Of Sh--holes & Trump-Era USAID

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 1/15/2018 02:08:00 PM
No matter how offensive Trump's opinions of developing countries is, it's probably for the best that the developing world understand the viewpoint held by the leader of the United States. Let's face it: racism is the reason why many Americans voted for Trump in the first place. Trump may claim not to have said the term, but few believe him. So, what's the American institution that's supposedly dedicated to help other countries develop do? The United States' reputation worldwide is going to receive a Trump-sourced battering. The impression made is that Americans pretend to help, but actually couldn't care less if you rot in hell. (Just don't send anyone over.)

Given his druthers and, by extension, most of his supporters, Trump would rather defund the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Actually, he's been trying to do exactly that as his more sane advisers warn him against doing so. The likely result of this tug-of-war is that USAID will remain in existence, but by significantly smaller funding. While they're at it, Trump's reluctance at giving money away to these hopeless countries can perhaps better match his internal conflicts. On one hand, his white supremacist leanings (and base) have no intention of giving white people's money to colored people. Even if the amounts which actually go to American aid are very small compared to what most these ignoramuses believe, the very idea goes against their way of thinking. On the other hand, even Trump needs to maintain a veneer of international respectability by trying to "help" less fortunate countries. He even claims to be a "Christian," after all [more laughter].

What's the solution for Trump playing to both racist and internationalist views? The above is the best guess. It's just too bad they're probably not honest enough to adopt such Trumpian wording reflecting how the American leader views the rest of the world and, by extension, the executive agencies he leads like USAID.

IMF: From ‘Washington Consensus’ to ‘Soak the Rich’

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 1/14/2018 02:34:00 PM
Even the IMF has moved on from the 80s-vintage "Washington Consensus." Trump, however, still adores it.
In many ways, Donald Trump is a throwback to the past. Unfortunately, he wishes to bring back a lot of what was regrettable and not desirable about the past: militarism, racism, sexism, etc. Even in the international economic realm, he's a throwback to the 80s (your choice: 1980s, 1880s, 1780s or even before that) in bashing massive trade deficits with Japan, wishing for the "return" of American manufacturing, re-prioritizing the burning of fossil fuels over renewable energy sources and so on.

Instead of acting on his populist campaign promises to reduce inequality, Trump has actually brought about a lot of the things which reinforce it: Giving corporations massive tax cuts which working-class citizens will have to pay for in the future, gutting healthcare benefits provided by the state, selecting an education secretary whose cause is eviscerating public education in favor of private education...the list goes on and on.

Strangely enough for us at the IPE Zone, one of the international financial institutions that has long championed Trumpified, inequality-increasing policies no longer seems to be doing so. The IMF once pushed "Washington Consensus"-style policies that were said to worsen inequality by assuming that wealth will inevitably trickle down after liberalization, deregulation and privatization. These were, of course, massively controversial policies. I have colleagues who've made entire websites devoted to criticizing the IMF over such policies taht are still going strong. Sure, inequality may increase in the short run, the theory went, but in the long run more would benefit. The implication is that inequality itself should not be the focus of policy attention.

Actually, what Trump actually does nowadays--pursue policies widening inequality even further--is contrary to modern IMF policy prescriptions (at least in writing). Has this onetime bastion of economic orthodoxy gone all Marx on us? On fiscal policy, a report which came out late last year explained:
Rising inequality and slow economic growth in many countries have focused attention on policies to support inclusive growth. While some inequality is inevitable in a market-based economic system, excessive inequality can erode social cohesion, lead to political polarization, and ultimately lower economic growth. This Fiscal Monitor discusses how fiscal policies can help achieve redistributive objectives. It focuses on three salient policy debates: tax rates at the top of the income distribution, the introduction of a universal basic income, and the role of public spending on education and health.
Does the IMF really advocate "soak the rich" policies now? In so many words, yes, via the euphemism "progressive taxation" which it now regards as a positive with few caveats by deriding its opposite:
A substantial share of the differences in inequality across economic groups and over time can be attributed to differences in redistributive fiscal policies. In advanced economies, direct taxes and transfers reduce income inequality on average by about one-third, with three-quarters of this reduction achieved through transfers. In developing economies, fiscal redistribution is  much more limited, reflecting lower and less progressive taxation and spending and greater reliance on regressive indirect taxes.
You can read the rest, but the implications are clear: IMF member states should make inequality reduction a core concern in the interests of generating growth regardless of whether it's equitable or not. Taxing the rich more is part of the policy prescription package [gulp!]. By contrast, Trump is "Washington Consensus" in full pomp. The point is that if even a supposedly ideological and insulated institution can change, it remains to be seen if Trump can. After all, he is still, like Steve Spears who I have a much higher opinion of, stuck in the 80s.

