New facts about the DPRK’s informal economy

Pictured above (Google Earth): An unofficial street market in Sinchon (신천) is bustling while the nearby official marketplace is closed.  See in Google Maps here.

The Choson Ilbo posted a few factoids about the official and unofficial economies of the DPRK:

The rationing system, the backbone of the socialist planned economy, has nearly collapsed. Some 4 million people still live on rations — 2.6 million in Pyongyang and 1.2 million soldiers.

But a senior South Korean government official said 20 million North Koreans rely absolutely on the underground economy.

“A North Korean family needs 90,000-100,000 North Korean won for living costs per month, but workers at state-run factories or enterprises earn a mere 2,000-8,000 won,” the source said. “So North Koreans have no choice but to become market traders, cottage industrialists or transport entrepreneurs to make up for shortages.”

Many stores, restaurants, and beauty parlors are privately owned. Private tutors teach music or foreign languages. Carpenters have evolved as quasi-manufacturers who receive orders and make furniture on a massive scale. They earn 80,000-90,000 won per month on average.

It is common to find people in front of railway stations or in markets who wait to earn a few extra won by carrying luggage or purchases in their handcarts. Like taxis, their fees are calculated on a basic fee and the distance covered.

In the countryside, people earn money by selling corn or beans grown in their own vegetable gardens in the back yard or in the hills. They can harvest 700 kg of corn a year from a 1,600 sq.m. lot. And by selling 50 kg of corn a month they make 30,000-40,000 won on top of their daily living costs.

“Ordinary North Koreans have become so dependent on the private economy that they get 80-90 percent of daily necessities and 60-70 percent of food from the markets,” the security official said.

Noland and Haggard’s recent book, Witness to Transformation, contains thorough and revealing data on market utilization in the PDRK. More here.

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