What Color is the Sky? A Book Celebration (and review)

“It’s a wonderful thing to behold when you see someone take control of their finances AND their life.” – Finley

I finished my 2nd read of “What Color is the Sky” this weekend. What Color is the Sky is the 2nd book by a personal friend of mine, Michael Finley. As I said in the title, this is both a review and a celebration of a great book. I believe it is one of the best investment books available because it delivers useful, actionable, information instead of vague concepts. Because of this I have personally bought and given away over 40 copies of this book to friends and family  (and I hope to give more in the future, and that people read them!). A great feature of this book is that each chapter is 2 pages long and covers 1 topic. The book delivers a wealth of information in a short enough read for the average person. The average person doesn’t want to or have time to read 30 pages about stock market bubbles, timing the market or index investing. Finley delivers concise, precise, useful information that shouldn’t tax your attention span.

There are 5 stages in the book.

Stage 1 is simply Finley giving you a pep talk. He wants you to know that you are able to manage your own investing, or at least that you should be able to find someone to help you along but who won’t screw you (like 95% of financial “advisors” (salesmen) these days).

Stage 2 includes a lot of chapters informing you about what smart investing is NOT.
Smart investing is not trying to guess which one stock will do good each month.
Smart investing is not listening to your uncle who is not educated on investing.
Smart investing is not trying to find the best managed mutual fund and changing it each year or two.
Smart investing is not  investing in something because everyone else is (housing bubble, tech bubble, tulip mania).

Stage 3 includes a many chapters informing you about what smart investing IS.
Smart investing is investing in index funds (or target date funds which are made of index funds).
Smart investing means you are diversified through various classes of investments (US, international, bonds, REITS).
Smart investing is understanding opportunity cost, the rule of 72, taxes and different types of account you can save money in (401k, 403b, 529, IRA, ROTH or traditional).
You could skip right to stage 3 of the book if you are really bursting to get the knowledge of what you should do, but if you do you need to go back and read the start of the book. This whole book needs to be read, by everyone and I will buy it for you, if you need me too. As Mike often mentions in the book, he is not paid by Vanguard to promote their product, he just believes they are doing what they do the best. Similarly, I believe Mike is providing the most unbiased, useful, actionable (helps you actually make investment decisions) advice in an easy to understand format.


Stage 4 builds on stage 3 with more practical actionable advice.
Discusses buy and hold (vs selling constantly to buy “winners”), different asset classes such as large capitalization stocks, small capitalization stocks, REITS and bonds.
Discusses international vs domestic stocks.
It also discusses rebalancing your portfolio, asset allocation as well as one of my favorite topics the 1 and done fund, the Target Date Fund.

Stage 5 is rather short. It encourages you to continue your financial education with recommendations of some good books. It encourages you to seek fee-only advisors if necessary.

Finley also uses a chapter to provide his vision for the future. He speaks about institutional investors, who are collectively losing million of our dollars to fund “managers”. Many large state and company investment funds offer poor funds. He wants to change that. We must demand the change and to do that you must be informed.
Finally, Finley encourages you to share what you have learned. As is his life goal, educating and empowering others to become the best they can be, he encourages the readers to help others learn more about investing and personal growth. That is part of what I am trying to do by writing this blog and this post, teaching others what I have learned in hopes that it will make their lives better and ultimately, make the world a better place. Active fund “managers” are generally providing negative value to the world and we need to stop that, so do your part, learn, become educated, get rich and live a rich, fulfilling life.

You can find Finley’s book here on Amazon (as I said I get nothing from this, he doesn’t even know I wrote this until he will see it on Facebook). I will buy you the book if you don’t think you can afford it. Leave a comment below if you’d like me to buy you a copy. You can’t afford to not read this book and I can’t afford for you to not read this book! Changing the way the whole market operates is in my, your and the world’s best interest. Forward to a better future!

My IRRATIONAL Fear – Short term market collapse

You NEED to understand that the market is risky, in the short term, but so is every other place to put your money, including under your mattress (inflation risk!). – Axel Hoogland (yes I quoted myself)

My IRRATIONAL fear is a short term stock market collapse (meaning stock prices go down for a year or 2, similar to 2008 market collapse) (Learn about what the stock market is here).I am afraid of this because I am continually telling people to invest their money in the stock market. Most people are already invested in the stock market (but don’t know how their money is being managed or what exactly they are invested in). Some are only invested in bonds (which is risky as you are losing money to inflation). Some will pull their money out of the stock market at the first sign of trouble or market dip, which happens often (dips) but usually the market recovers quickly and they would lose on the gains. When investing in the market people should always ask themselves “What do I need this money for?” You NEED to understand that the market is risky, in the short term, but so is every other place to put your money, including under your mattress (inflation risk!).

