December 27, 2009

CAPITALISM HAS FRIENDS . . . ELSEWHERE: In North Korea, Resistance is the New Currency.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il moved early this month to wipe out much of the wealth earned in the past decade in his country’s private markets. As part of a surprise currency revaluation, the government sharply restricted the amount of old bills that could be traded for new and made it illegal for citizens to have more than $40 worth of local currency.

It was an unexplained decision — the kind of command that for more than six decades has been obeyed without question in North Korea. But this time, in a highly unusual challenge to Kim’s near-absolute authority, the markets and the people who depend on them pushed back.

Grass-roots anger and a reported riot in an eastern coastal city pressured the government to amend its confiscatory policy. Exchange limits have been eased, allowing individuals to possess more cash.

The currency episode reveals new constraints on Kim’s power and may signal a fundamental change in the operation of what is often called the world’s most repressive state — a change driven by private markets that now feed and employ half the country’s 23.5 million people, and appear to have grown too big and too important to be crushed, even by a leader who loathes them.

Hey, maybe there’s hope for us, then . . . .

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