Belmont Club

A Blight to Eat

A number of reports suggest that North Korea may be in internal crisis. The signs are vague but pervasive. The Wall Street Journal reports that pamphlets are circulating in the North disparaging the current Kim and “praising Ri Yong Ho, the former military chief who was ousted in July”. Other telltales include vandalizing of Kim statues, acts which have been blamed on South Korean agents, and orders to the police to round up restive elements.

The North Korean security forces, says the Daily Telegraph, have been instructed to “find those who are only waiting to unleash their hidden daggers and mercilessly crush every one of them” and “expose and foil moves of enemies, internal and external, for undermining the socialist system.”

Some analysts have even mooted the possibility of a North Korean Spring and note that a spike in arrests would suggest the current Kim is losing the power to automatically command respect.

Orders from Pyongyang are not being carried out in rural areas and there have been some complaints against the regime, whose power is weakening,” Professor Shigemura told The Daily Telegraph.

“It is that weakening power that has forced Kim to speak out now,” he said, although he played down suggestions that any protests have sufficient momentum to seriously challenge the regime.

“At the moment, it is simply not possible for North Koreans to rise up like we saw in the Middle East in the Arab Spring revolutions,” he said. “Anyone who spoke out like that would be arrested and all their family would be killed.”

But Professor Shigemura does believe that signs of dissent where there were previously none could be a precursor to the eventual downfall of Kim’s government.

One obvious cause for discontent is privation. One indicator of North Korea’s straitened circumstances are the appeals to members of the Communist Party for “patriotic rice” to feed soldiers and government workers.

Impoverished North Korea has launched a “patriotic rice” campaign to feed soldiers and construction workers, asking farmers and would-be members of the ruling Workers’ Party to donate rice to the state even though many suffer from hunger, according to local sources. …

Those who want to join the party have no choice but to donate their rice, other sources said, but added that they had not heard of farmers volunteering rice to the campaign on their own.

The cost of rice, a staple of the North Korean diet, makes up a significant portion of the average worker’s wages, which for a government worker are officially about 2,000 to 6,000 won (U.S. $0.70 to $2 based on market rates) per month.

In recent weeks, the price of rice had risen to about 6,000 won per kilogram without dropping as it usually does at the end of the harvest season, according to sources in the country.

Yet the article goes on to note that despite the price increases hunger has not bitten as hard as before. One reason may be what Chosun Ilbo calls the “underground economy” — that infestation of capitalist vermin that is turning some North Koreans into  millionaires. “Tycoons” operate a bus networks and even some even run industries. They bribe officials not to notice them and have got the money to do it with too. Even menial workers in the private sector earn ten times more than government workers.

The underground economy in Stalinist North Korea is growing rapidly, spy agencies believe. A South Korean security official said, “It seems the planned economy remains in name only while in fact the capitalist underground economy prevails.” …

“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 …

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.

What doess it mean when it no longer pays to be in the North Korean nomenklatura or military service? What happens when people are better off working in a beauty parlor or waiting tables than being members of the palace guard who must now subsist on “patriotic rice”?

The world gets turned upside down and this will put increasing pressure on Pyongyang to either adopt the Chinese system of state owned capitalism or to follow the South Korean model. But it will be harder for the Kim dynasty to continue as before. Eventually they’ll run out of even “patriotic rice. And about time too. A book titled Escape from Camp 14 details life at one of the North’s biggest concentration camps and the experiences of a person who escaped from it.

North Korea is isolated and hungry, bankrupt and belligerent. It is also armed with nuclear weapons. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people are being held in its political prison camps, which have existed twice as long as Stalin’s Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. Very few born and raised in these camps have escaped. But Shin Donghyuk did.

In Escape from Camp 14, acclaimed journalist Blaine Harden tells the story of Shin Dong-hyuk and through the lens of Shin’s life unlocks the secrets of the world’s most repressive totalitarian state. Shin knew nothing of civilized existence-he saw his mother as a competitor for food, guards raised him to be a snitch, and he witnessed the execution of his own family. Through Harden’s harrowing narrative of Shin’s life and remarkable escape, he offers an unequaled inside account of one of the world’s darkest nations and a riveting tale of endurance, courage, and survival.

It has survived this long by extorting aid from its neighbors. But now it is facing a different, internal threat. Perhaps in the end the only places in the world where a “socialist planned economy” will be taken seriously are in the ivory towers of Western universities which are the Camp 14s of the mind.

The story of Oh Kil-nam is perhaps the most dramatic  example of their effects. Oh was a graduate of a German school of Marxist economics and was persuaded to go the North Korea because he imagined it to be the worker’s paradise.  He was in for a big surprise. Note how even the story of Oh has been sugar-coated to remove all unfavorable references to Marxism.

Probably the most interesting segment of the video above is where an “international composer living in Germany” cruelly tempts Oh to return using his family as bait. There are worse crimes in this world than mere murder and that “international composer” committed such an act just then. If you ever doubt the existence of hell, just remember this: there has to be a place where people like that go.

But apparently the people of North Korea have just about had it with Kimcare and Food Stamps. Of all the arguments against a system widespread hunger is the most eloquent of all.



The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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