Archive for the ‘2002 Economic reforms’ Category

North Korea’s ‘New Economic Management System’: Main Features and Problems

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Korea Focus
Park Hyeong-jung
Senior Research Fellow
Korea Institute for National Unification

Here is the summary/assessment:

The objective of the New Economic Management System in North Korea is the building of an “unplanned socialist economy,” or something similar to the “socialist commodity economy” China implemented between 1984 and 1992. Agricultural, industrial and financial measures that North Korea is trying to introduce along with the installation and expansion of special development zones under the New Economic Management System are mutually connected and therefore need to be simultaneously implemented.

North Korea has the conceptual blueprints for each economic measure and its leadership includes individuals who are interested in promoting the areas where they are specialized. However, the country apparently lacks the capabilities to create the proper economic and political conditions for these measures. Against this backdrop, production increase and overall economic growth cannot be expected and confusion would intensify.

North Korea had not made sufficient preparations economically and politically before the introduction of the New Economic Management System. Introduction of new measures inevitably affects the interests of those who had been active under the old system. Transitional imbalance may arise in the process of putting the new system into practice. Reserve resources are necessary to address such problems.

The sub-unit management system in the agricultural sector showed how the reform effort can be stymied. This new system spurs independent efforts of farmers and stimulates their motivation for production increase but it invited the resistance of agricultural bureaucrats. When the state and farmers begin to share products by a ratio of 7:3 instead of the previous ratio of 9:1, imbalance will emerge somewhere in the distribution of farm products. Reserve resources are necessary for such a sudden change. The same is expected of the industrial management system. Factory enterprises were given autonomous operation rights but the new system did not result in production increase. Reserve resources are needed here, too.

The new policy under the Kim Jong-un rule lacked consistency and often exposed zigzagging directions. Officials responsible for the implementation of the new policy were unable to win over dissenters and failed to secure reserve resources needed to overcome the material imbalance in the transition period.

Eventually, the management reform at factory enterprises and experiments with sub-units in farming areas were virtually abandoned. The sub-unit management failed because of resistance from agricultural bureaucrats, the authorities` unease about relaxation of peasant control and uncertainty about the food security for the privileged class. The sub-unit management system most seriously threatened the stockpiling of food grain for the military and the power elite. It is certain that the military was the biggest opponent to the new agricultural management system.

The New Economic Management System accompanied policies that reduced the privileged role of the military in the economy. Similar problems were certainly exposed in the reform of industrial and financial management, such as non-cooperation from the privileged group, concerns about loosening control of workers and managers, and lack of guarantees for special interests.

Yet, the sub-unit management in farms and increased autonomy of factory enterprises were not entirely meaningless. Interestingly, some in North Korea`s leadership believed that the sub-unit system with incentives to individual farmers was necessary despite many problems attached to the farmers` self-interests. Although it was not successfully implemented, it did help farmers gain more independence from state control.

The unavoidable trend of changes in the North calls for systemic reforms like the sub-unit management just as youths grow up to become adults and then to the middle age. The problem is how to operate the changed system to achieve production increase. To be successful, those in the North Korean leadership who advocate the New Economic Management System should be able to politically suppress those opposing it or win them over economically by assuring them of the distribution of surplus. What has happened to date shows that the new system has failed to make much progress in that direction.

Concerning the projects of building special economic development zones, similar problems have been detected. The Workers` Party Central Committee decided in a plenary meeting in March 2013 to take measures to diversify foreign trade, develop new tourist zones, and build special economic zones suitable for the specific conditions of each province. The Economic Zones Development Act was enacted in May and, as of October 2013, each province is boosting efforts to attract foreign investment and create new economic development zones.

The concept of special economic development zone can be defined as conforming to the “unplanned socialist economy” or the “socialist commodity economy.” But the success of special economic zones needs the three steps that were required to tackle the problems faced by the sub-unit farm management and the autonomous operations of factory enterprises as observed above.

MY NOTES:

This paper is the most comprehensive assessment of the origination and implementation of the DPRK’s “June 28″ policies.

The author classifies the June 28 policies as an attempt to transform the DPRK from a system composed of KWP rule + decentralized reform + state ownership of production means to KWP rule + coexistence of market and planned economies + state ownership of production means. This state is called “socialist commodity economy” or “unplanned socialist economy”. The transition involves moving management to enterprises and farms where production is carried out on the basis of contract and state planning.

The plan was carried out by a group under the cabinet led by Ro Tu-chol.

ENTERPRISE SECTOR:
* No more production quotas/Enterprises make own plans and profit distribution
* Raw materials are traded firm to firm via “direct supply centers” (intended to provide nominal state oversight of firm-to-firm transactions)
* Enterprise officials appointed/fired by KWP
*30% profit tax

AGRICULTURE SECTOR
*70/30 split of output (previously state took fixed share regardless of output)
*Smaller collective farm sub ubits
*Smaller private plots and kitchen gardens.

FOOD MANAGEMENT:
*PDS do be abolished but increased control of markets
*Government employees (teachers/doctors) to buy food at “food supply centers” (where all food producers sell supplies).
*military personnel are to buy food at subsidized/fixed price
*”Independent accounting enterprises” (August 3rd?) employees are to be paid in cash and buy food. Enterprises still controlled by state to get rations.

Stephan Haggard wrote about the paper here and here.

All posts on the June 28 policy can be found here.

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Data on the DPRK’s informal economy

Saturday, November 16th, 2013

According to the Choson Ilbo:

The belief that money can buy anything is rife in North Korea. Farmers can buy membership of the Workers Party, the gateway to the elite, from a senior party official for about $300. Factory or company workers or soldiers have to pay about $500 for party membership. College admission can also be bought with a bribe.

“Anybody can buy admission to Pyongyang Medical University for $10,000 and to the law or economics departments of Kim Il-sung University for between $5,000 and $10,000,” said a South Korean government source.

The opportunity to work overseas costs $3,000, plus an extra $1,000 if workers want their stay extended another year.

Currently, a U.S. dollar is worth about 7,000 North Korean won. Would-be defectors pay border guards $40 to cross the Apnok or Duman rivers, and $60 to carry old or feeble people on their back.

Asked about the monthly average household income, 31.7 percent said they earned up to 300,000 North Korean won. Next came up to 100,000 won for 16.6 percent, up to 500,000 won for 13.7 percent, and up to 1 million won for 13.2 percent.

But their official salary for their work is a mere 3,000 to 5,000 won, meaning they earned the rest of their income chiefly in the informal economy.

The most popular means of earning money are small shops or restaurants, cottage industries like making clothes and shoes, and private tutoring and private medical services.

Farmers can earn 60,000 to 80,000 won a month by harvesting 700 kg of beans and corn annually from their allocated field and raising five chickens and a dog.

Recently, a growing number of people are getting into the transportation business by illegally registering vehicles or boats, which are banned from private ownership, in the name of agencies or companies and appropriating their profits.

They also make money from smuggling. Repairing computers or mobile phones has become a popular job as well as repairmen can earn $5 to $10 per job.

Read the full story here:
N.Korea’s Informal Economy Thrives
Choson Ilbo
2013-11-16

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North Korea redefines ‘minimum’ wage

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Andrei Lankov writes in the Asia Times:

When one talks about virtually any country, wages and salaries are one of the most important things to be considered. How much does a clerk or a doctor, a builder or a shopkeeper earn there? What is their survival income, and above what level can a person be considered rich?

Such questions are pertinent to impoverished North Korea, but this is the Hermit Kingdom, so answering such seemingly simple questions creates a whole host of problems.

Read the full story below:

(more…)

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Lankov on measures of economic freedom in the DPRK

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Pictured above: An annual index measure of economic freedom in the DPRK from 1995 to 2011, published by the Heritage Foundation’s and Wall Street Journal’s Index of Economic Freedom.