Trump's USA & Norway: What's the 'Sh--hole' Country?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 1/12/2018 03:42:00 PM
Trump should dress in more appropriate garb...but we can do more sensible things.
I am utterly appalled, but not surprised, by American President Donald Trump's reported characterization of a number of developing nations as "shit--hole countries." In his rhetoric, Trump can be argued to subscribe to a global racial hierarchy which goes roughly like this:

White American > White European > White Australian/New Zealander > Japanese > Other East Asian > Southeast Asian > South Asian > South American > Caribbean > African

Variations on this kind of racist thinking have a long tradition, basing human capabilities on skin color, geography, or some other questionable criteria. While reducing immigration from non-white nations has been a central plank to Trumpism--AKA "terrorists," "drug dealers," "rapists," and "killers," his claimed desire to re-prioritize European migration is interesting. For a long time in its history, the United States of course gave preference to white European settlers. Aside from the demographics of aging European countries not being ideal for sending migrants, the question comes to mind as to whether today's United States can attract these more "desirable" people. Trump made the comparison himself when speaking about how people from Norway--whose leader recently visited the US--would make a far better source country for migrants to America.

The answer is a clear no. Statistically speaking, there are next to no reasons as to why a Norwegian national would desire to become an American national. Let's look at the numbers:

1. Norway has the highest human development index (HDI) rating in the entire world, the United States rather less so. The United States barely makes the top 10. The HDI is a useful indicator of human progress insofar as it not only considers economic measures--production per capita--but also those for health and education. I can go on and on about "American health" (an oxymoron if there ever was one). The United States has the fattest people among OECD nations and, on a related note, is remarkable in declining among the aforesaid nations in terms of comparative life expectancy. In other words, its momentum is sinking rather than rising in HDI judging by the health component. As for education, do you really have to ask? Of course Norwegian students outdo American ones in science, reading and mathematics.

2. Norway is so wealthy that its government has earmarked over $190,000 to each citizen. By contrast, the United States saddles each of its citizens with over $63,000 in debt (and rising). The United States is said to be a country rich in natural resources as well as human capital. For any number of reasons, however, the country has never had a sovereign wealth fund accumulating state revenues from resource extraction activities. As it so happens, Norway has one of the world's largest--which is exceptional for a country with such a small population. If you allocate holdings of the Government Pension Fund (~USD1 trillion) to its ultimate beneficiaries, each Norwegian citizen (~5.2 million), then each Norwegian has over $190,000 to bank on.

The United States is a rather more sobering story. Its national debt has climbed above $20.5 trillion and is set to rise much more quickly in the near future due to various health and pension obligations which have been largely unplanned for (unlike, say, by Norway). Distributed to each citizen, that's $63,000 so far. So, someone with a Trump-like worldview trading Norwegian for American citizenship instantly loses $253,000. What a deal.

3. The idea that greater inequality is tolerated in the United States because opportunities there are greater has long since been debunked. Economic mobility in Scandinavian countries like Norway is much greater than in the United States, where your financial condition is more significantly correlated to that of your parents. This finding is repeatedly shown in study after study; see Pew for a recent one.

So, here's the question for Trump since he's the one who brought up Norway in the first place: What reasons are there for Norwegians to move to what appears to be the "shit--hole" country here by way of comparison? The answer is very few, and that's actually what's happening. Instead of assuming how great the United States is and how others would die for the opportunity to become part of it, Trump and his ilk should see that it's really pathetic relative to other [OECD] countries in its peer group by most objective standards of human well-being.

Geography Flunkies: UK in Trans-Pacific Partnership?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 1/07/2018 10:40:00 AM
Can the UK join these Pacific nations in a regional FTA? It's far-fetched.
I am utterly befuddled by British officials giving lip service to the idea that they wish to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deserted last year by the United States. Now formally known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership or CPTPP with its 11 remaining parties working towards an agreement, its inclusion of the UK would be an eyebrow-raiser in many respects.

