Archive for the ‘Private property’ Category

The Pyongyang General Hospital and Kim Jong Un’s “Benevolent Dictator” Economics

Tuesday, July 21st, 2020

By: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

On Monday (July 20th), Kim Jong Un visited the construction site for the Pyongyang General Hospital and unleashed some rather scathing criticism against the management of the project. An excerpt from KCNA:

Noting that it is making a serious digression from the Party’s policy in supplying equipment and materials to go against the intention of the Party which initiated the construction for the people and mapped out its operation, he severely rebuked it for burdening the people by encouraging all kinds of “assistance”.

Saying that the construction coordination commission failed to solve all the problems in conformity with the Party’s policy line, he said in the strong terms that if such situation is left to go on, the noble plan and intention of the Party which initiated the glorious and worthwhile construction for the good of the people could be distorted and the image of the Party be tarnished.

He instructed the relevant departments of the Party Central Committee to investigate the performance of the construction coordination commission as a whole and replace all the officials responsible and make strict referral of them.

Pointing out that though the construction work of the hospital was being pushed ahead thanks to the patriotic zeal and devoted efforts of the builders […].

(Source: “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Gives Field Guidance to Pyongyang General Hospital under Construction,” Korean Central News Agency, July 20th, 2020.)

The Pyongyang General Hospital project was destined for hurdles from the very beginning, as this article explores. Kim has personally emphasized how central it is to finish hospital construction by the deadline of October 10th this year, when the Korean Worker’s Party will celebrate its 75th anniversary.

With such time pressure for construction, worksite conditions were always going to be problematic. The politically motivated deadline, moreover, increases the risk of shoddy construction work. Rather than serve the general public at large, the hospital, whenever finished, is likelier to cater to the sociopolitical elite who can pay their way and, perhaps, to medical tourism.

Kim’s criticism against construction officials, however, is about much more than the hospital construction project itself. It relates to the very structure of the North Korean system, and of communist economies in general. This sort of criticism really is a standard performance in a decades-old genre, where the supreme leader shows himself to be on the side of the people by pinning the blame for any problems and suffering among the population on lower-ranking officials.

Kim’s public criticism of the construction management officials is, in other words, not exceptional, but a standard mechanism and a feature of North Korea’s economic system. Much in North Korean governance may be subject to dynamic change, but the one constant is that the leader can hardly ever be at fault.* To hold this constant, someone else must be blamed when economic plans don’t go the way they should. Never mind that the leader often rules by directives that are often vague and given in off-the-cuff-statements, left to subordinates to interpret and implement as best as they can. Problems like this are almost inevitable in an economy like North Korea’s, still in structure very much a command economy despite significant relaxations over the past few decades.

Thus, when the Soviet Union’s industrialization plan didn’t proceed as intended, it had to be the fault of wreckers working for foreign powers. Stalin himself could never be at fault. In the same way, it cannot, by definition, be Kim’s fault that people are overburdened with requests for “assistance” to help build the hospital. Lower-level bureaucrats have to be the ones to blame, for overburdening the people, because the leader can never be associated with direct pain and suffering in people’s daily lives.

In fact, such “assistance” – often termed “voluntary” – is a mainstay of the North Korean economic system and pretty much has been ever since the beginning. Kim surely cannot have missed the pictures and news reports in his own state media about “active support” from “the people”, and different localities sending construction materials. This sort of “voluntary labor” to gather materials for state projects or work on construction sites is of course not voluntary at all, as staying away would be punishable.

It is a facet of everyday life in North Korea that doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves, as it often takes up a substantial number of hours. It is also not a new phenomena. The North Korean state has always demanded such “voluntary” contributions from the people to make up for materials and labor that the state cannot produce. Naturally, officials will use whatever means required to make their deliveries, even if these means are forcible. This applies to financial assets as well. The wealthier the trading middle class grows, the more the state will subject them to loyalty payments and the like.

