Money Means Everything

Daily NK
Kim Min Se
3/19/2007

Today, a rich person in North Korea is someone who can spend roughly US$100~$500 (300,000~1.5mn North Korean won) a month. This amount is so large, that it is a figure unfathomable to the average North Korean.

Nowadays, a small number of lower class North Koreans sell noodles at the markets and earn 1,500~2,000won a day. On average, this equates to 50,000~60,000won a month. Additionally, the living costs of a family of 4 in Pyongyang normally costs about 50,000~100,000won.

While a laborer with a stable job earns about 2,000~3,000won (approx. US$0.66~1) a month, spending more than 100,000won (approx. US$32.2) a month is an extravagant figure. Simply put, it has become difficult to live only on selling noodles.

Anyone who spends more than 100,000won a month is probably eating rice and can afford to eat nutritious vegetables. This is the middle class of North Korea today.

The distinctive nature of this middle class is the disparity of the work as well as their past background being rather simple. This class has naturally appeared simply because of their genuine skills. These people know exactly the flow of the market and know how to make money. The only thing important to them is finding the opportunity to make money. In all, they have come to an understanding that money is needed in order to buy goods and live a life to the envy of others.

This middle class is closely linked to power. If a person only takes pride in the sense that he/she can money, then that person will be hit with a severe fall. It is a characteristic of North Korean society that power is critical in living a life making lots of money without trouble.

With money, these people are earning even more by buying the supervision of low ranking safety and security agents and local administrative officers. Simply put, the small amount of money invested as bribery in securing a good location at the markets is petty compared to the income reaped. In other words, whenever a new market is established at a village, a person can be confident in having the best spot by winning over the person in charge. For example, the bidding for the best spot at the Sunam Market, Chongjin is 900,000~1.5mn won (approx. US$290~$490).

Entrepreneurs may become the rich after regime reform

In 2002, the North Korean government passed the July 1st economic reforms which gave more freedom to marketers with less control by authorities and hence, trade became more active.

The mindset of the middle are so fixated on money, that they believe that money can solve anything even if a war was to break out the following day or North Korea was to be completely overturned. Though these people conspire with those in power in order to make money, they are unconcerned with what happens or rather does not happen to the Kim Jong Il regime.

There is a definitive difference between the middle class who are rubbing hands and the central class just in case the Kim Jong Il regime did collapse, compared to the upper class. The middle class are not from any particular special background, but with the skills and guile of making wealth, they are confident that there will be no problems irrespective of regime change.

People from this class even have the freedom to save and keep some food and daily necessities in preparation of this incident. Furthermore, currency is undoubtedly being saved, this also being foreign currency such as dollars. This, they call emergency relief in preparation for the time the North Korean regime does collapse, as well as a safe deposit to use whenever trade needed.

In addition, with the change of the North Korean regime, this class will be able to celebrate and radically transform from being an entrepreneur to the newly-rich with all the wealth acquired during the Kim Jong Il regime.

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