First off, and this is quite obvious, the UK is an outsider in geographic and organizational terms. Since it's neither in Asia or in the Pacific Ocean, it is obviously not qualified to be in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) which all CPTPP members are part of and which gave rise to the idea of a TPP. Or so I believe...
Britain is reportedly exploring joining the Trans Pacific-Partnership (TPP), as part of efforts to map out its trade future after Brexit. Ministers have held informal talks on joining the proposed free trade group that includes 11 countries bordering the Pacific Ocean, according to the Financial Times. And International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has not ruled out the UK joining the TPP.
Its qualifications to join CPTPP aside, the economic rationale may not be there despite Asian countries which form its backbone being faster-growing than mature European economies. Having complained about "Brussels" shaping UK policy without meaningful input, how do you think Asian countries would regard a European Johnny-come-lately making a long list of demands to join an FTA it isn't a natural fit for? Simply put, it would likely receive next to no concessions:
However, the very possibility of the UK entering into these talks has drawn criticism. Labour MP and Open Britain supporter Chuka Umunna says new trade deals "would not come close to making up for lost trade with the EU after a hard Brexit".

And if the UK did join the TPP, it risks holding "little leverage" in talks, according to Aaron Connelly, research fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy. He says nations are highly unlikely to reopen negotiations on sensitive matters, simply to accommodate the UK. Given the urgency to seal a deal, Mr Connelly warns the UK would be a "price taker" on the terms of the pact, particularly in areas like pharmaceuticals, state-owned enterprises, labour and the environment. "If Brexit was about symbolically taking back control in these areas, then joining the TPP would do little to accomplish that," he added.
If the UK was in such a hurry to get out of its region's integration effort, why is it in such a rush to get into another one where it doesn't geographically belong? That is the question. To most impartial observers, it was better off staying in the grouping where it already was instead of thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the world. Sure, it can make a bilateral FTA with CPTPP member countries if and when the latter is formed, but its chances of being a CPTPP "founding" member are rather iffy.

On CFIUS Dissuading Jack Ma's MoneyGram Purchase

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 1/03/2018 04:27:00 PM
Is this ant a PRC Communist apparatchik? The CFIUS apparently thinks so.
There is a long history of Chinese companies being prevented from purchasing American firms on highly questionable "national security" grounds. The source of this discrimination is the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). What is interesting here, though, is that the PRC national attempting to buy an American firm was no less than Chinese multibillionaire Jack Ma. Unlike the often faceless heads of Chinese state-owned enterprises, Ma is a global icon and the founder of his own immense business empire.

What's more, he actually visited the orange-hued Donald at Trump Tower prior to the latter assuming the presidency in hopes of gaining better business treatment  Stateside. Promising to create a "million jobs," Ma appeared to be successful at sucking up to Trump then. Well, I guess the story continues: Ma tried to buy the US money transfer firm MoneyGram to append to his online financial services concern Ant Financial. However, the US government foreign investment watchdog CFIUS again raised longstanding concerns about a privately-owned Chinese firms' alleged Communist Party ties to deny the purchase of a fairly minor US company (its market capitalization is well under $1B at the time of writing):
Ant Financial’s plan to acquire U.S. money transfer company MoneyGram International Inc (MGI.O) collapsed on Tuesday after a U.S. government panel rejected it over national security concerns, the most high-profile Chinese deal to be torpedoed under the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump[...]

Ma, a Chinese citizen who appears frequently with leaders from the highest echelons of the Communist Party, had promised Trump in a meeting a year ago that he would create 1 million U.S. jobs[...] 

The companies decided to terminate their deal after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) rejected their proposals to mitigate concerns over the safety of data that can be used to identify U.S. citizens, according to sources familiar with the confidential discussions.
If you are persistent enough, the identity of anyone using a commercially available cash transfer service can likely be revealed. However, the real security-related question is whether Jack Ma would have motives to obtain this kind of information. It is here where CFIUS' reasoning goes off-track in my opinion. First, you have to believe that the Communist Party would be interested in obtaining the identity of MoneyGram users. Given that the amounts transacted are usually small ones among retail clients, it's kind of hard to believe that the PRC would have interested in the transactions of economic migrants and suchlike.

Second, you would also have to believe Ma's Communist Party ties are such that he would willingly give up such information. Again, this is unlikely in that such a breach, if revealed, could torpedo the operations of MoneyGram/Ant Financial altogether. Why pay for the brand if you were to tarnish it in this manner by forking over identities to the reds?

It's truly farfetched that Jack Ma would have acted as a Communist infiltrator. Maybe CFIUS watches too many spy movies, but I believe that the security risk would have been negligible insofar as MoneyGram doesn't handle the transfers of exceptionally large amounts of money for clients whose financial transactions would be of interest to inquiring minds like those of the Communist Party.

