Friday, August 26, 2011

Democraziness - TNSTAAFL

Now I don't follow politics very closely, not in the USA, and even less here in Korea. However, there was an election held this week in Seoul over a controversial law to require free lunches for all school children, poor or not. But that isn't the reason for this post.

This law was opposed by many, including the Seoul city mayor. Presumably he was so opposed to it, he spearheaded a referendum, giving the citizens an opportunity to overturn the law. Not content with that, he then announced that if the referendum fails to repeal the law, he would resign his post as mayor. But even that isn't the reason for this post.

The election was held on Wednesday, and indeed it failed to repeal the law. In fact, it failed to even attain the necessary 33% of voter turnout necessary to make the results valid. But I believe THE REAL STORY was buried in was the following tidbits from the news coverage of the election.

1. The folks opposing the referendum to repeal the law (folks who support the law) were ACTIVELY CAMPAIGNING FOR CITIZENS TO NOT VOTE !!!!!!! This is absolutely unbelievable. Don't these parties have an obligation, implied or explicit, to support the very basic form of their government? Or at least, not to subvert it? It seems astounding that any citizen of a democracy would encourage citizens NOT to vote. It's one thing to promote your cause, but it's another to encourage citizens to abandon their most fundamental civic responsibility. If that's not illegal, well maybe it ought to be.

2. It gets better. Apparently, the rules of the election are such that if the threshold of 33% isn't met, THE VOTES AREN'T EVEN COUNTED! That, too, seems crazy. Maybe it's the engineer in me, but who wouldn't want to know data like this? It might or might not be helpful. But you won't know unless you count them. Say for example the results showed that 99% of the voters were on one side or the other. Isn't this something that the officials would want to be aware of? You can never have too much data.

I don't really have a strong opinion about the whole free school lunch program. It seems entirely reasonable to provide lunches to students from poor families, indeed it seems this has been the case, even before this new law. I'm not really opposed to the concept of free lunches for everyone, but with limited government funds (which I hear is the case), I'm not sure it would be extremely high on my priority list. Furthermore, I've learned to be suspicious of things which are supposedly "free". TNSTAAFL, as Robert Heinlein wrote years ago ("There's No Such Thing As A Free Lunch").

I will say that throughout this whole school lunch controversy, it is painfully obvious to me that the fight HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH FREE SCHOOL LUNCHES. The whole reason for this supposed crisis was that the current system provides free lunches to children from poor families, but it makes them ashamed to be seen by their friends getting lunches for free. If that's the only problem at hand, then the solution is obvious - issue prepaid lunchroom cards to everyone. Parents who could pay would, the government would pay the others. Any Korean could immediately come to this conclusion after one minute's thought. Koreans use electronic cards like this for nearly everything in their daily lives - subway and bus cards, parking lot cards, there are even cards like this built into many cell phones, not to mention the ubiquitous credit cards. No, the fact that such a program was not quietly implemented in the first place tells me that this whole circus was for some other reason. And since I don't follow politics, I couldn't even begin to speculate what that reason might be.

I've had my say. I know a lot of crazy things go on in politics all around the world, sometimes behind the scenes, sometimes out in the open. But this really pegged my absurd meter.