My greatest fear is being wrong. I hate to give people incorrect information. It is ok to be wrong on some things. If you recommend someone eat at a restaurant they will be upset with you if they don’t enjoy it they will choose to never eat there again and might just stop taking your advice on restaurants.

If you recommend something to do with investing people’s money, something that they don’t completely understand themselves, and they seem to lose money (even if it is only for a short time and then it comes back in a year or two) they may hate you forever. People will be sure that there was a better option for them to invest their money in. They will not know what that option was, but they will be sure it was better than following your advice.

Someone is is almost always better at doing something for you than you will be at doing it for yourself. Some things require training to learn how to do. Many people do not feel comfortable fixing their own car. They take it to an expert, a mechanic. They don’t feel they have access to the right tools or knowledge (and that’s often true) so they pay someone to do it for them.

Unfortunately many people are happy to let an “expert” manage their money, for a large fee! The problem is these people are not experts, they are “salespeople”! You don’t let the car salesman fix your car and you shouldn’t let a “financial salesman” manage your money. The truth is that as a whole all fund managers will underperform the stock market. This is because of the fees they charge and because they are bad at guessing (yes they are guessing) which companies will perform better than average on any given year. Whenever someone sells a stock remember someone is on the other side of that deal guessing that that stock is going up! As a whole, all managed money will underperform (measured by percent returns to clients after fees) the total amount of unmanaged (index funds) market. Certainly some money managers will pick good and outperform the market and many will underperform and pick worse stocks than the market average, but all charge high fees. That is why index funds generally are the best place to put your money. To further diversify you should put your money in a Target Date fund which automatically transfers your money to bonds (safer investments) as you reach retirement.

A question people often ask is

Q.The stock market is high, should I pull money out of the market?

A. I ask them “What will you do with your money it if you do “pull it out” of the stock market?” The stock market should always be at the highest it’s ever been because the world is growing in population, thus businesses are making more products to sell.

As Mr. Money Mustache recently posted about, there is always a recession coming, so instead of worrying about it, it is better to understand what might bring it about, understand what you are investing in and why, and ride the storm out. A benefit of all this is that if people understand what causes recessions, over spending followed by underspending, we (may) be able to avoid wild cycles and instead keep a nice steady rise in abundance in the future, that is my hope by helping to educate people on “The Stock Market”.

Now that I’ve shared my fear with everyone, and why it’s not a rational fear, you should continue to learn about investing and why it is probably one of the most important things you can understand for yourself and for the world. You can learn more about Target Date Funds (where everyone should start investing) from this post or this video.

Paris Climate Agreement

The USA is “leaving the Paris Climate Agreement”, in about 4 years, President Trump has declared by executive action. Many countries had ratified the agreement, meaning their leader and likely some congress/senate or other governing body agreed. About ¼ of the countries in the world signed it (including the USA) which means that probably just their leader agreed to it. That being the action that Obama took. That was a mistake on his side (although probably all he was able to do as there was likely no way Congress would have ratified it, being Republican at the time). Because of that, it was easily un-signed by Donald Trump.

(Picture from Business Insider)

As far as I can tell there were not really many actual ramifications to signing the Paris Agreement or leaving the Agreement for the USA from the rest of the world. You can read the Paris Agreement by clicking the link. You can also read the 5 page document the USA sent sharing what our plans were to meet the agreement.

Here are the important sentences along with an easy to understand graph.

“The United States intends to achieve an economy-wide target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26%-28% below its 2005 level in 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28%.”-  USA First NDC (nationally determined contribution) Submission

“ The United States has already undertaken substantial policy action to reduce its emissions, taking the necessary steps to place us on a path to achieve the 2020 target of reducing emissions in the range of 17 percent below the 2005 level in 2020. “ – USA First NDC (nationally determined contribution) Submission

These were self professed goals to work along with other countries in the world to reduce all our emissions together.