Hijab-Wearing Barbie and Social Responsiveness

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 1/02/2018 11:52:00 AM
Is so much ado about a Barbie doll warranted?
There's a hard-hitting op-ed in al Jazeera criticizing a move one of the United States' largest toymakers has made to produce a hijab-wearing Barbie. On the face of it, this action is a long-overdue one in recognition that the world's population is nearly a quarter Islamic. So yes, any move to make Barbie more "representative" of the countries Mattel sells this toy should include one who is appropriately dressed:
Earlier this month, it launched its first Barbie in hijab. Designed after Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, this doll is part of its "Sheroes" series. Mattel portrays this doll as serving as an "inspiration for countless little girls who never saw themselves represented in sports and culture". Many Muslims and non-Muslims alike welcomed the doll as a sign of inclusion and diversity. In the words of Miley Cyrus, "Yay Barbie! One step closer to Equality! We HAVE to normalize diversity!"

Given the current context of large-scale demonisation of Muslims through institutional policies such as the "Muslim ban" and the dismantling of DACA, a Barbie in hijab (a headscarf worn by many Muslim women who feel it is part of their religion) appears to be a welcome respite. According to Pew Research Center, hate crimes against Muslims in the US have surpassed the 2001 level.
The author, Shenila-Khoja-Moolji, expresses several reservations about this move one would generally associate with an anti-capitalist perspective. First and foremost, it is an act of commercial exploitation of culture. Second, the design of this item has not been undertaken by groups of Muslim women presumably more aware of the intertwined nuances of gender and culture. (Rather, it was modeled after an idealized [read: more "active"] woman.) Third, Mattel does not really do anything about denigration of Islam in an age of xenophobia:
The assimilation of articles representing Muslim identity or religious life by for-profit corporations is, then, just a marketing/re-branding strategy, not a move informed by social justice concerns. It does little to disrupt racial hierarchies that undergird discrimination of Muslims in the first place. Significantly, it also stabilises a particular notion of Muslim womanhood. When influential organizations select the hijab as representative of Muslim women, those who do not don the hijab find themselves on the defensive about their authenticity as Muslims. They come out all guns blazing at the hijab, delegitimising women who actually choose to wear it for multiple reasons. Such moves then create fissures within Muslim women as well.

Rather than taking on the mantle of providing inspiration to Muslim girls, perhaps organisations such as Mattel should engage more Muslim women in their creative and production processes. Perhaps such engagements will enable them to not only understand the diversity of Muslim women globally, but also to provide much-needed opportunities to Muslim women to thrive economically and socially.
On the first point, I actually agree that it's a product borne of marketing spin. However, I do not see anything necessarily "wrong" with such a commercial move. If legitimization and mainstreaming are partly achieved by commercialization, then it actually helps the cause.  Unless you're a dyed-in-wool anti-capitalist, there is nothing essentially sinister here. On the second point, yes, Mattel could have improved its products' claims to authenticity if it had consulted more widely with Muslim women about the doll's presentation (and probably improved its commercial prospects).

On the third point, however, I disagree. Mattel is a for-profit enterprise, not a social enterprise. As such, "changing the world" is not its purpose by resolving the prejudices wrought by the current wave of Islamophobia. It suffices to recognize a well-intentioned move to counter such prejudicial sentiments, which Mattel is actually doing here. So, overall, it's a laudable action, though it could have been improved by more inclusiveness during the design process.

Given Islam's ethnic diversity as a globe-spanning religion, it should also be noted that blue-eyed, blonde-haired women are also followers of the faith.

American Decline & Declining Life Expectancy

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 12/28/2017 03:10:00 PM
If "truth in advertising" held, this ditty should be the United States' national anthem.
If America is such a great place, then why do so many Americans want to end their lives faster? The numbers don't lie: for a second consecutive year in 2016, US life expectancy has decreased. All this is happening in the face of medical advances and is due primarily to two things. First are  "unintentional injuries," a euphemism for the aforementioned high-risk drug abuse. Second are increased numbers of suicides. Yes, deaths of despair are real Stateside and are occurring at an an increased rate just as other countries are still experiences rises in life expectancy.
The United States has not seen two years of declining life expectancy since 1962 and 1963, when influenza caused an inordinate number of deaths. In 1993, there was a one-year drop during the worst of the AIDS epidemic.