Andrei Lankov writes in the Asia Times:

[The] Heritage foundation and the Wall Street Journal recently published a new edition of their annual index of economic freedom, according to which North Korea has the world’s least-free economy. One can hardly argue about this – North Korea has for decades worked hard to take Stalinism to its logical extremes, and slightly beyond that.

However, one gets perplexed when looking at the grades of unfreedom that are given by the Heritage Foundation to the North through the 1995-2011 period. According to the index, the level of economic unfreedom in North Korea was essentially the same throughout the entire 1996-2005 period. Then, in 2005 it deteriorated considerably and has continued a slow downward slide until now.

This depiction is bound to raise the eyebrows of anyone who is familiar with actual economic trends in North Korea. The graph is correct when it says that the economy became more restrictive in 2005, when the government tried to re-introduce the rationing and reconfirmed the ban on the private sale of grain (such a ban had existed since 1957, but ceased to be enforced around 1990).

However, the 2005 measures were, essentially, a backlash, an attempt to reverse the half-baked reforms of 2002 – and those reforms can be described only as liberalizing.

On balance, the 2002 reforms should not be overestimated. Nonetheless, the 2002 reforms legalized a significant part of the black economy, and also granted managers of state-owned industrial enterprises a measure of managerial freedom they had not had for many decades.

If this was not an increase in economic freedom, what was it? But the Heritage Foundation graph does not give any hint of this change: the line that purports to depict the level of economic freedom remains on the same low level in 2002.

This is more interesting because 1997-2002 was when actual economic freedom increased dramatically. The old hyper-Stalinist laws remained technically effective, but nobody bothered to enforce these restrictions. It is estimated that in the early 2000s, the average North Korean family drew some 80% of its income from various market activities.

This was technically illegal, but the authorities were ready to turn a blind eye to the re-emergence of some form of a market economy, and in 2002 they even grudgingly and partially legalized the already flourishing market economy.

However, these improvements – both de-facto and, in 2002-2005 de-jure – find no expression in the flat line of the Heritage graph which, however, does not fail to notice that after 2005 the situation again began to deteriorate due to a government backlash against the private economy. The backlash was not particularly successful, but it lasted until 2009, and this is correctly reflected by the downward line at the graph.

However, then the graph begins seriously misleading again – and again, seemingly due the same implicit assumption that in North Korea things can go only from bad to worse. The graph depicts 2009 as a year when the level of freedom went even lower – and this is a correct assumption, since in 2009 the authorities undertook currency reform.

The reform’s main, if not sole, purpose was to annihilate the private economy that had survived the 2005-2009 backlashes surprisingly well. There is little doubt that North Korean decision-makers really want, above all, to revive the hyper-Stalinist economy that alone guarantees the regime’s long-term political stability (or so they – and the present author – believe).

However, the 2009 bold attempt to go back to the Stalinist ways ended in complete and pathetic failure – and the government, fearful of the chaos its inept reform created, backpedaled immediately.

The failure of the 2009 currency reform was followed by another wave of economic liberalization. In May 2010, the government lifted all restrictions and bans on private retail trade that were introduced in the 2005-09 backlash. In fact, the North Korean economy nowadays is roughly as free (or rather unfree) as it used to be immediately after the 2002 reforms. But there is no hint of this roller coaster changes in the slowly descending line of the Heritage Foundation Index.

The same is applicable to the economic situation. Every year, we get reports about a looming famine in North Korea – and this year is no exception. A quick look through headlines of major newspapers can clarify that such reports surface with predictable regularity every year.

In March 2008, the International Herald Tribune ran a headline “Food shortage looms in North Korea”. In March 2009, the Washington Post headline said “At the Heart of North Korea’s Troubles, an Intractable Hunger Crisis”. One year later, in March 2010, the Times of London warned: “Catastrophe in North Korea; China must pressure Pyongyang to allow food aid to millions threatened by famine.” In March 2011, The New York Times wrote: “North Korea: 6 Million Are Hungry.” The predictions of gloom come every year, but famine does not.

Actually, from around 2002-2003, we have seen a steady but clear improvement in North Korea’s economic situation. North Koreans are still malnourished, and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, they are not starving any more – at least not in significant numbers.

However, opponents of the regime cannot admit that people are not starving or report about (however marginal) improvement of the food situation, since, as I have said, from their viewpoint nothing can possibly improve in North Korea. At the same time, supporters of the regime will not admit that the North Korean people are still malnourished, and the regime itself is active in presenting exaggerated evidence of a looming famine (or perhaps, even fabricating such evidence when necessary) – as this will help it get more free food from the outside, and this is what Pyongyang needs.

One can see the same trends everywhere. For example, human-rights non-governmental organizations keep telling us about a further deterioration in the human-rights situation in the North. However, the evidence tells a different story. Human rights are still by far the world’s worst, but they are better than 20 or 30 years ago.

Just one example of this under-reported improvement will probably suffice. Until the mid-1990s, the entire family of a political criminal – that is, all people who were registered at the same address as he or she, were by default shipped to a concentration camp. Some 10 or 15 years ago, this approach ceased to be universal, so families of many political criminals – including some prominent activists based in Seoul – remained free.

There is little doubt that families are harassed, and even distant relatives of dissenters are denied good jobs and/or the right to reside in Pyongyang and major cities. Nonetheless, there is a great difference between inability to live in a major city and incarceration in what might indeed be the world’s worst prison camp system.

However, this change is seldom reported. Human-rights advocacy groups obviously cannot bring themselves admit that something can get better under the Kim family regime. Probably, they think that such admission would make the situation look less urgent and thus would help the Kim family regime in some indirect way. These worries might be even well-founded – but the result is the tendency to ignore a particular type of “politically incorrect” news.

Paradoxically, regime sympathizers – whose presence is especially noticeable among the South Korean left – are equally reluctant to attract any attention to these minor improvements. It is understandable, since we are talking about changes from the awful to the very bad, and Pyongyang champions cannot bring themselves to admit how brutal and inefficient the regime actually is.

For example, if pro-Pyongyang media outlets report that the “family responsibility” principle does not apply in many cases, they would have to admit that in the supposed “paradise” of national purity and/or anti-globalist determination in North Korea, not only dissenters, but their families as well were shipped to concentration camps until quite recently. No member of South Korea’s radical nationalist left could bring him or herself to admit this fact.

One cannot imagine a pro-North Korean leftist blogger in Seoul triumphantly writing something like this: “In the past, if somebody watched a South Korean melodrama, he would be arrested, beaten unconscious and then sent to prison for life together with his entire family. Nowadays, things are so better: only his teeth – not ribs! – are likely to be broken during an investigation, and then he or she will spend in prison merely a couple years, and his family are now allowed to keep their freedom. What an improvement!”

The sad irony is that this change is actually an improvement, but neither side of the political debate is going to report it. This is confirmation to the old truism: political passions make people oblivious to the obvious. However, propaganda is a poor substitute for honest and objective analysis – even when such propaganda is produced by people who believe it themselves.

Read the full story here:
It’s not all doom and gloom in Pyongyang
Andrei Lankov
Asia Times
2011-9-23

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Kim Jong-il and his sister on markets and the market economy

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Stephan Haggard and Dan Pinkston have found and posted comments attributed to Kim Jong-il revealing some of his thinking on “markets” and the “market economy”:

Kim Jong-il, “On the promotion of a superior socialist economy…adhering to the principles of socialism” June 18, 2008, dialogue with party and state officials.