The US is the world’s second-largest carbon emitter, after China. Together, the countries accounted for 45% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions in 2014.” – Business Insider

The USA is near the top of emissions per capita.

http://www.wri.org/sites/default/files/uploads/per_capita_emissions.png

If you take the time to read (Framework Convention on Climate Change) FCCC/CP/2015/L.9/Rev.1  document, better known as “The Paris Agreement”, you wil lfind reference to the “Warsaw International Mechanism” which is another body of individuals that appears to be around to provide some guidance to help make decisions related to climate change.

There is a reference to “$100 billion dollars” “from developed countries to developing countries” that some people seem to think the US is on the hook for. That is false. Here is the statement regarding $100 billion.

“”54. Also decides that, in accordance with Article 9, paragraph 3, of the Agreement, developed countries intend to continue their existing collective mobilization goal through 2025 in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation; prior to 2025 the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement shall set a new collective quantified goal from a floor of USD 100 billion per year, taking into account the needs and priorities of developing countries; “ – Paris Agreement

There is no set plan where that money comes from or how it is counted for. Some of it is in foreign aid, some is hoped to be in private loans. Basically, it is just a hope at the moment and certainly not something the USA is on the hook for.
What we have done is Contribute $1 billion since Dec 2015 (when the treaty was signed by Obama) to the “Green Climate Fund”. This was ⅓ of a pledged $3 billion from Obama. Trump has canceled the rest of that money.

As Trump mentioned later in his speech, the United States has given the Green Climate Fund $1 billion already. President Barack Obama pledged a total of $3 billion to the fund by 2020 as part of a global goal of $10 billion, but Trump promised not to finance it as a candidate and Congress has not made further contributions since the election.” – NBC news

The whole $3 billion represented about $9/person in the USA (over 5 years) and only a very small percent of our $40+ billion in foreign aid each year. (US budget for 2016)

(picture from Washington Post)

Another source of money for the developing countries is the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) which is administered by the GEF (Global Environment Facility unites 183 countries in partnership with international institutions, civil society organizations (CSOs), and the private sector to address global environmental issues while supporting national sustainable development initiatives. Today the GEF is the largest public funder of projects to improve the global environment. An independently operating financial organization, the GEF provides grants for projects related to biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, the ozone layer, and persistent organic pollutants.- Wikipedia)

So now that we’ve established that the Paris Agreement:

  1. Was not costing the USA anything financially
  2. The Green Climate Fund (separate from the Paris Agreement, was costing the USA very little, $2 billion as part of $40+ billion in foreign aid)
  3. Emissions reductions were self imposed at 17% currently planned and a projection of up to 28% reduction (compared to 2005 levels in the USA) by 2025.
  4. Was definitely abandoned by Donald Trump personally but not by individuals and businesses.

What do we do about that?

Assuming you believe in climate change (rising temperatures) and that it could have negative implications for people related to damaged crops, damaged houses and is already happening now, what can you do about it?

I actually hope Donald Trump abandoning the Paris Agreement is a good thing. I (naively) believe that maybe people will start to take individual actions to offset their own carbon footprint instead of thinking the government will do it.

Here are a few things you can do to offset your own carbon footprint.

  1. Support carbon offset companies/non-profits. Read this great article from Mr. Money Mustache about companies that do that.
  2. Plant trees! (You also don’t have to do that personally). Here is a company (OneTreePlanted) you can pay $1 to plant 1 tree or $100 to plant $100 trees! WOW. (I am not sure how effective they are at this yet. They seem pretty new, but maybe they’ll contact me after this mention, or maybe I’ll contact to them to get more information about their work.)
  3. Buy a more efficient vehicle!

The people of the USA need to get over the idea that what the President of the USA does has much direct impact on their lives.

While the President can certainly create policies which affect your life one way or another a few thousand dollars, the fact is that what the government is doing is really not that intrusive on your life, especially not related to how you personally pollute! Not in the USA. What people need to realize is that  people have power. We can choose to influence how businesses create products and we can vote for people who will represent our beliefs. If we choose to specify to pay a little more for renewable energy, companies will create it. You can do that for many electric companies.

You can do the same with businesses. You can “vote” with your dollar, instead of just your political vote. Vote every day.