“I think we should take it very seriously,” said Bob Anderson, chief of the Mortality Statistics Branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the CDC. “If you look at the other developed countries in the world, they’re not seeing this kind of thing. Life expectancy is going up.” The development is a dismal sign for the United States, which boasts some of the world’s highest spending on medical care, and more evidence of the toll the nation’s opioid crisis is exacting on younger and middle-aged Americans, experts said.
The truth is that life in America is such an unattractive proposition for so many that they'd rather end it all by suicide or largely risk the same result by abusing drugs. My question for all the USA # 1 cheerleaders, Trumpists, and assorted American exceptionalists is, how do you explain away these facts? For the US population as a whole, life is getting worse. We have the numbers to prove it since so many would rather not live. Nowhere else in the developed world are you seeing such declines.
“We should take it very seriously,” Bob Anderson, chief of the Mortality Statistics Branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, told my colleagues Lenny Bernstein and Christopher Ingraham. “If you look at the other developed countries in the world, they’re not seeing this kind of thing. Life expectancy is going up.”

In other words: In no other developed country are people taking and dying from opioids at the rates they are in the United States. We have about 4 percent of the world's population but about 27 percent of the world's drug-overdose deaths.

WaPo asks why other developed (OECD) countries are not suffering as high rates of drug-related fatalities and suicides or plunging life expectancies. The answer to me is very simple here as well: maybe the United States is not as wonderful a place as the USA#1 cheerleaders make it out to be. in fact, it's rather miserable for more than should be the case. 
It seems to me that the first requirement for having a "great" country is having people who are actually glad to live (in it). The United States circa year-end 2017 is obviously failing by this measure. With 2017 overdoses expected to rise even more, what reason do we have not to believe life expectancies will get even worse going forward?

America is in obvious decline. Its declining life expectancy is due to the misery borne of living there by far too many. If your own people give up on life, then you have no business claiming to be the shining city on the hill and all that jazz.

Post-NAFTA Mexico Alludes to Plans B, C & D

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 12/19/2017 03:47:00 PM
Going back to plain vanilla trade, there is much afoot in Mexico as politicians there appear to be contemplating the end of NAFTA as we know it thanks to el loco del norte Donald Trump. There is now some weird shorthand emerging about the different strategies Mexico can pursue if NAFTA is scuttled. Sure, none of them are quite as attractive as trading with the world's largest economy right on its doorstep on tariff-free terms, but hey, you have to make a living for your people somehow if that convenience falls through.

Plan B is, simply put, sign as many trade deals as possible with whomever is willing to do so:
The government of Enrique Pena Nieto might already be implementing a Plan B of sorts as it tries to sign as many trade deals as possible to replace the country that buys 80 per cent of its exports.
Plan C is to (unilaterally) eliminate all tariffs in Mexico in hopes of turning it into the Latin American Singapore. It's far-fetched, yes, but you know what they say about desperate times:
An unlikely new right-left coalition has emerged to challenge the incumbent Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and to stop left-wing firebrand Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Some of the coalition's members are pushing a Plan C that would lead to the elimination of all tariffs in an effort to turn Mexico into a Latin Singapore.
Plan D is more "strategic" in the sense that Mexico can cotton up to the United States' erstwhile geopolitical "rival" China:
Mexico sent its first shipment of blueberries to China last summer, as trade between the two countries continues to grow. But experts are skeptical the Chinese market can solve Mexico's trade issues should the NAFTA talks fail.

"It's become very sexy to talk about replacing trade with the U.S. with trade with China," said Enrique Dussel Peters, an economist at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico and co-ordinator of its Centre for Mexico-China Studies. "It's as if one could simply start sending to China, automatically and massively, the same cars we now send to North America.
With Mexican politics in a similar state of flux with populist firebrand Obrador leading the polls, these are more suggestions than actual courses of action at present.  Moreover, you do have to wonder if any combination of other assorted trade partners Mexico can legitimately "replace" the United States with as a key trade partner.

El Gordo: How NAFTA Made Mexico Ameri-Fat

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 12/18/2017 01:23:00 PM
The Trumpian Buddha-esque physique is now achievable in Mexico thanks to NAFTA.
While Donald Trump likes to recycle easily refutable arguments about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) being "the worst trade deal ever," he doesn't seem to mention one that should be of concern to his Mexican counterparts. While such self-interested reasoning is what you'd expect from an "America First"-championing US president, a woe that the Mexicans are now suffering from is actually one Americans are profiting from:
Mexico began lifting tariffs and allowing more foreign investment in the 1980s, a transition to free trade given an exclamation point in 1994, when Mexico, the United States and Canada enacted the North American Free Trade Agreement. Opponents in Mexico warned that the country would lose its cultural and economic independence.