“…As I said on many occasions during the recent period, one must have a correct understanding of the market. As we allowed a certain use of markets with respect to economic management, some people understood this as a departure from the socialist principle and as a move towards a market economy through “reform” and “opening up” of the country’s economy.

But this is a very wrong way of reasoning. Having a misguided understanding of the market and the market economy on the part of economic planners shows their lack of ideology and knowledge… [If] one fails to exactly and deeply recognize the party’s ideology and policy with regards to economic planning, that person will have his or her faith in the superior socialist economy shaken and can be dazzled by “reform” or “opening up” that the imperialists brag about and also be captured by the fantasy that the capitalist market economy promises.

Workers need to be awakened from these pitfalls…. Markets are both home to and a hotbed for un-socialist phenomenon and capitalist factors in the economic sectors. Without devising a national plan about markets and neglecting them as they are, or further encouraging their activities and expanding their reach, the country’s economy will inevitably turn into a market economy. However, following the practical conditions by using the market to a certain extent while keeping it under national control does not necessarily mean a movement towards market economy. Markets and a market economy are not the same concepts. The question resides in how to perceive and treat the market, and how to use it following [appropriate] principles and direction…”

-Original text in Korean

“…….내가 최근시기 여러 기회에 말하였지만 시장에 대한 인식을 바로 가져야 합니다. 우리가 경제관리에서 시장을 일정하게 리용하도록 하였더니 한때 일부 사람들은 사회주의 원칙에서 벗어나 나라의 경제를 《개혁》《개방》하여 시장경제로 넘어가는 것처럼 리해한 것 같은데 이것은 아주 잘못된 생각입니다. 경제지도일꾼들이 시장과 시장경제에 대한 그릇된 인식을 가지게 되는 것은 사상의 빈곤 지식의 빈곤에 빠져있다는 것을 말해줍니다. 누구나 할 것 없이 경제사업과 관련한 당의 사상과 방침을 정확히, 깊이있게 인식하지 못하면 사회주의 경제의 우월성에 대한 신념이 흔들리게 되어 제국주의자들이 떠벌이는 《개혁》《개방》에 현혹될 수 있고 자본주의 시장경제에 대한 환상에 사로잡힐 수 있는 것입니다. 이에 대하여 일군들이 각성을 높여야 합니다….시장은 경제분야에서 나타나는 비사회주의적 현상, 자본주의적 요소의 본거지이며 온상입니다. 시장에 대하여 아무런 국가적 대책도 세우지 않고 그대로 내버려 두거나 시장을 더욱 조장하고 그 령역을 확대하는 방향으로 나간다면 불피코 나라의 경제가 시장경제로 넘어가게 됩니다. 그러나 현실적 조건에 따라 국가적 통제 밑에 시장을 일정하게 리용하는 것이 곧 시장경제로 가는 것은 아닙니다. 시장과 시장경제는 같은 개념이 아닙니다. 문제는 시장을 어떻게 보고 대하며 그것을 어떤 원칙과 방향에서 어떻게 리용하는가 하는데 있습니다….”

Marcus Noland followed up with a [longer] publication by Kim Jong-il’s sister, Kim Kyong-hui:

Strengthening Centralized, Unified State Guidance Over Economy, Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu

Our army and people are vigorously carrying out a general onward march to elevate the economy to a stage of leaping development through a new great revolutionary upswing under the great party’s military-first leadership.

Today, when our country is displaying its majestic appearance and might as a politically, ideologically, and militarily powerful state, in order to build it into an economically powerful socialist state and a socialist paradise where the people enjoy an affluent life with nothing more to desire in the world by concentrating efforts on the economic construction and on improving the people’s living standard, it is necessary to adhere to the socialist principle in the economic work and bring the superiority of the socialist planned economy into high play, and what is important in this is to strengthen the centralized and unified guidance of the state over the economic construction.

The great leader [ryo'ngdoja] Comrade Kim Jong Il [Kim Cho'ng-il] has pointed out the following:

“Above all else, it is necessary to strengthen the centralized and unified guidance of the state over the economic construction.”

Strengthening the centralized and unified guidance of the state in the socialist economic management arises as a basic demand for improving the economic management in line with the intrinsic nature of socialist society, further consolidating and developing the socialist economic system by bringing the superiority of the socialist planned economy into high play, and accelerating the construction of an economically powerful state.

Strengthening the centralized and unified guidance of the state is a basic demand for improving the socialist economic management because, above all, managing and operating the country’s economy in a planned manner under the state’s centralized and unified guidance is an intrinsic demand of the socialist economy that is based on collectivism and a basic principle of the socialist economic management.

Realizing the centralized and unified guidance of the state in the socialist economic management serves as a lifeline of the socialist economic management, which stems from the natural law-governed nature of the socialist economic development and the essential characteristics of the socialist economy.

The centralized and unified guidance of the state over the economy is, above all, an intrinsic demand of the socialist economy that is based on collectivism. The socialist economy is a large-scale collective economy in which all sectors and units of the people’s economy are organically connected with each other based on social ownership of the means of production, and it is a highly organized and centralized planned economy. This is the essential superiority of the socialist planned economy, which is distinct from the capitalist market economy that operates spontaneously on the basis of private ownership of the means of production. In a capitalist society, the bourgeois state is not able to perform the function of interconnecting the management activities of different enterprises and leading them in one direction. In a capitalist society, the economy moves in a spontaneous manner amid the pursuit of profits and competition based on the law of the jungle due to the conflict of interests between the capitalist class and the working popular masses and among capitalists, and this accompanies the bankruptcy of enterprises.

In contrast, the socialist economy is based on social ownership of the means of production, and it is managed and operated through goal consciousness by the popular masses as the masters. Social ownership of the means of production calls for combining all economic sectors and units into a single production organism, and also for the factories and enterprises comprising its components to move under a unitary command. Realizing planned ties between factories and enterprises and ensuring that the economy operates under a single unitary command are firmly guaranteed by the unified guidance of the socialist state.

The centralized and unified guidance of the state over the economy is also a basic principle of the socialist economic management.

Apart from the centralized and unified guidance of the state and the principle of managing a planned economy, socialism cannot be defended in the economic field, and the socialist economy cannot be developed.

The initiative of lower units has to be brought into high play in the socialist economic management, but this has to be achieved strictly on the basis of firmly guaranteeing the centralized and unified guidance of the state and within the framework of the socialist planned economy. It is only through the centralized and unified guidance of the state that it is possible to correctly map out plans so as to guarantee the greatest actual profits consistent with national interests and the all-people’s economic interests, mobilize all production potentials of the country to the maximum, concentrate forces and resources on the objects that are of key significance in the overall economic development, and thus achieve a planned and balanced development of the economy. If one moves in the direction of giving a free rein to economic management and enterprise management in an attempt to enhance the initiative of lower units and strengthen their “independence” and “self-reliance,” then the lower units will break way from the unified guidance and control of the state and act as they please, and this will not only bring about tremendous national waste and loss but also make it impossible to neither defend socialism in the economic field nor develop the socialist economy.

Strengthening the centralized and unified guidance of the state is a basic demand for improving the socialist economic management also because the centralized and unified guidance of the state over the economy has to be strengthened in order to be able to mobilize all potentials to the maximum based on the principle of self-reliance and thus elevate the country’s economy to a stage of leaping development and accelerate the construction of an economically powerful socialist state.

Today’s great upswing calls for more highly holding up the banner of self-reliance, and an economically powerful socialist state is a powerful state of self-reliance, a powerful state with a mighty self-supporting national economy.

We have laid the strong foundation of a socialist self-supporting national economy by highly displaying the revolutionary spirit of self-reliance under the wise leadership of the great leader [suryo'ngnim] and the respected and beloved general. Mobilizing and utilizing the potential of the already provided foundation of a self-supporting economy to the maximum is the most accurate way to elevate the country’s economy to a stage of leaping development and accelerate the construction of an economically powerful socialist state in our style in the present circumstances.

