Great Confiscation Updates

More proof that times have changed in North Korea: in the 1990’s, Kim Jong Il allowed perhaps millions to starve and did next to nothing about it. This year, the regime is ordering the urgent distribution of rice rations to prevent starvation in the most vulnerable areas. Well, it’s a modest step in the right direction that the regime is actually trying to prevent starvation, even if, as the Daily NK suggests, that it’s because the regime is afraid of unrest. Of course, if it really wanted the people to eat well, it wouldn’t have rejected U.S. food aid and severely restricted the World Food Program’s operations.

It demonstrates that the only way for the North Korean people to improve their lives even marginally is to oppose it. When the tyrants also fear for their lives, there is a balance of terror, which results in some small measure of accountability.

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How Kim Jong Il reached the conclusion that The Great Confiscation had failed.

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More on the growing acceptance of the Chinese yuan as North Korea’s de facto currency. I expected that this would happen, and I also expect that within the next year or so, the regime will try to set confiscatory limits on the possession of foreign currency.

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An interesting CNN podcast, in which Christiane Amanpour interviews a U.N. official and (in the second half) my friend Professor Sung Yoon Lee on hunger, food aid, and North Korea’s palace economy, a term that seems to be catching on in the media. I don’t recall having seen that term used elsewhere before I used it here, although I suppose it’s always possible.

6 Comments

  1. Re: Palace economy

    I recall reading the phrase in description of the French / Parisian economy prior to the Revolution. An apt parallel when you think about it.




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  2. From the second link:

    Secretary-General of North Hwanghae Province, Choi Ryong-Hae was the only one who dared to point out the dire humanitarian situation.

    Perhaps I’m naïve, or just premature, but I’ve always thought it would be good to try to pick out a future Gorbachev among the apparatchiki. I wonder if Mr Choi could be one.




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  3. Joshua: Thank you for linking the interview. I am sorry I did not give you proper attribution. You did not coin the term “palace economy,” but certainly did apply it to North Korea and deepen our understanding of that country’s economic system. Over the years I have learned so much from you about both Koreas I fear I may at times unwittingly confuse my half-baked internalization of your insights as my own or universally-held views. As I told a former WSJ Beijing bureau chief a few weeks ago, you are one of the world’s leading observers of the North Korean state, and I thank you for all your tireless efforts and stunningly penetrating insights.




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  4. Professor Lee, Thank you for writing in. I certainly don’t fault you at all and certainly won’t sue for royalties, I’m just enjoying the fact that the term is catching fire and wondering if I actually had something to do with it.




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