China and Neighbourhood

They’re Not Brainwashed, They’re Just Miserable

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By Marcus Noland | 30 March 2010

 


This month, North Korea reportedly executed the Korean Workers’ Party’s economic policy director, Pak Nam Gi, for being a “bourgeois infiltrator” who ruined the country’s economy. Upon his 2005 appointment to the position, a post akin to a finance minister, Pak had allegedly vowed to put an end to the “capitalist fantasy.” But the 77-year-old technocrat’s disastrous currency-reform program, launched Nov. 30, 2009, ended up damaging something very real: the informal market economy that today provides for most North Koreans’ sustenance. The “reform” chopped two zeros off the currency, gave citizens only a brief window to exchange their wealth, and capped the amount of old bills that North Koreans could trade in at roughly $40.

 

So complete was the resulting economic chaos that it precipitated an unprecedented outpouring of civil disobedience. And though the sporadic protests appear to have been relatively small and uncoordinated, the reported prominence of octogenarian war veterans among the protesters was enough to unnerve the government. The fiasco was obviously self-inflicted and visibly inconsistent with the regime’s tendency to attribute all ills that befall the country to foreign “hostile forces.” Pyongyang bumped up the limit for currency exchanges and in February made a historically unparalleled apology to the public delivered by Pak and Premier Kim Yong Il. And because leader Kim Jong Il’s favorite son and rumored successor, Kim Jong Un, was associated with the policy, someone had to pay. Pak was the scapegoat.
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Excerpt reproduced with permission from Foreign Policy, www.foreignpolicy.com. Copyright 2009 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive LLC. Read the full article at [http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/03/30/theyre_not_brainwashed_theyre_just_miserable]

 

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