Though many obstacles are still lying in the way ahead of us, we have to open a road of advance for victory by relying on the boundless creative ability of all the people, our resources and technology, and the superiority of our system.

The centralized and unified guidance of the state over the economy has to be strengthened in order to elevate the country’s economy to a stage of leaping development by mobilizing the potential of the already provided foundation of a self-supporting national economy to the maximum and to accelerate the construction of an economically powerful socialist state.

Above all, the centralized and unified guidance of the state has to be strengthened in order to ensure a balanced and harmonious development of the economy in conformity with the aspiration and demand of the popular masses. An important task we are faced with in the economic construction at the present time is to rely on the superiority of the socialist planned economy to closely combine the normalization of production with modernization and push ahead with it vigorously, and thus decisively surpass the highest production level in all sectors of the people’s economy. It is only under the condition of strengthening the centralized and unified guidance of the state that it is possible to create the military-first era’s speed of waging the general onward march by mobilizing all production potentials of the country to the maximum from the viewpoint of national interests consistent with the party’s policy demands, and also accelerate the construction of an economically powerful socialist state by harmonizing the production ties centered on the objects of key significance in the economic development, guaranteeing the planned and disciplined nature of the economic work, and thus achieving a balanced development of the overall economy.

The centralized and unified guidance of the state has to be strengthened also to be able to bring the initiative of individual sectors and units, and local areas into high play and thus actively mobilize and utilize the potential of the self-supporting economy.

There may be things that are in short supply and that are missing in the process of building an economically powerful state. This is why the demand for bringing the initiative of each sector and unit into high play arises in order for all sectors and units of the people’s economy to normalize production and surpass the highest production level based on the existing assets.

Only when the centralized and unified guidance of the state over the economy is realized smoothly, is it possible to enhance the initiative of all sectors and units in line with the intrinsic requirement for the development of socialist economy that is based on collectivism and decisively boost the economic effectiveness in mobilizing and utilizing the reserves.

Strengthening the centralized and unified guidance of the state over the economy in no ways means disregarding the initiative of lower units. The socialist economic construction can be carried out successfully only when the unified guidance of the state is combined correctly with the initiative of lower units. This is because if the state’s centralized and unified guidance enables the economy to develop harmoniously on a pan-social level, then the initiative of lower units spurs factories and enterprises to increase production and perfect the production and technical processes on their own by positively exploring and mobilizing the existing reserves and production potentials pursuant to the economic plans established by the state. If the lower units are restrained based on the opinion that the management activities of each unit should be unconditionally subordinate to the state, then the initiative of factories and enterprises will be suppressed and the production will not proceed smoothly. This is why the centralized and unified guidance of the state over the economy is based on the premise of further enhancing the initiative of lower units.

All the economic guidance functionaries should have a correct perception of the state’s centralized and unified guidance and realize it correctly, and thus bring the genuine superiority of socialist planned economy into high play.

“위대한 당의 선군령도따라 우리 군대와 인민은 새로운 혁명적대고조로 경제를
비약적인 발전단계에 올려세우기 위한 총진군을 힘있게 벌려나가고있다.

정치사상강국, 군사강국의 위용과 위력을 온 세계에 떨치고있는 오늘 경제건설과
인민생활향상에 힘을 집중하여 우리 나라를 사회주의경제강국으로, 인민들이
세상에 부러움없이 잘 사는 사회주의락원으로 건설하기 위하여서는 경제사업에서
사회주의원칙을 고수하고 사회주의계획경제의 우월성을 높이 발양시켜야 하며
여기서 중요한것은 경제건설에 대한 국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도를
강화하는것이다.

위대한 령도자 김정일동지께서는 다음과 같이 지적하시였다.

《무엇보다도 경제건설에 대한 국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도를 강화하여야
합니다.》

사회주의경제관리에서 국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도를 강화하는것은
사회주의사회의 본성에 맞게 경제관리를 개선하고 사회주의계획경제의 우월성을
높이 발양시켜 사회주의경제제도를 더욱 공고발전시키며 경제강국건설을
다그치기 위한 기본요구로 제기된다.

국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도를 강화하는것이 사회주의경제관리개선의
기본요구로 되는것은 무엇보다먼저 나라의 경제를 국가의 중앙집권적,
통일적지도밑에 계획적으로 관리운영하는것이 집단주의에 기초한 사회주의경제의
본성적요구이며 사회주의경제관리의 기본원칙이기때문이다.

사회주의경제관리에서 국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도를 실현하는것은
사회주의경제발전의 합법칙성과 사회주의경제의 본질적특성으로부터 출발한
사회주의경제관리의 생명선이다.

경제에 대한 국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도는 우선 집단주의에 기초한
사회주의경제의 본성적요구이다. 사회주의경제는 생산수단에 대한 사회적소유에
기초하여 인민경제의 모든 부문들과 단위들이 유기적으로 련결된 대규모의
집단경제이며 고도로 조직화되고 중앙집권화된 계획경제이다. 이것은 생산수단에
대한 사적소유에 기초하여 자연발생적으로 움직이는 자본주의시장경제와 다른
사회주의계획경제의 본질적우월성이다. 자본주의사회에서는 부르죠아국가가
각이한 기업체들의 경영활동을 서로 맞물리고 하나의 방향으로 이끌어나갈수
있는 기능을 수행할수 없다. 자본주의사회에서는 자본가계급과
근로인민대중사이, 자본가들사이의 리해관계의 대립으로 하여 경제가 리윤추구와
약육강식의 경쟁속에서 자연발생적으로 진행되며 이것은 기업파산을 동반한다.

이와는 달리 사회주의경제는 생산수단에 대한 사회적소유에 기초하고있으며
인민대중이 주인이 되여 목적의식적으로 관리운영된다. 생산수단에 대한
사회적소유는 모든 경제부문, 단위들을 하나의 생산유기체로 결합시키는 한편 그
구성부분으로 되는 공장, 기업소들이 유일적인 지휘에 따라 움직일것을
요구한다. 공장, 기업소들사이에 계획적인 련계를 실현하며 경제가 하나의
유일적인 지휘밑에 움직이도록 하는것은 사회주의국가의 통일적지도에 의하여
확고히 담보된다.

경제에 대한 국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도는 또한 사회주의경제관리의
기본원칙이다.

국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도와 계획적경제관리원칙을 떠나서는 경제분야에서
사회주의를 지킬수 없고 사회주의경제를 발전시킬수도 없다.

사회주의경제관리에서 아래단위의 창발성을 높이 발양시켜야 하지만 그것은
어디까지나 국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도를 확고히 보장하는 기초우에서,
사회주의계획경제의 테두리안에서 이루어져야 한다. 국가적리익,
전인민경제적리익에 맞게 가장 큰 실리를 보장할수 있도록 계획을 세우며 나라의
모든 생산잠재력을 최대한으로 동원하고 전반적경제발전에서 관건적인 의의를
가지는 대상들에 력량과 자원을 집중하여 경제의 계획적, 균형적발전을
이룩하는것은 국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도에 의해서만 옳게 실현될수 있다.
아래단위의 창발성을 높이고 《독자성》과 《자립성》을 강화한다고 하면서
경제관리, 기업관리를 풀어놓는 방향으로 나간다면 아래단위들이 국가의
통일적지도와 통제에서 벗어나 제멋대로 움직이게 되며 국가적으로 막대한
랑비와 손실을 가져오는것은 물론 경제분야에서 사회주의를 지킬수도 없
사회주의경제를 발전시킬수도 없다.