In North Korea’s current situation, what choice does Kim really have but to blame lower officials for failures, and admonish them to do better? The Pyongyang General Hospital is not the only grandiose, heavily publicized project that is doing poorly. The Wonsan-Kalma resort has also been plagued by shortages and delays. The government needs these projects not least for propaganda value, to show to the country that although difficulties abound, all is not hopeless, the economy is still making progress, and people’s living standards will improve. So when none of the projects carrying this message are working out, the government has a problem.

In normal times, the state could have dismantled more economic regulations to make it easier for people to conduct trade and private economic activity. Indeed, though it is difficult to quantify, the state giving room for market mechanisms has been the most important factor for the significant improvements in the North Korean economy over the past few years.

Right now, this is difficult to do, because the state needs to extract more resources, not fewer. Over the past few years, the state has grown increasingly short of foreign currency and other assets, first because of sanctions, and later because of the Covid-19 border shutdown (which has partially ended). As a result, we’ve seen the state cracking down more and more on private business and market actors, to bring in resources as other avenues dry up.

The more difficult things get for the North Korean economy, the more demands increase for “loyalty payments” from private citizens, to fund the mega-projects that Kim has staked so much credibility on. We can expect to see more officials lose their jobs in the future in the same manner as those who got axed after Kim’s hospital construction field guidance.


*Such self-criticism does of course happen, but its rarity is attested to by the fact that it (rightfully) makes news headlines. One recent example is Kim Jong Un’s 2017 New Year’s Address.



Taxes increase on some North Korean markets

Friday, May 3rd, 2019

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

This sort of news is very interesting, particularly in context: I’ve heard from people who deal with North Korean firms that some of them have received orders to tighten up their accounting, and report their assets to the state in greater detail. Taken together, these snippets of information suggest an overall difficult economic situation, though not desperate or in crisis-mode, where the state is taking more and more measures to drive in cash from the public.

Daily NK:

Sales fees levied on private distributors have risen in some areas of North Korea. The fees are managed by North Korea’s collection agency and essentially provide a source of tax revenue for the state. Private distributors are expressing discontent over the changes as many are suffering under the country’s already poor economic conditions.

“The authorities recently began demanding outrageous and unfair selling fees from private distributors,” said a South Pyongan Province-based source on April 25. “Collection offices (i.e. tax offices) attached to local people’s committees are required to pay varying fees depending on the product, and the number of fees have been doubled.”

These de facto tax offices were established in each city and county as part of the July 1 Economic Management Improvement Measure in 2003 and are managed by the Ministry of Financial Administration. The offices collect fees for land use, market stalls, and various other reasons.

“The authorities are demanding a huge amount of fees to gain control over and restrict the activities of private business people who live in Pyongsong but bring in products from Sinuiju, Rajin-Sonbong, Nampo and Hyesan,” said a separate source in South Pyongan Province.

“Soybean oil sellers, for example, had to pay 3% of their income before, but now have to pay twice that amount.”

The skyrocketing fees are likely due to the fall in tax revenue arising from the economic difficulties the country is facing.

“The government increased the fees they were collecting just as incomes fell among private business people,” she said. “The authorities are simply taking money from the people to make it seem like the state is self-sufficient.”

North Korean authorities have made the fee system more sophisticated while raising fees as part of efforts to generate more income for the regime.

Article source:
North Korea doubles de facto sales tax levied on distributors in some areas
Mun Dong Hui
Daily NK


Ri Yong Ho’s visit to Vietnam (or: the futile guessing game of North Korea’s developmental model of choice)

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

By: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Yong Ho recently visited Vietnam, prompting speculation about economic reforms in North Korea. KCNA (whose website is impossible to link to for individual texts):

Pyongyang, December 3 (KCNA) — The government delegation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea led by Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho visited the Socialist Republic of Vietnam from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2.

During the visit Ri Yong Ho paid a courtesy call on Nguyen Xuan Phuc, prime minister of Vietnam, had talks with Pham Binh Minh, deputy prime minister and foreign minister, and was invited to a welcome reception given by the deputy prime minister and foreign minister.

During the courtesy call and talks both sides had an in-depth exchange of views and reached consensus on the issue of further developing the relations of friendship and cooperation between the two countries, provided and boosted by President Kim Il Sung together with President Ho Chi Minh, in various fields as required by the new era and other issues of mutual concern.