Many business CEO’s and city Mayors in the USA have pledged to keep their businesses and companies to the Paris Agreement. That is laudable and it is really what they should do also. Why should a company start polluting more just because Donald Trump says he is going to? Many companies are already on the energy efficient path (which is inherently green anyway) due to cost savings. So that should not really be an issue. It is unfortunate that the global warming thing has been “sold” to people as “saving the earth”. Most people I know don’t care that much about it. But if it was sold as “saving you money” people would be all over it. Being more efficient is saving you money AND saving the earth at the same time. Let’s try to focus on that, individually, and collectively. Hopefully other countries, companies and individuals continue on that path, largely ignoring what Donald Trump says. As I have said, he really has little power in the arena of what most people and businesses do personally. I suspect that history will look back on him poorly for this action.

I really don’t know what Trump is thinking overall. He is certainly connecting with people who have a certain mindset, that the USA is somehow getting “screwed” by the whole world. I just do not see that. Would you feel “screwed” if you were helping a family member through a tough time? The whole world is our family, and it’s the only one we have and some of them are going through pretty tough times. We should be ashamed that a large percentage are starving while some are living in luxury. Some of the starvation is related to the damage we’ve done to the environment with our many years of technological advancement and our gluttonous use of fossil fuels for energy and transportation. Some is related to corrupt governments (which is something I’m thinking about also and I acknowledge it’s a BIG issue, but not the topic of the day, yet).  Once we all get on a path to being more efficient we will be doing everyone else a great service as well as future generations.

Mark Zuckerberg – Basic Income

Update 9-22-02017

It looks like Y-combinator is embarking on a basic income  experiment similar to what I proposed Mark Zuckerberg do. This is a good thing as it’s still an individual/private group doing experimentation that government can’t/won’t do.

“YC will select 3,000 people across two states and divide them into two groups. The first group will include 1,000 people who will receive $1,000 a month for up to five years. The second group of 2,000 people — which the study will consider its control group — will receive $50 a month.”

Original 5-29-02017

Mark Zuckerberg gave a speech for the Harvard commencement ceremony this year (2017). In it he advocated for a universal basic income, which is something I’ve been thinking and reading about for a few years. The most important question about a basic income is “Who pays for the basic income?” Some people have thought about this more than I have. You can read about how one guy thinks we should pay for a basic income here. There have even been a few basic income programs in the past. You can read about one happening in Finland here, as well as in Kenya here.  

When you have an idea as big as a basic income you need a path to get there. You don’t just implement a basic income to a whole country. I am often trying to figure out how to implement ideas fast, not necessarily perfectly.

I am excited that someone with as much wealth (from Facebook stock ownership) as well as a desire to change the world for the better (as self reported by Zuckerberg multiple times) is interested in a basic income. Luckily Mark Zuckerberg is a billionaire and his stock is rising, literally. Facebook is worth more every year. This gives Zuckerberg the rare opportunity to implement his own basic income study! No one can stop him! And if it goes well he will be able to prove to people that a basic income is a good thing that should be implemented wider.

If Zuckerberg owns $63 billion in Facebook stock. it should grow at at least 4% a year, which means he could sell $2.5 billion a year, and use that to provide a basic income. Which means he could give 25,000 people a basic income of $100k a year!

Since this is a test and that’s a lot of money and this is supposed to be a basic income, he could provide an income of  $30k to say 500 people, this would be $15 million a year, a pittance that Zuckerberg wouldn’t even notice! I think he should do this for say 5 years, and see what happens with those people.

We need this kind of leadership to show us that this type of program could work.

$30k*500 people =$15 million *5 years = $75 million over 5 years.
How much to manage this program? $25 million maybe? (maybe way less!) For a cool $100 million over 5 years.

Until someone is willing to run this type of program and shows that the people who receive the money come out more successful than otherwise, and that they aren’t just being lazy, it won’t receive large scale acceptance.

I believe this is a program Zuckerberg should take on with his new Chan Zuckerberg Initiative LLC (not a charity, which is fine, I think businesses can potentially make more changes in the world than charities, or at least it takes all kinds!). If he wants to contact me to discuss further why I think he should do this he can find me at hooglandaxel@gmail.com

Alternatively, he could contact the nice people at Give Directly, who I mentioned earlier. They seem more versed in administering something like this and could probably run the program for less than $25 million!

Millions Could Die From Drought/Starvation

I read “The Last Hunger Season” in 02016 about the NGO One Acre Fund, who is working in Africa to provide seed, fertilizer and planting techniques to help farmers there produce more.

I am currently listening to the book “Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty” which is talking about how providing seed and fertilizer is not enough, if the farmers there can’t sell their food into a developed market, they will have to sell when the price is low which puts the farmers in basically the same place they were before all the help.