국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도를 강화하는것이 사회주의경제관리개선의
기본요구로 되는것은 다음으로 경제에 대한 국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도를
강화하여야 자력갱생의 원칙에서 모든 잠재력을 최대한 동원하여 나라의 경제를
비약적인 발전단계에 올려세우고 사회주의경제강국건설을 다그칠수
있기때문이다.

오늘의 대고조는 자력갱생의 기치를 더 높이 들것을 요구하며
사회주의경제강국은 자력갱생의 강국, 위력한 자립적민족경제의 강국이다.

우리는 위대한 수령님과 경애하는 장군님의 현명한 령도밑에 자력갱생의
혁명정신을 높이 발휘하여 사회주의자립적민족경제의 토대를 튼튼히 마련하였다.
이미 마련된 자립적경제토대의 잠재력을 최대한 동원리용하는것은 오늘의
형편에서 우리 식으로 나라의 경제를 비약적인 발전단계에 올려세우
사회주의경제강국건설을 다그치는 가장 정확한 길이다.

우리앞에는 의연히 많은 난관이 가로놓여있지만 전체 인민의 무궁무진한
창조력과 우리의 자원과 기술, 우리 제도의 우월성에 의거하여 승리의 진격로를
열어나가야 한다.

이미 마련된 자립적민족경제토대의 잠재력을 최대한 동원하여 나라의 경제를
비약적인 발전단계에 올려세우고 사회주의경제강국건설을 다그치자면 경제에
대한 국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도를 강화하여야 한다.

우선 국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도를 강화해야 인민대중의 지향과 요구에 맞게
경제의 균형적이고 조화로운 발전을 보장할수 있다. 현시기 경제건설에서
우리앞에 나서는 중요한 과업은 사회주의계획경제의 우월성에 의거하여
생산정상화와 현대화를 밀접히 결합시켜 힘있게 밀고나감으로써 인민경제 모
부문에서 최고생산수준을 결정적으로 돌파하는것이다. 국가의 중앙집권적,
통일적지도를 강화하는 조건에서만 당의 정책적요구에 맞게 국가적리익의
견지에서 나라의 모든 생산잠재력을 최대한 동원하여 선군시대의 총진군속도를
창조할수 있으며 이와 함께 경제발전에서 관건적인 의의를 가지는 대상들을
중심으로 생산적련계를 조화롭게 하고 경제사업에서 계획성과 규률성을 보장하여
전반적경제의 균형적발전을 이룩함으로써 사회주의경제강국건설을 다그칠수
있다.

또한 국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도를 강화하여야 개별적부문과 단위, 지방의
창발성을 높이 발양시켜 자립경제의 잠재력을 적극 동원리용할수 있다.

경제강국을 건설하는 과정에는 부족한것도 있고 없는것도 있을수 있다. 따라서
인민경제 모든 부문, 모든 단위에서 있는 밑천을 가지고 생산을 정상화하
최고생산수준을 돌파하기 위하여서는 매개 부문, 단위의 창발성을 높이
발양시켜야 할 요구가 제기되게 된다.

경제에 대한 국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도를 원만히 실현하여야 모든 부문,
모든 단위의 창발성을 집단주의에 기초한 사회주의경제발전의 본성적요구에 맞게
발전시킬수 있으며 예비를 동원하고 리용하는데서 경제적효과성을 결정적으로
높일수 있다.

경제에 대한 국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도를 강화한다는것은 결코 아래단위의
창발성을 무시한다는것을 의미하지 않는다. 사회주의경제건설은 국가의
통일적지도와 아래단위의 창발성을 옳게 결합시킬 때 성과적으로 진행될수 있다.
그것은 국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도가 전사회적범위에서 경제가 조화롭게
발전될수 있게 한다면 아래단위의 창발성은 공장, 기업소들이 국가가 세운
경제계획에 따라 있는 예비와 생산잠재력을 적극 탐구동원하여 생산을 늘이
자체로 생산기술공정을 완비하도록 추동하기때문이다. 만일 매개 단위의
경영활동이 국가에 무조건 복종되여야 한다고 하면서 아래단위를 얽어매놓으면
공장, 기업소들의 창발성이 억제되여 생산을 원만히 진행할수 없게 된다.
그러므로 경제에 대한 국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도는 아래단위의 창발성을
더욱 높이는것을 전제로 한다.

모든 경제지도일군들은 국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도에 대한 옳은 인식을
가지고 이를 옳바로 실현함으로써 사회주의계획경제의 참다운 우월성을 높이
발양시켜나가야 할것이다.”

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Eberstadt on the North Korean Economy

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Nicholas Eberstadt offers some stark economic data on the DPRK.  According to his article:

While it is true that the DPRK suffered a severe economic shock from the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, this unexpected economic dislocation did not automatically presage log-term economic failure, much less famine. The counterexample of Vietnam–another socialist Asian economy heavily dependent on Soviet subsidies in the late 1980s–proves as much. According to the World Bank, Vietnam’s per capita income rose by over 150% between 1990 and 2007, and its per nominal per capita exports (in US dollars) rose by a factor of over 7 times during those same years, whereas North Korea’s nominal per capita exports slumped by over 25% between 1990 and 2007.

Further, it is of course true that the US–and in more recent years, Japan and South Korea–have imposed a plethora of economic sanctions on North Korea (America alone has over 30 such legal and administrative strictures in force today). But these penalties cannot explain North Korea’s miserable economic performance with the rest of the OECD countries, most of which are in principle open to commerce with the DPRK.

Let’s exclude Japan, South Korea, and America from OECD trade for the moment. Between 1980 and 2007, the import market for these other OECD countries expanded in nominal US dollars from just over $1 trillion to nearly $7 trillion–but according to the UN COMTRADE database, North Korea’s exports to those same countries collapsed: plummeting from $330 million to $177 million. When one takes inflation and population growth into account, this means the DPRK’s per capita exports to the rest of the OECD fell by almost 80% over those 27 years–and since these same export markets were growing all the while, North Korea’s share was twelve times smaller in 2007 than it had been in 1980.

What then is the problem? Closer inspection strongly suggests that North Korea’s long-term economic failure is directly related to the policies and practices embraced and championed by the Pyongyang government. North Korea’s current “own style of socialism” [or Urisik Sahoejuui] is a grotesquely deformed mutation of the initial DPRK command planning system, from which it fatefully and increasingly devolved over time.

North Korea is still in principle a planned Soviet-type economy: but for almost two decades it has in reality been engaged in “planning without facts”, and even in “planning without plans” (in the memorable phrase of Japanese economist Kimura Mitsuhiko). In and of itself, this would be enough to consign the North Korean economy to trouble. But to make matters worse, North Korean leadership has insisted on saddling the economy with a monstrous military burden under its campaign of “military-first politics” [Songun Chongchi]. Further, in contradistinction to virtually all other contemporary economies, North Korean trade policy for almost two generations has systematically throttled the import of productive and relatively inexpensive foreign machinery and equipment, thereby guaranteeing that the national economy would be saddled with a low-productivity, high-cost industrial infrastructure of its own making.

Add to this North Korea’s unrelenting war against its own consumers (no other modern economy has ever seen such a low ratio of consumer spending to national income, even at the height of Maoism or Stalinism) and Pyongyang’s stubborn, longstanding policy of “reverse comparative advantage” via a juche food policy that attempts to devote no more funds to overseas cereal purchases than foreigners pay for North Korean agricultural products in a country where cropland is scarce and growing seasons are short, and one begins to see how North Korean leadership engineered the country’s remarkable Great Leap Backward–and eventually, even a famine.