With the risk of sounding like a broken record: it seems that every time a North Korean official visits or mentions another country, especially those in the region, speculation follows about whether North Korea is soon to adopt the “model” of the country in question. It’s often unclear, however, what this would mean in practice. Would North Korea simply look at one, specific country’s institutions and laws, translate them to Korean and adopt them wholesale? Would North Korea adopt the same sort of sequencing of economic reforms, in the precise order in which the country in question adopted them?

Of course not.

Kim Jong-il, in his time, visited both Russia and China, and made comments to the effect that North Korea could learn from the countries’ economic systems. Kim Jong-un has visited not just China, but Singapore too. He may even come to Seoul before the end of 2018, and if so, he’ll likely visit construction sites and perhaps even factories operated by one or several of South Korea’s major conglomerates.

The point is that North Korean government officials and policy planners, like those of all countries, will naturally look for inspiration from around the world, from whatever country may have achieved the goals that the North Korean regime aspires to.

For now, that appears to be economic growth under continued one-Party rule. There are a number of countries that fit that description. Arguably South Korea does too, in a way, given that its economic growth miracle first began under harsh political oppression. There is simply little sense in debating what “model” North Korea will choose, because there is no reason to believe the country would adopt any one “model”, because that’s simply not how countries work.


North Korean state takes over foreign currency stores

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Donju life might not always be what it is cracked up to be. Radio Free Asia reminds us that regardless of how well North Korea’s upper-middle class traders might be doing, the economic framework is still highly arbitrary:

North Korean hard currency shops providing foreign products for sale to the country’s wealthier citizens may soon see a full government takeover of its supply chains, leading to a drop in the quality and hike in the price of hard-to-obtain goods, North Korean sources say.

The stores, which require payment in Chinese yuan or U.S. dollars, have operated in recent years in Pyongyang and other large cities under the management of private businessmen who pay large portions of their profits to the central government.

Government-run trading firms are now poised to take over the purchase and pricing of products sold in the lucrative stores, though, a source in China’s Dandong city, just across the Yalu river from North Korea, told RFA’s Korean Service.

Until now, shop managers have gone to China themselves to bring back products—including clothing, cosmetics, and furniture—or sale in their stores, RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“If this system of supply changes, not only will store managers be prevented from going to China, but no use will be made of their marketing and management skills,” the source said.

Once the new system is implemented, stores will have to submit a list of needed products to their city’s local trading firm, which will then make the purchases from China itself, the source said.

“There are doubts that [the government] will be able to supply needed products on time, though, and the change in quality and price of the items may lead to conflicts between store managers and the trading organizations handling product supply,” he said.

Profit grab seen

Separately, a source in the capital Pyongyang said no official statement announcing the change has yet been made.

“But there is a high possibility the new system will be established after the [ruling Korean Workers’ Party] convention in May,” he said.

If put in place, the move may be aimed partly at further reducing the profits earned by store managers, who already pay most of what they earn to the government of the reclusive, U.N.-sanctioned state, the source in Pyongyang said.

“North Korea’s foreign currency situation is urgent now,” the source said.

“From now on, the managers of foreign-currency shops will receive only a small salary, as they did in the past,” he said.

“Sales will drop, though, and the management will experience difficulties,” he said.

Full article here:
North Korean ‘Foreign Currency’ Stores Face State Takeover
Jonhoo Kim
Radio Free Asia


North Korea and taxation: some possible causes

Friday, March 18th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

As this blog noted yesterday, South Korean daily Joongang Ilbo claims that the North Korean government may formally reintroduce a tax system before May this year, when a Worker’s Party convention will be held.

The goal, according to Joongang’s source, is primarily to formalize the private economy further. The latest UNSC sanctions are forcing the government to seek out more sources of revenue, and the growing private economy is seen as a resource that can still be tapped further.

Moreover, the source says, the state is planning to expand trading permits for private merchants, both on the formal markets and in private business in general. Under the new system, the state would essentially let merchants get access to land, water and electricity in exchange for a fee, much like in other countries where the state holds a monopoly on goods that often fall into the category of natural monopolies.

