate desires who have no way of knowing whose long-range goals they are serving. These are the people that Ahn is courting.

And what is Ahn’s goal? Well, considering how much the man has turned obfuscation into an art form, it is likely that his immediate goal is simply to take over and then worry about everything else later.

Ahn’s think tank itself states rather blatantly:

We will not forget the belief that all of our policy proposals will come from the people’s lives, and not the minds of experts.

As far as Ahn is concerned, these young college students serve as nothing more than a trial balloon. They are not an electoral base whom he respects and treats as thinking adults, but rather as a barometer, a microcosm of the entire electorate, to see how much nonsense he can spout and get away with it.

“It’s about being pragmatic, Ahn and his supporters may counter. But considering the impracticability of their goals, they aren’t being pragmatic but merely pursuing an anti-ideological ideology. It is a shameful prelude to mob rule where ideas must give way to numerical superiority.

Korea’s young people have been had and deserve a political leader who will treat them like adults. Ahn Cheol-soo is not that man. However, before young Koreans can legitimately demand such a leader, they must first begin to think for themselves.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

A Modest Proposal to Fix the Impending Pension Disaster

According to Bloomberg News, the National Pension Service, Korea’s biggest investor (both among publicly and privately-owned companies) holds about US$258 billion in assets. Seeing how this information is from 2010, assuming that the NPS has reached its goal of increasing its share holdings, it could be worth more today.

Despite the NPS’ attempt at increasing its liquidity and investment revenues, things are not looking good for retirees, current or future. For one thing, according to the NPR, though full pensions are available for those who are 60 today, by 2033, that age will be raised to 65; just in time for current-day working schmucks to be told that they have to work more than they thought they had to. Furthermore, though current retirees can expect a government pension equal to half of their average pre-tax earnings, by 2028, those benefits will be lowered to 40 percent.


These are all signs that the pension fund is bracing for a hard fall. No democratic government in the world, no matter how out-of-touch, ever dares to stoke the ire of the elderly without incredibly valid AND iron-clad reasons for no other reason than the fact that unlike most everyone else, the elderly vote in large numbers and vote often.

In an effort to make sure that the elderly are not sent into geriatric fits of rage, the Park Geun-hye government has promised that it would expand the national health coverage. For example, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) plans to fully cover the costs of treating “serious illnesses, including cancer and diseases of the heart, brain and blood vessels” for those over the age of 60 starting in 2016 because, you know, no one over the age of 60 ever has to worry about such silly things.

Furthermore, no one in government seems to be willing to seriously talk about the fact that Korea has one of the world’s fastest aging populations. It is estimated that the ratio of senior citizens to working age people – currently 1 to 6 – is projected to shift to 1 to 1.5 by 2050. As someone who has studied economics for no less than eight years, believe me when I say that in economics parlance, this kind of ratio is what is called a major clusterfuck. Look it up. I’m pretty sure that’s a direct quote from John Maynard Keynes.

That's right.  I said "major clusterfuck."  What?

So, like all governments that prefer to kick the can down the road so that future generations will have to deal with their mess, the government has decided that it would raise monthly premiums paid by salaried workers and the self-employed to the NPS because who the hell cares about young people and their right to live?

Basically, what it means for young people is that though they are going to have to pay more into the NPS (the current 9 percent of people’s income might be raised to 14 percent), considering the fact that the NPS is estimated to go belly up by 2053, when today’s young people become tomorrow’s senior citizens, they’re going to be paid less and for a shorter period of time, if they get paid at all.

For non-Koreans who might not be entirely informed about Korea’s NPS problem, especially when it comes to why it is so unfair to younger Koreans, it should be noted that Korea adopted the NPS in 1988. What that means is that, unlike many American senior citizens who have paid into Social Security (a major clusterfuck in its own right), many Korean senior citizens did not pay into their pension fund and those who did paid very little.

To put it delicately, young Koreans are proper fucked.