There is, to be sure, a grim logic to the DPRK’s destructive policies: for the same strategy that has ruined the country’s economy has also served to sustain its peculiar political system and ruling elite. In fact, given Pyongyang’s narrowly racialist ideology, its now-improbable but continuing quest for absolute mastery of the entire Korean peninsula and its undisguised fear that “ideological and cultural infiltration” will subvert the DPRK’s political order, the policies that the North Korean government pursues today may be regarded as careful, deliberate and faithful representations of the state’s overarching priorities.

Unfortunately, Pyongyang’s official policies and practices just happen to make the North Korean economy incapable of anything like genuine self-reliance, juche slogans notwithstanding, So DPRK state survival depends upon successfully generating a steady stream of subventions and concessional transfers from abroad.

Even so: the North Korean economy is so dysfunctional that it a positive net flow of foreign subsidies is not always enough to prevent calamity. After all: the Great North Korean Famine of the 1990s took place when the country (to judge by the import and export figures of its international trading partners) was receiving hundreds of millions of US dollars a year more in merchandise for abroad than it was shipping out. Quite obviously, that surplus was too small to overcome the grave built-in defects of the modern North Korean economy, or to forestall mass hunger.

So to continue its very existence, the North Korean system must commit itself to a permanent, predatory hunt for life-giving foreign funds: monies that it extracts from abroad by stratagems of military extortion, humanitarian hostage-negotiations (for the external feeding of its own population), and what might be called “guerilla commerce” (i.e., duping credulous foreigners who think there is money to be made from the DPRK by any but the country’s own elite).

North Korea, incidentally, seems to make it a point of honor not to repay its foreign creditors–and although “imperialist” banks and businesses from the West have learned this fact to their sorrow in abortive attempts to do commerce with Pyongyang, this is a bad habit that goes back to the early years of the Cold War, when the DPRK’s routinely reneged on loans from its “socialist comrades” in Beijing and Moscow.

North Korea has honed impressive skills in separating foreign governments from their own money. According to the US Congressional Research Service (CRS), for example, the USA transferred for than $1 billion in humanitarian, economic and security assistance to North Korea between 1995 and 2009: this despite a supposed “hostile US policy”. By the CRS’ reckoning, North Korea obtained over $4 billion from South Korea over those same years–and those were only the officially acknowledged payments by Seoul.

But China’s aid to North Korea puts all these Western subsidies in the shade. Beijing is almost completely opaque about its economic relations with Pyongyang–yet Chinese trade statistics suggest that North Korea has enjoyed a net resource transfer from China of over $9 billion since 1995, and the annual transfers look to have jumped markedly after 2004 (although China has never offered any sort of public explanation for why it would have increased its economic assistance to Pyongyang so significantly in recent years).

Earlier this year, North Korea announced a new “Ten Year State Strategy Plan for Economic Development” designed to lift the DPRK into the ranks of “the advanced countries by 2020″. Although the details of the plan have not yet been revealed, we can be sure it has enormous investment requirements–running into the tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars. It is also a safe bet that Kim Jong Il’s visit to China in May 2011 was a sort of fundraising tour aimed at securing some of the many billions of dollars envisioned by this ambitious plan.

After Kim Jong Il’s return from China, Pyongyang unveiled a new “joint economic zone” with China on two border islands in the Yalu rive–a projectr meant to underscore a new direction for the North Korean economy, and to jumpstart the new development campaign. But haven’t we seen this movie before? Ever since Kim Jong Il’s highly publicized visit to China in the early 1980s, there has been recurrent foreign speculation that would “inevitably” have to embrace economic reform. Yet all North Korean efforts at “opening” and “reform” to date have been confused and half-hearted, and every one of these initiatives has ultimately ended in failure.

Will this latest plan mark a decisive break from decades of ever more wayward North Korean economic policy? Some in China clearly believe that the DPRK can be gradually coaxed onto a path of pragmatic economic policymaking. To judge by Beijing’s swelling economic subsidies for North Korea, Chinese leadership may be banking on as much. The results of any such wagers, however, remain to be seen.

In China and other socialist countries, big changes in economic policy have typically followed, and depended upon, big changes in national leadership–but Pyongyang appears absolutely intent upon carrying the Kim family’s dynastic rule into its third generation. North Korean policymakers may genuinely want the DPRK to be what they call a “prosperous and powerful state” [Kangsong Taeguk]–but at the same time they have been totally unwilling to risk the sorts of steps that could actually generate such prosperity. Until this contradiction is resolved, North Korea is most likely to remain the black hole in the Northeast Asian economy.

Read the full story here:
What Is Wrong with the North Korean Economy
American Enterprise Institute
2011-7-1

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Marcus Noland on NK’s refugees and economy

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

Evan Ramstad at the Wall Street Journal: Korea Real Time interviews Marcus Noland:

Only a handful of outside economists spend the enormous time required to delve into the mysteries of North Korea.

Marcus Noland is one of them. With his research and writing partner Stephen Haggard, Mr. Noland has written several books about the North, including a definitive study on the famine that gripped the country from the mid- to late-1990s and resulted in the death of at least 1 million people and perhaps upwards of 2 million.

In a new book published this week, called Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea, Messrs. Noland and Haggard produce the results of interviews they and their researchers conducted with more than 1,600 North Koreans who fled the country. The interviews took place from 2004 to 2008 and involved people who left North Korea as early as 1991.

The book documents the remarkable changes inside the North through the eyes of people who lived through them. Of course, it’s a group that holds negative views of North Korea. But the economists do their best to take that into account.

Mr. Noland, who is based at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, discussed the book with us. Here’s an excerpt of the interview:

WSJ: Most books and studies on North Korea by people outside the country are focused on the nuclear weapons issue and the geopolitics around that. Why have you focused on refugees and the economy?

Mr. Noland: An understudied aspect of the North Korea story, we believe, is the really quite dramatic internal changes that have been going on in North Korea over the last 10 to 20 years. North Korea poses an analytical challenge in that access is limited and the conventional ways that one could go studying a country aren’t available. In this context, the diaspora of refugees leaving the country is an important source of information.

The refugees themselves constitute a first-order crisis. Most of these people, in a clinical setting, would probably be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Their mental health issues appear to be related not only to the difficult circumstances they faced in China but their experiences in North Korea.

WSJ: What is the cause of those stresses?

Mr. Noland: Specifically the loss of family members and family separations associated with the famine. The sense among many of them that they were abandoned in their moment of greatest need. The feeling that they were not given access to international humanitarian aid, which many of them believe was diverted to the military. And the experience of many of them of having been arrested and incarcerated in North Korea’s vast and sprawling penal system.

So the refugees themselves are an issue. They also provide us a window into North Korea.

WSJ: What did you learn from them?

Mr. Noland: Our book addresses three broad issues, which they illuminate.

The first is the underlying economic changes in the country. What we find is the economy has essentially marketized over the last 15 years or so, not as any kind of planned reform but rather as a function of state failure. What is extraordinary is the degree of marketization that the refugees portray when describing their daily lives. They describe a situation in which doing business or engaging in corrupt or illegal activities is increasingly seen as the way to get ahead in North Korea. And positions in the state or the party are still highly desired and seen as a way to get ahead, but not out of patriotism because these positions increasingly provide a platform for extortion of the general population.

Which brings us to the second big theme of the book and that is the criminalization of economic activity and the use of this vast penal system not only for its traditional use as a tool of political intimidation but for economic extortion. What we find is that changes in the North Korean legal code have criminalized vast areas of economic life, the sort of economic life that real people actually lead. In their daily lives, most if not all of North Korea’s non-elites run afoul of some of these statutes, which in effects makes everyone a criminal.

