Warren, Naomi, and I in Korea

Ideas and Issues International Personal Writings

Seoul I did not realize that Warren Buffett, the 2nd richest billionaire on the planet, and I were going to be in Seoul at the same time. We could have had a chat about how to reduce poverty? Maybe not?

He seems to have arrived ahead of me from what I read on the plane coming from Hong Kong. He doesn’t get out of Omaha much so this seems to have been big news not only in this neighborhood of Asia, but across the financial markets. He cleared his throat and said he thought Korean stocks were undervalued and he still had a personal stake in one company, and just the speculation that it might be KIA increased the market value by 3% on the run-up on Friday. If he’s an investment guru, it would appear the rest of the market is made up largely of investment groupies.

Korea is one of the most “wired” countries in the world, so it drives me crazy that none of my phones or blackberry works here, and even though there is broadband in the YMCA in downtown Seoul where I stay, it is soooooo slow, I can not get on outlook express. This is what we now call “hardship” travel in the 21st century!

The other disorienting feature here is that it is Sunday morning. Time is changing to daylight savings in the USA. Although I helped the Y-desk clerk try (at his request) to learn how to pronounce “like” versus “liked” (we did not really succeed), we can’t seem to come to grips with this problem of whether or not time has “changed” here in Seoul. So, I may be 14 hours ahead of the US. I may be 13. I may have no earthly idea, which seems the case. I ran this morning along a small creek that runs between two walkways for quite a distance in downtown Seoul. I had found this pathway of walkers, sitters, and some few joggers when I was last here. It runs under a number of bridges and has a number of stepping stone crossings. Quite pleasant, except for the patches of cobbled, rough stones, which is hell on the knees

Here in Seoul on my Sunday I have been finishing Naomi Klein’s new book, Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. I ordered it as soon as I read the pre-release notice from Amazon because I thought her argument would align with some of the case I was making in the draft of my Katrina book. It does I’m sure, but I haven’t gotten to the New Orleans section yet, though Korea and the crash here several years ago is but one of the many countries she reviews in a surprisingly long list that follows a trail of tears from Chile to Argentina to Poland to Russia to Iraq. She has done her homework, and frequently raises new conflicts of interest and information that make you wonder how she was able to get a scoop that so many others seem to have missed, unless, as she sometimes seems to infer, they had an interest in missing the meaning of the information lying in front of their noses. I had been less than enamored of some of her Nation pieces on New Orleans because I thought she was being led by the nose, but this her work in the book seems solid and helpful. This may not have the wide impact of No Logo, but perhaps it deserves more attention and respect, because she has devastatingly documented the human price and ruin of democratic institutions and principles that comes in the ruthlessly blind ideological wake of Milton Friedman, the Chicago School, and their acolytes down to Jeffrey Sachs.

Warren, Naomi, and I could have had quite a conversation at the Y in Seoul today, if we could have gotten our calendars together!