The Last Hunger Season was published in 2013 and Enough was published in 2010. I figured that it’d been enough time that maybe the actions being taken by the people would be having an effect in Ethiopia, Kenya and other countries in Africa that they are working in.

Imagine my surprise when the first article I find when searching “Are Africans hungry” yielded the below headline “United Nations issues ultimatum as millions face starvation” and with this comment in the article “More than 30 million people need food assistance in Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia due to conflict and drought….Wars in Yemen, northeastern Nigeria and South Sudan have devastated households and driven up prices, while a drought in east Africa has ruined the agricultural economy.

I like to think I keep a pretty close watch on major news. I had not heard any ultimatum about millions of people starving in Africa lately, have you?

After I continued searching for a few more topics related to Kenya, Ethiopia, Africa, etc and getting in a short Facebook discussion with a relative about what causes a country to have a lack of food, greedy leadership, actual lack of food, etc, I found the below articles.

Looming ‘catastrophe’ in East Africa proves why world must tackle climate change, says Oxfam

Issuing a “desperate” appeal for the international community to meet a request from the United Nations for about £1.5bn of aid, the charity also said the worst drought in living memory demonstrated why the world must act to reduce global warming. While some still deny the severity of climate change and question the need to combat it, others are struggling for their lives as climate change makes a bad situation worse,” Oxfam said.

Kenya: Do Not Be Fooled, Food Shortage the Result of Misrule and Graft

“Anyone with a modicum of education today knows that while drought may, indeed, be a natural calamity, famine is man-made, an outcome of mismanagement, incompetence and criminal dereliction of today.”

I get pretty sick of seeing articles from fellow Americans that are discussing their “problems” like too many GMO foods or how they think climate change is not real because of a bad snow storm. I’m also frustrated by people driving gas guzzling trucks around while you have a perfectly good option of buying a Prius or even better a Nissan Leaf! Now I am not a perfect person myself. I own a few old vehicles that are not particularly environmentally friendly. I am still not sure what exactly to do with them. We don’t talk much about “how to make the world a better place for everyone” and I am not sure why we don’t do that? Why is the 3 year drought in Africa not a headline?

I watched this great video by NubmersUSA.org and Roy Beck about immigration. After that short presentation it’s pretty simple to understand that immigration is not the answer to helping most people in the world improve their situation.  

On a positive note, and recognizing someone who seems to be trying to help in Africa, I want to highlight Akon Lighting Africa. Akon, a rapper turned businessman, is working to provide solar lights, which can lengthen working and learning (productive) hours, provide safety (lighter places are safer) available to the people he is helping.

I also want to recognize Mobius Motors, a company that is working to provide rugged, durable, vehicles, built for the African market.

Are these entrepreneurs, working to solve problems and still make a profit, the right answer to solve all the problems in Africa? If so, how can we in the developed world help these types of companies accelerate their growth and impact? Is it even our problem to consider helping people in foreign countries? Shouldn’t we worry about all the problems we have in our own country?

I will admit that I don’t have the answers to these types of questions. But I think about them a lot. I think the best thing I can do for now is raise awareness of these issues and get other people thinking about them also, and that’s why I wrote this post.

What do you think?
Did you know there was a 3 year drought in Africa causing starvation to 30 million people?
Do you think entrepreneurs are a more effective way to solve problems than charity?
Do you help support anyone in a foreign country through Charity (Children International or Imagine Missions) or loans (kiva.org).
Do you think we should intervene militarily to displace bad governments or should we let people solve their own problems?

The Inevitable

“Man can and must prevent the tragedy of famine in the future instead of merely trying with pious regret to salvage the human wreckage of the famine, as he has so often done in the past. We will be guilty of criminal negligence, without extenuation, if we permit future famines.” – Normal Borlaug, 1970 Nobel Lecture

What things are inevitable? Some technologies might be inevitable but they may also be difficult to see from a distance in time. Some events might also be inevitable and they may also be difficult or impossible to see coming. But some are not impossible to see coming. Some inevitable we can predict and if they are positive things, we should consider how to advance their arrival.

I want to look at a few things that were achieved that seemed impossible at one time but later became inevitable and finally happened. I want to use those past occurrences to consider what future things might be inevitable, and what we can do to accelerate their coming.

