September 21, 2005


North Korea's capitalist manifesto (The Monitor's View, 9/22/05, CS Monitor)

Kim, who titles himself Dear Leader, appears to know his own political survival is on the line. In 2001, he was invited to China and saw how that communist regime has been able to stay in power while allowing a market economy to thrive. The next year he freed up prices and wages, and loosened many government controls over businesses and individuals.

Local farmers markets have since sprung up, and small service shops are appearing in cities. Last year, a new dictionary was issued, and for the first time it contained the phrase "market economy" (which is a communist way of saying capitalism).

But the reforms were done badly. The nation now has spiraling inflation. Its economy has contracted for the past three years. Great gaps in wealth are appearing, even as North Korea's economy remains a fraction of the size of South Korea's. The 70 percent of the population that still relies on government food has seen their rations greatly reduced.

Last spring, the reform-minded prime minister, Pak Pong-ju, visited China and was spirited to Shanghai, where he saw the missing element for North Korea's economy: foreign investment and an influx of hard currency. He went back and told bureaucracy to learn about foreign markets and trade. The universities began to teach market basics, such as supply and demand.

But to improve its shaky experiment in capitalism, North Korea needs to stop scaring away potential foreign investors with its nuclear belligerence and abandon its long-held ideology of juche, or self-reliance. Both steps are risky for a dictator who has blinded his people to the world around them.

Contrary to the fondest hopes of the Realists and business Right, the lesson China teaches is that economic reform does not suffice to make a communist dictatorship into a decent society. The Party will not allow a complete enough transformation to deprive itself of power. Let the Chinese and South Koreans saddle themselves with North Korea's problems, but keep us out of the mess and keep up the pressure for regime change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 21, 2005 11:02 PM

I have to disagree here. Economic reform in China has created alternative power centers in Chinese society to the army. Instead of absolute control by the armed forces, there is a split of power now. In time, civil society will keep strengthening.

It's true that now we are in the dangerous period where reform has made China richer and more powerful, yet the ruthless Army/Party/Secret Police still maintain the most power. But if they don't turn to terrorism or war within the next few decades, in another generation their grip on power will be lost.

Posted by: pj at September 22, 2005 7:28 AM

pj. I don't think it will take decades for the old guard of Army/Party/Secret Police to lose their grip. I think it'll happen far sooner than that.

o/t but about China. Last night my husband, in his eternal search for the meaning of life aka channel surfing, came across a program called "E-Ring." He alerted me that it seemed to be pro-American. I only watched about the last 20 minutes and right up till the end I assumed there would the usual Americans are the bad guys ending, but that didn't happen. The program seemed to be sending the message that we are the good guys -- on network television!

Did hell freeze over?

Posted by: erp at September 22, 2005 7:56 AM

So the promise thast economic conservatives hold out is that if the people of North Korea just grin and bear it for two more generations everything will be okay?

Posted by: oj at September 22, 2005 8:15 AM

As opposed to nuking them, yes.

Posted by: joe shropshire at September 22, 2005 1:45 PM

Fair enough and an excellent argument against attacking Japan in '45.

Posted by: oj at September 22, 2005 1:49 PM

Wrong...'capitalism' is communist for 'market economy'!

Posted by: Dave P. at September 22, 2005 2:08 PM