February 25, 2024

Who works in North Korea’s private sector?

Not everyone in private enterprise gets rich, or even has basic legal protections

Finally, it seems that the majority of North Korean observers have – somewhat belatedly – come to realize that over the last 10-15 years North Korea, in spite of all the noise it makes to the contrary, cannot be considered to be a socialist state. The private sector now produces between 25 percent and 50 percent of North Korea’s estimated GDP. Social inequality is large and growing, while the economic significance of the state continues to steadily decline.

However, when people talk about the North Korean private economy, they tend to concentrate on those lucky individuals who reap the greatest benefits from the emerging new system – like the new rich (the donju, or “masters of money”) or at least the self-employed, small-scale entrepreneurs. Some attention is paid to those people who still work for the state. However, it seems that we overlook a rather large and fast-growing section of North Korean society: people who do not have the money or skills to start their own business, but are shut out of the state economy, and thus have no choice but to become workers employed by the growing private sector.