This is all interesting for several reasons. First, since the notion of North Korea as a tax free society might appear puzzling to some, it is worth taking a look at why the government decided to abolish taxes in the first place.

Ironically, had Joongang waited a few weeks before publishing the news, they would have hit the 42nd anniversary of the decision to make North Korea formally tax free. For it was on March 21st in 1974, at the Third Session of the Fifth Supreme People’s Assembly that Kim Il Sung officially announced that taxes were abolished. According to a KCNA-piece published in 2009, highlighting the occasion, the decision was taken as a step towards full socialism and framed in a historical context.

Taxation was a vestige of the past: the Japanese colonial power had instituted a “predatory” tax system that Kim Il-sung had vowed already in the 1930s that he would get rid of.  (The Choson Dynasty (1392-1910), too, of course, had a tax system that could at times well be called predatory, but the KCNA piece does not mention this).

The ideological rationale, of course, is that under socialism, you don’t need taxation because private property has been abolished. In North Korea, collectivization of agriculture, for example, occurred only gradually. According to KCNA, agricultural taxes-in-kind were fully abolished by 1966. Given recent policy changes where farmers supposedly now get to keep a more significant share of their production than before, one could argue that taxation has in effect already been brought back to agriculture, and that the tax-in-kind-rate is around 70 percent.

So why could the government want to bring back taxation? Aside from the reasons given by the Joongang article, one could speculate about a possible connection with the remarks cited by KCNA earlier this year about party officials “seeking privileges, misuse of authority, abuse of power and bureaucratism manifested in the party” (February 4th, 2016).

Corruption is often an integral part of everyday life for anyone involved in business in a country that lacks a functioning rule of law. Corruption is known to be strongly institutionalized in North Korea, and when news of discontent come out of North Korea, it often has to do with arbitrary rule changes and regulations regarding market trading and business. A formalized tax system doesn’t itself guarantee a transparent set of rules and regulations, or that these rules are followed. But it is an almost necessary prerequisite.


The limits of agriculture reform in North Korea

Friday, December 18th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

Agricultural reforms in North Korea became a hot topic of discussion almost right away when Kim Jong-un took power in 2011. Only a number of months into his tenure, news began to come out of the country about attempts at agricultural reforms. It is unclear when (or even if) the June 28th Measures were finally extended to the whole country.

At the very least, three years in, it seems beyond reasonable doubt that North Korean agriculture has undergone major changes. These have been aimed at boosting production by creating better incentives for farmers to produce and sell more of their output to the state rather than diverting it to the market. The most important aspects of these reforms are the decreased size of work teams and new rules that let farmers keep 30 percent of their production plus any surplus above production targets, while the state takes the remaining 70.

These changes have been met with optimism among some. However, no one really knows exactly what impact these reforms have had. North Korean agriculture may be faring better than it used to – although this is also doubtful – but even so, it is too simplistic to assume that government reforms in agricultural management are doing all the work. As long as North Korea’s agriculture continues to be centrally planned by the state, there will be limits to how much better it can get no matter what reforms the state implements.

To see why, consider some of the news that have been coming out of North Korea in the past few months, as reported by Daily NK. In late November, the online daily reported that in despite by multilateral aid organizations, North Korea had seen relatively good harvests this year. However, the increased harvests, according to people inside the country, were not caused by changes in the agricultural management system of state-operated collective farms.

Rather, the North Koreans interviewed for the story claimed that private plot farmers had been better able to protect their crops from adverse weather impacts by using water pumps and other equipment. Even though trends like these alone probably have a limited impact, this shows that many circumstances other than state management matter.

A few weeks later, Daily NK published another interview carrying a similar message. According to sources inside the country, harvests from collective farms have declined, while private plot production has gone up (author’s emphasis added):

The amount of food harvested this year from the collective farms has “once again fallen short of expectations,” he said, adding that the farmers who work on them have criticized the orders coming down from the authorities, saying that “if we do things the way they want us to, it’s not going to work.”

Although the regime has forced people to mobilize, the source asserted that farm yields are not increasing. So, then, “the best thing to do would be to further divide the land up among individuals,” he posited.

