Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The Impact of Government on Personal and Economic Freedom

The Impact of Government on Personal and Economic Freedom

Pennsylvania Academic Content Standards for Civics and Government
5.1.12.A.: Analyze the sources, purposes, functions of law, and how the rule of law protects individual rights and promotes the common good.

5.1.12.E.: Analyze and assess the rights of people as written in the PA Constitution and the US Constitution.

5.2.12.A.: Evaluate an individual’s civil rights, responsibilities and obligations in various contemporary governments.

5.2.C.A.: Contrast the rights and responsibilities of a citizen in a democracy with a citizen in an authoritarian system.

5.3.12.B.: Compare and contrast policymaking in various contemporary world governments.

Pennsylvania Academic Content Standards for Economics
6.2.12.E.: Evaluate the health of an economy (local, regional, national, global) using economic indicators.

6.2.12.G.: Evaluate various economic systems.

1. Describe the functioning of a modern totalitarian communist state

2. Compare and contrast the development of modern Korea under two differing systems of government

3. Analyze the impact of government on society and economics

4. Explain the importance of individual rights and freedoms

1. Give students the “Evils of Capitalism” sheet. Have them complete and discuss the problems that are shown through the activity with capitalism. Engage students in a discussion as to alternatives to capitalism and why some nations might wish to adopt them.

2. Give students the “Bill of Rights” person identifier and have them complete the activity in class by finding other students who can complete the sheet for them.

3. Engage students in a discuss of the rights that they have as citizens of the United States. Focus on the rights as listed in the Bill of Rights.

4. Discuss personal freedoms and why they are so important in the United States.

5. Ask students to imagine what life would be like if they did not have these rights.

6. Explain to students that often, political and economic freedoms are associated with each other, and that while capitalism does create economic imbalances, government control of an economy through systems such as communism that subjugate basic human rights in the name of economic equality have been tried and have failed during the 20th century, most notably in the USSR.

7. Explain to students that by undergoing economic and political reforms in the 1970’s and 1980’s, South Korea emerged as a nation that is very similar to the United States, in terms of economics and politics. Use information from the CIA World Factbook ( to reinforce the similarities between things like GDP per person, HDI index, etc.

8. Explain to students that North Korea is the last remaining totalitarian communist state in the world from the Cold War, after the economies of China and Vietnam (and, to a lesser extent, Cuba) have been opened up. Compare the economic conditions in North vs. South Korea using the information on the “North Korea vs. South Korea: Differences in the Economy” handout to show the differences between the economic development of North and South Korea.

9. Discuss with students the current political situation in North Korea. Teacher can show and discuss PowerPoint on modern North Korea from History News Network at to show the impact of the dictatorship on the Korean people

10. Allow students to watch a documentary on life in North Korea today. Several documentaries are listed below, focusing on different aspects on life in North Korea. Depending upon the amount of time and focus of the lesson, the teacher can select the videos that are most appropriate for their students.

11. Give the students the “Excerpt from the United Nations Human Rights Commission Inquiry into North Korea” handout and questions, and allow students to read and discuss life in North Korea today.

12. Conclude by reminding students that today, over 25,000 US military personnel are stationed in South Korea to help defend it from the North. Discuss with the students whether they believe the US has a responsibility to protect nations similar to us, such as South Korea, from harm.

Depending on the amount of time available, different recommended documentaries can be shown. Additionally, several of the activities listed in the above procedures could be eliminated or assigned for homework to reduce the amount of classtime spent on the lesson.

The story of North Korea ties nicely into the George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a similar story of the takeover of an oppressive regime along with the brainwashing of citizens through control and propaganda. A teacher could assign the reading of Animal Farm and use North Korea as a real life example to illustrate Orwell’s fears of the rule of a totalitarian government.

Economic Conditions of North Korea:
NHK Documentary “Money & Power in North Korea.” Focuses on how the North Korean economy functions. 48 minutes.

Life inside North Korea:
“National Geographic: Inside North Korea.” Correspondent Lisa Ling travels inside North Korea for a look at the living conditions of citizens. 46 minutes.

BBC Documentary “Life inside North Korea.” Includes interviews with North Korean officials discussing the problems in the nation. 16 minutes

TED Talk “What It’s Like to Teach in North Korea by Suki Kim. In this talk, Kim discusses her time living and teaching in North Korea, working with students of the elite in the nation, and helping them learn about concepts like “critical thinking.” 13 minutes

Orphaned and homeless in North Korea from CNN. A video discussing orphans in North Korea, with footage from orphanages. 5 minutes

Hidden state: Inside North Korea. This Al Jazeera documentary goes inside North Korea to view the nation, while also showing the perspective of those who have fled the country. 25 minutes.

VICE on HBO Season One: The Hermit Kingdom. In this video, VICE follows along with Dennis Rodman and the Harlem Globetrotters trip to North Korea. Includes video of the coverage of the deaths of Kim il-Sung and Kim Jong-il, as well as the official version of what life in North Korea is like. 31 minutes

“Secret State of North Korea” by PBS Frontline. A documentary regarding daily life in North Korea, using undercover footage shot in the nation. 54 minutes.
Escaping from North Korea:

TED Talk “My Escape from North Korea by Hyeonseo Lee” In this talk, Lee discusses life in North Korea and her eventual escape from the country. 12 minutes

My Impossible Escape from North Korea by Ji Seong-ho. In this talk. Seong-ho recounts how he was able to escape from North Korea. 13 minutes

Prison Camps in North Korea

“North Korea Through the Eyes of Witnesses” Using the accounts of defectors in the North, this video discusses both the living conditions of the country, as well as life in a North Korean prison camp. 21 minutes

The Defectors – Escapees From North Korea’s Prison Camps by Sky News. This video also uses the accounts of defectors from North Korea while also showing the pathway that defectors often take to get to South Korea. This video also discusses how defectors are trained to fit into South Korean society. 23 minutes.

North Korean prisoner escaped after 23 brutal years on 60 Minutes. In this interview, Anderson Cooper interviews a survivor of North Korea’s Camp 14. 14 minutes

“Hell Holes” and “North Korea: Life in the Camps” In these two short videos from Amnesty International, living conditions in North Korean prison camps are discussed. 5 minutes and 7 minutes

United Nations investigation into North Korea:

Report of the United Nations on Human Rights abuses in North Korea:
The full report can be downloaded from:

  • Felix Yerace
  • South Fayette Township High School
Related History Institute
Grade Level
  • High School: 9, 10, 11, 12
Time Frame
  • 120 minutes

If you have any questions about this lesson plan, or if you wish to contact the author, please email us at [email protected]