October 23, 2020

Industrial reforms: What is North Korea waiting for?

Successful small-scale liberalization not being expanded, some possible explanations cause for worry

From around early 2013, the North Korean government began to implement a series of rather ambitious reforms. These reforms resembled something the world has seen before, namely, those of Deng Xiaoping in China from the late 1970s.

Reforms began, as they did in China, with agriculture. Farmers were allowed to organize into family-based work teams, given fixed plots of land and given a fixed 30 percent of the harvest. This represented a massive change: from the Stalinist, hyper-centralized, state-dominated collective to family-based de facto private farming. The new system was, as expected, a success, with a bumper harvest in 2013. If anything, the 2014 result was even more impressive: In spite of a drought, the harvest was even better than the year before (a drought may have led to famine under the old system).