Seeing how no one in government seems to have a clue as to how to fix this looming financial armageddon, and this is only going to worsen the inter-generational conflict, I have an idea, a modest proposal, if you will, about how to fix this problem.

The National Assembly should pass a bill that calls for the voluntary suicide of any Korean citizen who reaches the age of 70.

Before you blanch in horror, please, hear me out. It’s the only solution that makes sense.

Firstly, as we all know, the elderly, regardless of ethnicity or nationality, love their children. There are many stories that we hear about how elderly Koreans are still giving away whatever little they own to their, not only fully grown but middle-aged, children; like the story that was published in Koreabang. They have sacrificed so much for their children already throughout their whole lives. But if they truly love their children, shouldn’t they show their sincerity by making the ultimate sacrifice? It’s truly selfish of them to keep living, after all.

But if suicide is too harsh a term for people to accept, we can always call it something else. Voluntary Celestial Matriculation, perhaps?

Now of course, not all parents are loving. Some can be downright evil and petty, especially those who dare to sue their children for financial support. These people are obviously human scum and should be executed en masse via firing squad. But of course, and I will freely admit to borrowing this idea from George Carlin, their executions should not be held behind closed doors, but rather on pay per view television. I will let the maestro speak for himself.

Are you shocked? You shouldn’t be. It’s not like as though they aren’t killing themselves already. Just last year, a 78-year-old Korean woman drank pesticide overnight in front of her city hall. So it’s not like as though the elderly don’t already have a flair for the dramatic. And this kind of stuff really brings the ratings for TV shows. It’s such a shame that the elderly are doing this without letting TV executives know about it in advance. Now people shouldn’t be forced to drink pesticide in public. People can die dignified deaths (I recommend death by snu snu) in the comfort of their own homes. All I’m saying is that dying like that is such a waste of a good opportunity to make a bit more money.


Of course, senior citizens shouldn’t just be told to celestially matriculate voluntarily while getting nothing back in return. That would be inhumane. The government should promise anyone who signs a contract to voluntarily celestially matriculate full healthcare benefits, basic housing, basic income, and no need to pay sales, income, or estate taxes from the age of 65 to 70 after which they must make the ultimate journey to the other side.

Now, it would be an understatement to say that people can be dishonest. There are likely going to be some people who, after they sign the contract and get all the benefits that were promised, might decide not to celestially matriculate. To counter this problem, the government must prepare a paramilitary task force that will hunt down and execute (this time on live pay per view TV) these geriatric swindlers in the most gore-rrific manner possible.

This way, the elderly can live the last five years of their lives in peace knowing that all of their needs will be met.  They won’t live longer than they are needed which in turn will help to ensure that the NPS will remain in place for people who have paid into the pension system.  And they in turn will have to sign their own Voluntary Celestial Matriculation contracts when the time comes, which will help to alleviate current and future inter-generational conflicts. On top of all that, Korean TV will finally rid itself of its disgustingly mawkish soap operas and will actually have something worth watching! It’s a win-win for everyone!

This would be a hilarious (and arousing) way to die.

Now, I recognize that the Internet is full of ill-read philistines who are about as smart as a pound of cheesecake. And considering the fact that there are many people who have read my blog and have questioned my sanity, I think I should make this clear: No, I am not a psychopath. And yes, this was actually satire, in case you didn’t get the Jonathan Swift reference from the damned title.

Of course I do not support the legislation of enforced suicide of senior citizens. Of course this was ludicrous, and of course such a proposal, if anyone was stupid enough to propose seriously, is both preposterous and morally evil. Not only would no one in the National Assembly ever pass such a bill, much less propose one, even if it were passed, no president would ever sign it into law. And assuming that we are living in Wonderland and some buffoon(s) in the National Assembly and the President proposed and signed such a bill into law respectively (I suppose it is unsafe to underestimate the level of idiocy that politicians are capable of achieving), no Supreme Court justice would ever think it was constitutional.

But as ludicrous and evil as my modest proposal to prevent the impending financial disaster may be, at least it’s an idea, which is a lot more than what the government has proposed.