Via Hit & Run , I see that Reason is revisting the controversy over the South Korean massage industry. The nutshell version is that Korea has traditionally regarded massage as a vocation exclusive to the blind, but sighted masseurs have in the last few years been lobbying for massage licenses. Blind masseurs, of course, protest that sighted masseurs are overturning a valuable paternalistic tradition and driving them out of the only job open to them. Reason ‘s take:
. . . Blind South Koreans claim they’ll be forced out of the market and into the streets by seeing therapists if the courts find the current law unconstitutional. But it turns out the two groups are already competing. According to Park Yoon Soo, a leading opponent of the current law, there are at least 120,000 illicitly practicing seeing therapists in the country, outnumbering the 7,100 licensed blind therapists by a ratio of 16 to 1.



The National Human Rights Commission has stated it believes the court should uphold the law, even though many opponents believe it confines the blind to "a vocational ghetto" and undercuts their ability to pursue other careers.
The last paragraph is particularly hilarious; as if custom were responsible for the "vocational ghettoization" of the blind, not the simple fact that not being able to see is a literal disability !



As I pointed out in my first Pomocon post ever —oh, the memories!—the reason there are so many sighted masseurs in Korea right now is that the government offered free massage training during the Asian financial crisis.



I can understand how a libertarian publication would want to frame the debate as one of free markets vs. state restrictions, but let’s remember that every market exists within a cultural framework. You can be a libertarian (as I am, sometimes) and still admit that unrestricted avarice has negative consequences; a libertarian needs only to add the caveat that culture, not the state, should be responsible for curbing its excesses. When the state destroys the norms that make capitalism work well ("well" in this case meaning "humanely"), it may be necessary for the state to repair its own mess.



Still, as a sop to libertarian readers, I’ll add this Burke quote as a parenthetical warning against carrying this logic too far:
The language [of the North administration was] the language held by those who had gained the estates of minors by dice and hazard. "You lost your estate at the gaming table—go there again; there it is, that you must look for another estate!"
What the state has done must be undone by the state— sometimes .

Articles by Austin Stone

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