Saturday, March 3, 2012

North Korea's San Sebastián Mines

I just read a post at The Ponds of Happenstance, home of fellow blogger Robert Upshaw, that tells the tale of the rise and fall of the Diamond Mountain Resort, a tourist mecca created in North Korea by Hyundai Asan, a spin-off of South Korea's Hyundai group. After Hyundai Asan invested almost a half-billion dollars in a fancy tourist resort and drew two million visitors from South Korea over a ten-year period, the operation came crashing to a halt when a 53-year-old South Korean woman was shot to death for allegedly entering a restricted area.

South Korea banned travel to the area shortly thereafter. In retaliation, North Korea has seized the remaining assets and intends to reopen the resort, hoping to attract foreign visitors.

My guess? They'll have as much success as the People's State of Mexico had reopening the San Sebastián Mines and the San Sebastián Line.

Wait. What? The People's State of Mexico? The San Sebastián Mines and the San Sebastián Line? I just made that up, right?

No, actually it was Ayn Rand, in her prescient 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged.

The San Sebastián tale, while not a major focus of the book, delivers an important message nonetheless. Wikipedia tells the tale reasonably well.
San Sebastián Mines is a copper mining project in Mexico founded by Francisco d'Anconia and named after his ancestor Sebastian d'Anconia. Francisco's reputation as a businessman is so great that investors flock to him, begging to invest money in the enterprise. Investors include James Taggart and Orren Boyle. Taggart goes so far as to build a new branch of Taggart Transcontinental, the San Sebastian Line, to serve the mines, sinking $30 million into the project. When the development of the mines appears complete, the Mexican government nationalizes them as well as the San Sebastian Line, only to discover there is no copper and there never was.

When Taggart tells Francisco he considers the Mines a rotten swindle, Francisco explains that Taggart should be pleased with the way he ran the mines. He says he put into practice those moral precepts that were accepted around the world. The world says it is evil to pursue a profit — he got no profit from the worthless mines. The world says the purpose of an enterprise is not to produce, but to give a livelihood to its employees — it produced nothing, but created jobs that would never have existed if one was only concerned with developing a real mine. The world says the owner is an exploiter and the workers do all the real work — he left the enterprise entirely in the hands of the workers and did not burden anyone with his presence. The world says need is more important than ability — he hired a mining specialist who needed a job very badly, but had no ability.

In short, the San Sebastián Mines were an illustration of what happens when this moral code is put into practice, and a warning of what will soon happen to the world as a whole.
When I first read Atlas Shrugged, decades ago, I found some of the events a little far-fetched. I realize now, decades later, that she was just much farther ahead of her time than I realized.

...and that's all I have to say about that.


The whole story of the South Korea / North Korea kerfuffle is told brilliantly by Robert in North Korea: the happiest place on Earth? Take a little time to see what else he has to offer; he's got some excellent writing laying around.


The recently opened (still under construction, watch your step) Tireless Agorist Bookstore has a page of other works by Ayn Rand, as well as the Atlas Shrugged Part I movie. You can also use the Amazon search box in the right-hand margin of this page to find any Amazon product.

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