Our source wondered if individual farms were not more successful because each person tending them personally grew and watered their plants. Currently, farmers must follow directives regarding the amount of water they can use on collective farms. He warned that if the system is not completely overhauled, crop yields will fail to improve.

In other words: as is so often the case, management orders from above often do not align with the reality on the ground.

One should be careful not to draw too many general conclusions based on individual interviews, but this is a well known general problem in all planned economies. Even with the best intentions, the state can never be fully informed about conditions and resources on the ground in an entire society.

This is one of the many reasons why economic central planning falters. We have seen this, too, with Kim Jong-un’s forestry policies. The state gives orders that have unintended consequences on the ground, because information is lacking. No central planning team can be fully informed about the reality prevailing throughout the system. The information problem becomes particularly dire in authoritarian dictatorships like North Korea, where people at the lower end of hierarchies often have strong incentives not to speak up about implementation problems when orders come from the top.

Ultimately, no matter what management reforms the North Korean regime implements, the country’s economic system remains the basic stumbling block. As long as central planning continues to be the ambition of economic and agricultural policies, there will be a limit to the success that agricultural policies can reach. We may expect to see agricultural reforms continuing, but as long as the system remains, they can hardly be revolutionary.


The (Market) Forces of History in North Korea

Friday, October 30th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The market is a common topic for debate in history. How did it impact the rise of the anti-slavery movement in the US and the UK? What impact did economic conditions have in the French Revolution? These questions are, and should be, asked in the current debate about North Korea’s socioeconomic development as well.

But despite the hope of many, the market might not simply be a story of growing individualism and disconnect from the power of the state. While such a trend may well be at work, it could also be the other way around.

This was recently illuminated through an interesting story by Reuters. In a visit to Pyongyang, they took a look at how markets and everyday business transaction function in North Korea at the moment. As they note, it is telling that a reporter from an international news agency can make transactions in the open, with a government minder by his side, at the black market rate. Business that previously had to be done in the shadows now happens in the open:

Shoppers openly slapped down large stacks of U.S. dollars at the cashier’s counter. They received change in dollars, Chinese yuan or North Korean won – at the black market rate. The same was true elsewhere in the capital: taxi drivers offered change for fares at black market rates, as did other shops and street stalls that Reuters visited.

The most obvious conclusion is that the state is adapting itself to the bottom-up development of the market. Indeed, this is the way the story is often told. In this narrative, the government is only reacting to developments and has long lost the economic policy initiative.

But one could also see a government that is confident enough to relax the rules. It just isn’t a certain fact that the state and the market are two opposing entities.

First, connections to the state still seem to be good for those wanting to trade on the market. For example, according to the surveys conducted by Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland that laid the foundation for Witness to Transformation (2011)party membership is still considered one of the best ways to get ahead in North Korea (or at least it was at the time when the surveys were conducted). A somewhat similar trend can be discerned in survey results presented by Byung-Yeon Kim of Seoul National University at a conference at Johns Hopkins SAIS in late September this year. Kim’s results also indicate that there is a strong positive correlation between party membership and participation in both the formal and informal economy.

Second, the government is making money off of the market. DailyNK recently reported that the fees charged by state authorities for market stalls was raised. They also noted that regulations of the markets seemed to have gotten more detailed over the years. As noted in this report published by the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS, the space that the government allocates to markets has consistently increased in the past few years. Not only have official markets grown, many of them have also been renovated and given better building structures.

All in all, this paints a picture of a government that controls markets while allowing them more space to function. It is not clear that formerly black market activity happening in the open means that the market is gaining ground at the expense of the state. They may well be moving together. That is good news for those hoping for stability, but bad news for those banking on a market-induced revolution. Despite the hope of many that the market will cause the demise of the regime, the role of the market force in North Korea’s history is far from clear.


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


New facts about the DPRK’s informal economy

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

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.


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

위대한 령도자 김정일동지께서는 다음과 같이 지적하시였다.

《무엇보다도 경제건설에 대한 국가의 중앙집권적, 통일적지도를 강화하여야

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

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

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

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.”