That’s the headline to Jim Dunnigan’s new piece on the Hermit Kingdom. Here’s the beef:
As North Korea allows more market economy opportunities, local officials are abusing the concept by charging people for things that the government had long paid for. This is particularly the case for newly built housing. It’s supposed to be free, but people getting the new apartments are told that they must pay some of the maintenance costs and that there is no guarantee that these costs won’t keep going. An added annoyance is that many of the officials who collect these fees pocket a portion (or all) of the money. Local party officials are also demanding that families make special payments to finance public works or industrial projects that are loudly described as “aiding the people.” Most of these projects have failed in the past and being asked to pay large sums of cash to finance new ones is particularly demoralizing for families that have a hard time getting enough to eat.
In the north the more money you have the more you are expected to contribute to bail out the bankrupt government. The new entrepreneurial class is being hit hard by this and free market entrepreneurs are learning how to hide their success.
A sharp history teacher many years ago told me that revolutions don’t generally happen when things can’t get any worse — they happen when the middle class perceives that things aren’t improving fast enough and that the government is to blame.
As a government, Pyongyang probably has to worry more about a general societal collapse than it has to worry about a revolution. As a country, North Korea had better hope it doesn’t come to that, because Kim Jong-un won’t hesitate to mow down the country’s best and brightest, and in whatever numbers it takes to keep himself and his clique in power.
Spain took centuries to recover from kicking out its (largely Jewish) merchant class. Short of civil war, North Korea is already in worse condition than Spain ever was. It might never recover from the slaughter of its few productive people.