But few critics predicted it would transform the Mexican diet and food ecosystem to increasingly mirror those of the United States. In 1980, 7 percent of Mexicans were obese, a figure that tripled to 20.3 percent by 2016, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. Diabetes is now Mexico’s top killer, claiming 80,000 lives a year, the World Health Organization has reported.

For many Mexicans, Nafta promised to make real “the fever dreams of joining the modern economy,” said Timothy A. Wise, a trade expert at the Small Planet Institute and Tufts University. “All former rural workers would be in new jobs in the burgeoning manufacturing industries of the post-Nafta world. That just hasn’t happened.”

“The only way that Mexico became a ‘first world’ country was in terms of diet.”
And that's the real story here. While American agricultural and food production interests have succeeded in making Americans the fattest among developed nations, Mexico now trails by a minuscule margin among OECD nations as they've consolidated markets south of the border post-NAFTA. So, if Mexicaons haven't exactly achieved an American standard of living, they've at least achieved American super-sized waistlines:
Among its chief champions are American farm and food-retailing interests whose fortunes have benefited tremendously from the open market. Mexican exports to the United States have surged, and a more stable economic structure has evolved in Mexico. The country’s unemployment rate has stayed mostly constant, but average wages have fallen to $15,311 in 2016 from $16,008 in 1994, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Critics of Nafta acknowledge the complex causes of obesity, but argue free trade intensified the problem by opening Mexico’s largely isolated economy. In addition to dramatically lowering cross-border tariffs, Nafta let billions of dollars in direct foreign investment into Mexico, fueled the growth of American fast food restaurants and convenience stores, and opened the floodgates to cheap corn, meat, high-fructose corn syrup and processed foods.
You take the good with the bad, I guess.

Deport-o-Rama: N Koreans in Canada

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 12/12/2017 07:43:00 AM
On the face of it, this news item is rather dispiriting: what kind of heartless people would deport North Korean refugees? Somewhat more promisingly, it's not as bad as it sounds. Rather, authorities in Canada are looking into those who gained entrance into Canada based on dubious stories. Since North Koreans are granted automatic asylum in South Korea,  it is their belief that they would be "safe" there anyway if Canada refuses their applications:
Hyekyung Jo, a North Korean defector living in Toronto with her husband and sons for seven years, had hoped to remain in Canada as a permanent resident.

Instead, she and as many as 50 other North Korean families residing across the GTA [greater Toronto area] recently received letters from the federal Immigration Department informing them that their requests for permanent residency are poised to be revoked. They face deportation to South Korea — a place that Jo said is hostile to North Korean nationals.

Part of the issue identified in the Oct. 30 letter that Jo and her husband, Myungchul Kang, received is this: the South Korean government automatically grants North Koreans citizenship. Canada recognizes South Korea as a safe haven for refugees.

Another issue: Jo admitted at a Saturday news conference with other affected families that she and her husband weren’t truthful when they arrived in Toronto as asylum seekers in 2010. They told refugee board officials they’d travelled directly from China when, in fact, they’d lived for several years in South Korea.
What's so bad about living in South Korea? Many folks around the world would jump at the chance of living there...but the story is more complicated for North Koreans. Indeed, the North Korean refugees in Canada cite safety concerns as well as discrimination:
Progressive Conservative MPP [member of provincial parliament] Raymond Cho, who is originally from South Korea, attended the news conference. The PC immigration critic and representative for Scarborough—Rouge River said his native country can be a difficult place for North Korean defectors, who often experience discrimination at school and while seeking work.

That occurs partly because North Korean dialects are distinct and set them apart from southern speakers, Cho said. In addition, South Korean documentation, such as social insurance numbers, identifies North Korean nationals on paperwork that employers can see.

“It’s almost impossible to get a good job,” Cho said. “That’s the reality.” Cho told the crowd of about 200 people that North Koreans who don’t thrive in the South look elsewhere, to places like Canada.
Elsewhere in the article, the problem identified is that immigration brokers had told many defectors to lie about their situations to gain Canadian asylum, and those that did so are now facing deportation. It's a hard choice to make, I think: does possibly being led to lie about one's circumstances outweigh the purported discrimination North Koreans encounter in South Korea?