The fact that everyone is running afoul of some statute is combined with the fact that the police are given extraordinary discretion in who they arrest and who they incarcerate and for what period of time. We find that the North Korean penal system has four components. The worst and best known are the long-term political prisons, the North Korean gulag that was set up by Soviet advisors. There’s also a set of institutions that are effectively felony prisons, where you put the murderers and the rapists. Then there are a set of institutions that correspond to misdemeanor jails in other societies. What has developed since the famine period of the 1990s is a fourth set of institutions that have been codified. Those primarily house people who have made economic crimes, such as hiring labor for money or selling things in the market that you’re not supposed to be selling. We go through the enormous expansion of articles in the North Korean legal code to cover these crimes, such as illegally operating a restaurant.

This is a fantastic instrument for extortion. It means if you were engaging in entrepreneurial behavior, the police can come to you and say ‘You’re engaged in illegal activity. We can take you, take your spouse, take your kid and put them in this institution where you know horrible things happen.’ So the penal system not only serves its traditional function as a platform for political corruption but we find it is now a platform for economic predation as well.

We discovered something that we call the ‘market syndrome.’ It is a series of characteristics that seem to be linked with engaging in market activities. People who engage in market activities are 50% more likely to be arrested than their counterparts. They are more likely to harbor more negative appraisals of the regime than their counterparts. And in a society where people are afraid to express their opinions, these guys who are engaged in the market, who have been to jail and been released, are more likely to express their views to others. That is to say that the market is emerging as a kind of semi-autonomous zone of social communication and potentially political organizing. And in that sense, the regime is right to fear the market.

And that brings us to the final theme, and that is the political attitudes of these people and nascent dissent. What we find is people have very negative appraisals of the regime. That’s not surprising. We’re sampling from a group of people that have voted with their feet and one would expect them to have negative views, though we go through fairly elaborate statistical exercises to try to control as best we can for the demographic characteristics of the people we’ve interviewed.

People have very negative views of the regime. They are increasingly disinclined to believe the regime’s meta-narrative, which rationalizes their misery as a function of being held captive by hostile foreign forces. Most of these people hold the government itself as responsible for their plight.

WSJ: You two previously wrote one of the seminal studies on the North Korean famine (Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid and Reform), what did the refugees tell you about living through that?

Mr. Noland: Both Steph and I were really struck by was just how the famine experience reverberates. The famine was more than 10 years ago. It ended in 1998. A significant share of the people, I think about a third, reported separation from, or death of, family members during that process. You had people out scavenging to find food. People going to China. Family separation and death of family members just continued to reverberate.

We asked them: ‘Were you aware of the international food aid program?’ The numbers differ in our surveys, but significant numbers of people were unaware of the food aid program. It was astonishing to us.

Then, among the ones who were aware, we asked `Do you believe you were a beneficiary?’ Only a small minority responded yes. And when we run all the regressions, this status of knowing of the existence of the program but believing you were not a beneficiary, this is a profoundly demoralizing experience. These people feel they were abandoned at this time of need, when they were seeing their families and neighbors dying. They believe it’s going to the army and the elites. That group of people, when we run the psychological tests and ask them their views of the regime, this is an embittered group. The effect of that experience is bigger than being in the prisons.

We wrote a book on the famine, so obviously we’re interested in it. But we were surprised and we wouldn’t have guessed that this experience continues to reverberate among the people who lived through it.

Read the full story here:
Marcus Noland on NK’s Refugees and Economy
Wall Street Journal: Korea Real Time
Evan Ramstad
1/12/2011

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Park’s Appearance Unlikely to Mean Real Reform

Monday, December 13th, 2010

According to the Daily NK:

An oft-cited example of an advocate of reform within the North Korean leadership, former Prime Minister Park Bong Ju [aka Pak Pong-ju] appeared alongside Kim Jong Il during a recent onsite inspection at a Pyongyang sock factory, leading to suggestions that North Korea may again be contemplating the idea of embracing economic reform.

However, this is less likely than another explanation; that Park was brought back into the fold to oversee a number of revisions to the legal code during 2010.

Park, whose appearance at the onsite inspection was verified in five images broadcast by Chosun Central Television on the 11th, was a leading architect of the July 1st Economic Management Reform Measure of 2002, which formalized a number of relatively liberal economic policies.

He then became Prime Minister in September 2003, but was deposed during a period of economic retrenchment in April 2007, sent into virtual exile in South Pyongan Province as manager of Suncheon Vinalon Complex.

As a result of this career path, Park is seen by many as a reformist thinker in the North Korean elite.

Therefore, when he stepped back onto the main political stage this August, three years and four months later, mentioned in a report published by Chosun Central News Agency on August 21st about the 50th anniversary of a well-known Pyongyang restaurant, Okryugwan, it led to suggestions that North Korea might be set to head down the road to economic reform, led by Park as Party First Vice Director.

However, Park’s re-emergence does not mean that North Korea is about to turn towards market mechanisms on an official basis; conversely, it is more likely to be related to the revision this year of a number of laws which were actually designed to strengthen the control and supervisory functions of state institutions.

North Korea officially revised the People’s Economic Planning Law on April 6th alongside the Pyongyang Management Law, revised on March 30th, and both its Labor Protection and Chamber of Commerce and Industry Laws, revised on July 8th.

In revealing the legal revisions to The Daily NK in an interview in November, an inside North Korean source commented on the intention behind the changes, saying, “The People’s Economic Planning Law of 2001 alleviated national controls and supervision, even though it came before the July 1st measure of 2002. However, the revised bill strengthens national controls.”

Additionally, the source went on, “This series of bills including the revised People’s Economic Planning Law are the basis of the nation’s control, management and supervision. It should be understood as being part of the same flow as the series of measures undertaken during the succession process since October of 2007, when market controls began wholeheartedly; the 150-day Battle, 100-day Battle and currency redenomination.”

Accordingly, research suggests that North Korea probably chose to play the Park Bong Ju card now to revise state policy to try and sort out the problems left behind by the failure of the 2009 currency redenomination and to address the pressing need to improve the state of the domestic economy, whilst also hoping that the appointment of an official with a reformist image might attract investment from Northeast China and further afield.

Michael Madden has written a bio of Pak Pong-ju. Read it here.

Read the full Daily NK sotry below:
Park’s Appearance Unlikely to Mean Real Reform
Daily NK
Kim So-yeol
12/13/2010

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DPRK strengthens control mechanisms with revised law on the people’s economy

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

NK Brief No. 10-11-26-1
11/26/2010

North Korea has recently revised its law governing the planning of the People’s Economy, significantly strengthening the state’s ability to oversee and control economic activities throughout the country. The South Korean Ministry of Unification recently released the contents of the law, which the North revised on April 6, as well as details of two laws created by the Supreme People’s Committee Standing Committee on July 8; the Law on Labor Protection (Order 945) and the Chamber of Commerce Law (Order 946).

The new law on economic planning contains seven new articles, but since the details of the August 2009 revision were never made public, it is unclear when the new articles were added. What is clear, however, is how different the new law is when compared to the Law on Planning the People’s Economy that was passed in May, 2001 and the Economic Management Reform Measure enacted on July 1, 2002, both of which significantly boosted the autonomy of business managers and eased government restrictions on economic activity.

With the July 1 Measure, the authority of the National Economic Planning Committee was downgraded, central allocations were graduated based on managerial autonomy and profits, the central rationing system was dismantled, and wages were increased. While the economic planning law of 2001 and the July 1 Measure of 2002 eased restrictions on, and oversight of, the people’s economy, the newly-revised law strengthens state control. The new law appears to not only return but also bolster the central control mechanisms that were eliminated by the 2001 law.

