Sunday, June 23, 2013

Bye-Bye, North Korea?

GDP Per Capita, 1950-2010

Sokeel Park, director of research and strategy for Liberty in North Korea (an NGO that works with North Korean refugees), tells us "6 Reasons Why Kim Jong Un Is Screwed" in a recent issue of the Atlantic (June 20, 2013). Here's a quote from the first reason:
The difference between North and South Korea's economies is already the biggest of any two neighboring countries in the world. Just 30 years ago, China was poorer than North Korea; now North Koreans who manage to travel to China (or even just look across the river) are amazed at the bright lights and development they see there.
The quote accompanies the above chart depicting the North's dire situation and destabilizing circumstances. Meanwhile, the regime is growing ever more corrupt:
North Koreans consistently tell us that to get ahead or even just survive in North Korea, you have to break the regime's rules, and that money enables all of those rules to be broken. Corruption is therefore steadily eroding the regime's control and authority over society, and there is no effective way to rein this in unless the system itself changes.
As Park notes, this sort of corruption undermines the regime. In addition to these two reasons -- "Economic Divergence" and "Explosion of Corruption" -- Park notes four others, "Grassroots Glasnost," "Refugees Bridging Back Into North Korea," "Jangmadang (Market) Generation," and "Bonds Between the People." All six of these, Park claims, are working against the regime's authority, stability, and power.

The article is relatively short and puts into clear, simple language a lot of what I've been thinking over the past few years, so go and read . . .

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At 12:51 PM, Blogger Yule said...

There is a basic problem with all this talk, which I think I can sum up in four of the articles words:

"North Koreans consistently tell us..." -- Those are defectors, who may have a vested interest in telling us what we "want" to hear, proving their allegiances, justifying their own "defection", and so on.

The GDP chart is also...well, what is its source, I wonder? As far as I know, NK has never published GDP data. Is it just somebody's guess? There is no source listed. I've seen a scholarly-journal article that listed wild variations in GDP estimates for NK.

Furthermore, GDP is not king. The question is, how much do (non-defector) North Koreans really "believe in" their state and its worldview? Reading B.R. Myers suggests that DPRK "state-patriotism" is a lot firmer than "state-patriotism" in the ROK. Both share strong ethnic-patriotism, but that's a lot different from state-patriotism...

At 2:25 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Good points, but some things are demonstrable -- e.g., the growth of markets and the knowledge of the outside world.

But we (I don't mean you) have previously underestimated the North's staying power.

Jeffery Hodges

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