February 05, 2023
Columns

North Korea’s economic reforms were a wild success. Just ask defectors.

Regime’s aborted experiment with marketization increased food consumption, counter to pessimistic economic assessments

The first several years under Kim Jong Un were a time of much change for North Korea. From 2012 to 2018, the leader and his circle implemented policies that can be described as reform without openness, reminiscent of China in the early 1980s. 

State-owned enterprises received much more autonomy and private businesses were far less harassed. In China, however, market-oriented economic reforms were accompanied by major political liberalization. This did not happen in North Korea. On the contrary, Kim has significantly enhanced population surveillance and control, a trend accelerated by COVID-19 but by no means caused by it.