The two things that I want to highlight that happened in history are the moon landings and the eradication of smallpox. How incredible are those 2 things? How often does the normal person think about them? I suspect not very often. I only think about the moon landings a lot recently in light of the recent explosion in popularity in space stuff. I am looking to them for inspiration for what I believe to be an inevitable occurrence, the landing of a human being on Mars during my lifetime.

The eradication of smallpox from the world is another incredible achievement. I suspect before the first vaccine was discovered there was little realistic thought about eradicating a disease. The average person probably didn’t really think that there was a way to beat smallpox or any other disease. They probably hoped and prayed they didn’t get it and that was that. Now that we have eradicated smallpox and rinderpest (I’d never heard of it either) and almost eradicated polio, what is next?

I propose that we should fight the easiest to eradicate problems, those problems for which we already have a cure. Problems we don’t have to invent new cures to fight. The easiest is hunger. You and I are probably not hungry. We have plenty of food available to us down the street but many places don’t.

We often think of Africa when we think of third world countries. We see videos of people starving and are asked to send money to help. It’s good to help those types of things and the claims are true. The people need help. But what is the right type of help? We could send food aid but as the old saying goes “Give a man a fish and you’ve fed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.” I am a fan of organizations like One Acre Fund which works with farmers in Africa to provide them with high yield seeds and planting techniques to increase the yields of their small farms (usually less than one acre) from less than enough to feed a family to enough that they are able to save some for their families as well as produce some food to sell at a market.

I believe it is inevitable that one day there will be no hungry people in the world. We already produce enough food that we could feed everyone in the world if it was distributed evenly. Unfortunately, it is not. Some people have access to $300 meals every night. Some people live on $300 a year.

I hate making comments about “the rich”. Many have accumulated their wealth through creating products, businesses and jobs which provide for the people that buy the products and livelihoods for the people who work  in their businesses.

I also don’t like to criticize people who save for retirement. It’s great to save for retirement, usually through investments in businesses, via the stock market, or by starting your own business.

I am trying to think about how to encourage the average person to think about the people who are in dire need more. I have read a number of books that I believe will bring a sense of urgency related to helping others to anyone who reads them.

The Life You Can Save: Acting Now To End World Poverty – Peter Singer

Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty  –  (Audible) Roger Thurow, Scott Kilman

Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth – R. Buckminster Fuller

Strangers Drowning: Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Urge to Help  –  (Audible) Larissa MacFarquhar

Clay Water Brick: Finding Inspiration from Entrepreneurs Who Do the Most with the Least  –  Jessica Jackley

I hope after reading this you will be encouraged to learn more about the hungry of the world and how we might be able to help them.

There are many thoughts on why people are hungry and I am never focused enough to talk about just one. I always try to encompass every reason and contingency and consider if I’m wrong. This often leads to inaction and I hope that I can work on myself to be more willing to invest in ways that I think will lead to the reduction and eventual elimination of starvation in our world.
You may want to read this article that will get you thinking about some big issues related to hunger that you might not have considered yet.

10 of the Most Common Ways World Hunger Is Misunderstood Could the way people think about hunger be the greatest obstacle to ending it?
There is also a book (which i haven’t read yet) that is related to the list above.

North Korea – Some Thoughts After Reading “The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot”

I listened to the book  “The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Tyrant Who Created North Korea and The Young Lieutenant Who Stole His Way to Freedom

Let me start by saying that some information I learned listening to this book was shocking and incredible to me. It feels like I have a more concrete grasp of history now, but perhaps if I went back even further I would find something even more shocking that would lead me to rethink the latest revelations even? With that caveat, I will begin.

Today’s North Korea may be the most repressive country to live in today, at least that’s what we are told and I’m rather inclined to believe that. We are told that “If you don’t learn your history you will be forced to repeat it.” While this usually seems to lead to people learning about what happened during a war I think it misses a more important thing, what led to the start of a war. It is a lot harder to find a book that focuses on the causes of any war, likely because there are often a lot of causes and it’s usually pretty complex, which can lead to boring writing.

I decided to listen to the book “The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot” after listening to books about Russia and China. This book seemed to give more history about North Korea than either of the other books did about their respective countries. I actually am looking for a book about what the Chinese government was before Mao and the communists took over. Was it even worse?

The fighter pilot, No Kum-sok, mentioned in the book has a pretty amazing story. He basically pretends to be a communist in North Korea, the whole time plotting to escape to South Korea and when he gets his chance he does. He is still alive and lives in Florida. That is all I will mention about him but his story in fascinating as is the rest of the book. I really recommend it.