Article 16 of the new law states that the planned economy will be based on prepared figures, while Article 18 states that enterprises, organizations and companies will operate on the principle of ensuring regulated numbers, and Article 24 requires the people’s economic plan, drafted by the Cabinet, State Planning Organization, and regional authorities, to be broken down in detail, by timeframe and indexes, and distributed to enterprises, organizations and companies by the end of October. The planning law passed in 2001 called for economic plans to be drawn up based on production statistics provided from ‘below’ and passed up through chains of command (Article 17), but this has been eliminated from the new law.

With the revision of the law on labor protection, North Korea has added more specific language to Article 12 of the ‘Socialist Labor Law’, which was established in April 1978. Article12 of the Law on Labor Protection states that the protection of laborers’ work is the primary demand of the socialist system, which sees the people as the most precious resource. The law strengthens the role of the state in protecting laborers, and identifies ‘difficult and strenuous’ jobs, including mining, fishing, and earthquake investigation. Workers in these fields are to be given favorable treatment, including the issuance of additional clothing, food and other rations.

In addition, the law covers the installation and maintenance of safety equipment, the issuance of protective gear, and additional protections for female workers. It also restricts work to eight hours per day and guarantees holidays and time off, health care, and protection of property. These and other articles in the law increase state management of workers, but defector testimonies paint a different picture. Most workers save their wages with the assumption that they will have to pay bribes, medical costs and other expenses out-of-pocket.

The law on commercial activity further details the ‘Chamber of Commerce Regulation’ handed down by the Cabinet in 2008. The law covers a range of duties and rights regarding commercial operations, including contracts and operations regarding joint ventures with foreign firms; legal letters of confirmation, certificates of country of origin and other paperwork related to trade issues; as well as exhibitions and conventions held in conjunction with foreign businesses.

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Pak Pong-ju rehabilitated

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s former Premier Pak Pong-ju appears to have returned to power with the Workers’ Party, more than three years after he was ousted due to his economic reform drive, according to a Pyongyang broadcast report on Saturday.

The North’s Korean Central Broadcasting Station introduced Pak as the “first deputy director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea,” reporting on the 50th foundation ceremony of Pyongyang’s flagship Okryu Restaurant held Friday with a number of senior officials and workers.

There is no other known figure with the same name among the North Korean power-holding elite.

Pak, a long-time industry technocrat and pragmatist, was named premier of the North’s Cabinet in September 2003. He spearheaded the North’s so-called July 1st Economic Measure reform drive toward market economy, which aimed to give more autonomy to state firms and gradually reduce state rationing of food and daily necessities.

But his strong initiative triggered a backlash from the party and the military that resulted in his dismissal. Pak was suspended from duty in June 2006 on charges of fund apprehension and was fired in April the following year. Kim Yong-il, then land and marine transport minister, replaced him.

Pak is believed to have been demoted to a managerial post at a clothing factory outside Pyongyang.

Cho Myung-chul, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy who has defected from North Korea, viewed Pak’s reinstatement as a signal of a shifting North Korean economic policy toward pragmatism, following its failed currency reform last year.

“Pak is an emblematic figure of the July 1st Economic Measure that promoted pragmatism. His reinstatement could be connected with an economic policy shift back to pragmatism after the anti-market currency reform failed.”

In a bid to curb the burgeoning merchant class and strengthen its socialist system, North Korea implemented a surprise currency reform in November, knocking two zeros off its denominations. But the move backfired, worsening food shortages and triggering social unrest.

Apparently taking responsibility for the botched reform, Premier Kim Yong-il was replaced by Choe Yong-rim in June.

The broadcast report on Saturday did not specify which department of the Workers’ Party Pak joined, but it is likely that he was posted to the light industry department, considering the ceremony involving a restaurant and the fact that he was the department’s first deputy director in 1993.

Pak is believed to be a close confidante to Jang Song-thaek, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission and brother-in-law of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Jang is seen as the central figure in grooming Kim’s third and youngest son, Jong-un, as the next leader.

Japan’s Mainichi Shimbun reported on Aug. 15, quoting multiple sources, that Pak and about 20 other figures close to Jang had been reinstated within the past two years. The report also said Pak has risen to the second highest spot in the party’s light industry department, which is headed by Kim Kyong-hui, Kim Jong-il’s sister and Jang’s wife.

According to the New York Times:

He is the latest among senior North Korean officials whose sudden banishment and equally unexpected reinstatement have sparked outside speculation about Mr. Kim’s intentions. Mr. Pak appeared to have fallen from Mr. Kim’s favor when he was fired from the premiership in 2007 and sent to work as a factory manager in a provincial town.

“His reinstatement could signal the return of pragmatists and reformists,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea analyst in the Sejong Institute south of Seoul. “We may be able to see him push the economic reform and openness he had once championed.”

Analysts in Seoul say that few North Korean officials wield much individual influence in Mr. Kim’s government. But they say that they can infer Mr. Kim’s plans from the way he punishes and rewards officials identified with various policy approaches.

“Pak’s reinstatement indicates that North Korea is shifting back to market reforms, even if grudgingly, after its botched attempt to re-enforce state control on the economy,” said Baek Seung-joo, the head of North Korea research at the government-financed Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul.

Mr. Pak, a lifetime technocrat, was best known as the architect of “Measures to Improve Economic Management Order.” Issued on July 1, 2002, they indirectly acknowledged the failure of the North’s ration system by instructing factories, collective farms and other economic units to provide their own daily necessities and give incentives for workers.

In September 2003 Mr. Pak was made prime minister, a post in charge of carrying out economic policies.

His reforms were necessitated by the collapse of the centrally planned economy after a famine in the mid-1990s. But they also coincided with — and fueled — the spread of private markets, which quickly emerged as a key source of food and other necessities for North Koreans.

But Mr. Pak’s reform programs irked the government’s old guard, especially in the hard-line military, which had grabbed the lion’s share in trade under the old system. The markets facilitated the influx of DVDs and other smuggled goods the government considered a capitalist threat.

Around 2005, North Korea began controlling markets. Its attempt to reinforce state control on the economy peaked late last year when it replaced its banknotes with a new currency, shut down markets and ordered people to buy goods only from state-run stores. The currency reform was aimed at stifling the markets by drastically reducing traders’ personal wealth in the old currency.

The moves quickly backfired. Inflation surged as traders hoarded their goods and government stores failed to meet demand. Sporadic protests were reported. Earlier this year, Pak Nam-gi, head of finance and planning who led the failed currency reform, was executed, according to South Korean news reports. North Korean markets began coming back to life, according to recent defectors.

Pak Pong-ju, the former prime minister, returns as North Korea prepares for a party caucus early next month. Officials and analysts in Seoul say they will monitor the meeting for changes in the cabinet and party leadership that might provide clues to Mr. Kim’s plans to hand over power to his third son, Kim Jong-un, who is in his late 20s.

Mr. Pak’s reinstatement adds to the growing influence of Jang Song-taek, Mr. Kim’s brother-in-law, said Mr. Baek, the researcher.

In June, Mr. Kim presided over a session of the rubber-stamp Supreme People’s Assembly where Mr. Jang, a potential caretaker for his son, was elevated to the No. 2 post in the ruling hierarchy. In the same meeting, Mr. Pak’s successor as prime minister, Kim Yong-il, who reportedly made a rare apology in February for the botched currency reform, was fired.

Mr. Pak, as first deputy director, is believed to report directly to Kim Kyong-hee, Mr. Kim’s younger sister and Mr. Jang’s wife, who works as party director in charge of the North’s light industries, Mr. Cheong said.

Read the full stories here:
N. Korean ex-PM Pak Pong-ju appears to be back in power
Yonhap
8/21/2010

North Korea Reinstates Market-Oriented Official
New York Times
Choe Sang-hun
8/23/2010

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