April 19, 2024

Why Economic Crisis Is a Benefit to the North Korean Regime

Money makes the world go around.  People seem to like money, and it is people that ultimately make politics. As we have seen for decades, when a country’s economic situation takes a downturn, so does the government in power. The Asian Financial Crisis saw the Suhrto’s centralized and military-dominated government crumble in Indonesia. Last June unhappy Israeli consumers started a mild revolution of their own against the rising price of cottage cheese, boycotting its purchase completely as rising prices and eroding salaries hit a nerve amongst the population. And on a smaller scale, western liberal democracies tend to follow a voting pattern which sees the support of the political-left in times of economic crisis. Simply put, when people feel the money pinch, they look to the government for answers and when they don't find these answers, they get fairly annoyed. But North Korea has been in economic crisis for decades and yet the government remains firmly in control. What gives?

To explain this irregularity, one must take into consideration North Korea’s extreme lack of economic development, as one of the world's most centrally directed and least open economies. The socioeconomic development of North Korea could be considered so low, that the ‘structural conditions’, such as reasonable levels of urbanization or civil society required for an economic crisis to translate into mass insurrection do not yet exist. Today, North Korea’s income per capita is estimated between $1700- $1800 USD.  Victor Cha argues that low-income and major food shortages have the masses “preoccupied with basis sustenance” – not revolution. The overturning of an authoritarian system like North Korea’s occurs not when things are at their absolute worst, but when they begin to get better.

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