The first thing I learned, which may or may not be news to others, was that prior to WWII, between 1905 and 1910, Japan had occupied Korea, at that time one country. It sounds like the Japanese may have invested in some infrastructure there to produce more goods, but it also sounds like most of those goods were exported to Japan, thus taking advantage of the Koreans. The Koreans also were encouraged/made to change their names to Japanese names in 1940.

Because of the occupation, naturally some Koreans were fighting against the Japanese who were occupying their land. One of these Koreans was Kim Il-sung, the Grandfather of current North Korean Leader, Kim Jong Un. As the old saying goes “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” and that is how Kim Il-sung became a friend of the USSR and Chinese Communists.

Kim Il-sung spent his youth being educated in China and performing anti-Japanese military acts in a guerilla group. He later was part of the Soviet Army until the end of WWII.

When the Soviets and the USA divided Korea at the end of WWII Kim was able to maneuver to become leader of North Korea. He was also interested in reuniting with South Korea, which seems like it would make sense since it had originally been part of one Korea.

To me it seems that Korea really got the shaft when it was split up arbitrarily by the Allies (USA and USSR). It also sounded, from the book, like a lot of the fighting on the North Korean side of the Korean War was done by Chinese soldiers and Russian fighter pilots, thus making it even less about the reunification of the Koreas and more a game being played by the USSR and China to mess with America.

My point in this is that I am actually a tiny tiny bit sympathetic to Kim Il-sung. What would you do if your country was occupied by a foreign force (the Japanese)? Surely you’d fight them? And who would you ask for help? Anyone willing to help, which it seems to me is how he got stuck with the Communists. Now if you spend any time with anyone, you are likely to become more like them. My guess is that is how Kim Il-sung learned to be such an effective dictator, by learning from Mao in China and Stalin in the USSR.
I am in no was trying to justify what has happened in North Korea for the last 60+ years, simply trying to understand how we got where we are and how we could make it better for the people who live there. That leads to the next thoughts I have.

As I mentioned we are told that the people of North Korea are some of the most repressed in the world. They have little access to food, electricity or internet. They are forced to believe and support the one political party in their country or they could be shipped to a prison camp where they are likely to die.

Hopefully we all want this insanity to stop. North Korea is currently lead by Kim Jong Un, the grandson of Kim Il-sung. There are varying reports of him killing up to 340 of his own people (publicly, plus all the people in camps) since the start of his holding power in North Korea in 2011 after the death of his father.

One of the latest developments is North Korea working on developing nuclear bombs. They have claimed to have tested up to a 10 kiloton bomb (the Hiroshima bomb was about 15 kilotons). It does make sense why North Korea (or at least Kim Jong-un) would want to develop increased nuclear weapons capabilities and hold the 4th largest army, by people, in the world (and first relative to population). If they believe they are still in a fight with the USA, which the leaders act like they are, it makes sense.

If we really want to get the North Korean people out of the situation they are in how do we do that?

“Assuming Kim wanted to give his people more freedom (which is a big assumption), How would he even go about it?” Is that even possible? Is it possible without him being killed? How could we, the USA or the rest of the world, help him help them? Is it more important to us that we punish Kim Jong-un or provide more freedoms for North Koreans? Why does Kim Jong-un act the way he does, killing people etc? Is it likely a result of how he was brought up? How do we counteract 30+ years of programing to think that America is evil? Is it even possible?

What I am looking for is a win-win situation, the win for Kim Jong-un being that he wouldn’t be killed and for the North Korean people that they would have more freedom to travel, grow their own food, have access to world markets, etc.

Two similar situations that could shed some light on the situation would be China and the USSR. Stalin and Mao were both on par with the Kim family as far as being terrible leaders to their people, repressive, etc. Neither was killed by their people. Subsequent leaders of those countries made them more free. Mikhail Gorbachev was even the last leader of the USSR and he wasn’t killed when it fell so I think there is some hope for the North Koreans and Kim Jong-un. I think it’s this type of win-win thinking that will get us out of these types of situations and smaller conflicts in our daily lives. Here’s hoping that the US government will work in the next 4 years and beyond to help free the North Koreans.

Update 7-8-02017

Scott Adams, who I think is a smart guy, wrote a similar thing with a little more detailed plan on how to make this a win-win situation.

http://blog.dilbert.com/post/162632490866/solving-the-north-korea-situation