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North Korea might be a bad example. I was thinking more along the lines of Singapore or even China, if we're talking East Asia. Aside from some amount of military power (they're boasting a very large army but I'm willing to bet most of their soldiers are malnourished and unimpressive in combat), including nukes, North-Korean style totalitarianism / despotism seems to have earned them nothing worth bragging about in the international community. Their whole country is a bad joke. They're not as well-represented in various country statistics because it's impossible to get accurate data on them, but they'd probably score at the bottom of most indexes. If NK "statesmen" could differentiate between the best interests of the country and their own whims, you'd think they would at least make some effort to raise the GDP per capita to acceptable (read: non-Third World) levels.

That's what leads me to guess that there is some, but not full overlap between state interests and the common good. Political stability, the rule of law, and a strong military have some positive externalities for the populace as well; a police state and a taxation policy that fills the state's coffers only to leave citizens in poverty, not so much.

In general, I believe that the optimal balance between the power of states and their population depends mostly on the level of external threat. The state needs to be strong enough to protect its citizen from aggression, but not stronger.

That would be in its foreign and military policy. What about domestic policy? Taxation, law enforcement, media/propaganda, economic decisions?






NK is bad joke when judged by the GDP per capita, but not if you look at its ability to inspire fear in other countries. Would Japan and S. Korea allow, say New Zeland to kidnap their citizens without any retribution but a formal protest?

In the west we tend to identify the interests of the state and interests of its population. It seems self-obvious that each country should aim to increase its population standards of living, rather than inspire fear in its neighbors. But even in the western countries this attitude is relatively recent.

What about domestic policy? Taxation, law enforcement, media/propaganda, economic decisions?


I put law enforcement in “protect its citizen from aggression” category - the optimal balance depends on the crime level. With most other issues, I personally prefer the state to interfere as little as possible, but there are certainly people who might benefit from high taxation levels. I guess "the common good" does not really exist.
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melian
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If NK "statesmen" could differentiate between the best interests of the country and their own whims, you'd think they would at least make some effort to raise the GDP per capita to acceptable

They did make some effort with the Rason Special Economic zone.
Jang Sung-taek who used to be the most powerful or second most powerful man in North Korea got himself killed about not being patriotic enough and selling land to foreign companies.

At the same time economic freedom even outside of the special zones increased: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/05/north-korea-economic-reforms-show-signs-paying-off
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ChristianKl
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>If NK "statesmen" could differentiate between the best interests of the country and their own whims

Do you really think there are easy solutions to this from the perspective of a North Korean "statesmen"? An amazing number of those people died in the last years for not making the right political moves.
The ability of any single person to maneuver is strongly limited.
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ChristianKl
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