North Korea has rich people? Yes, they are the ones buying all the new cellphones. NK specialist Andrei Lankov wrote an article examining this rare new species for yesterday’s Asia Times (hat tip to NK Economy Watch for pointing out the story).
According to the article, “North Korea’s new rich made their fortunes amid the economic chaos and social disruption of the great famine of 1996-1999. This new bourgeoisie matured in the next decade as the North Korean economy started to partially recover from the disastrous 1990s.”
Who are they? “The upper crust of this social group consists of high-level officials. Some of them have gained their wealth through illegal means, but many have seen their business activities permitted and even actively encouraged by the government. […] if we go one or two steps down, we will encounter a very different type of North Korean entrepreneur – somebody who has made his or her (yes, surprising[ly] many of them are women) money more or less independent of the state.”
The article goes on to give several examples of this newly-emergent entrepreneur class, before closing with some of the threats they continue to face from officialdom. The conclusion feints one way (the new businesspeople’s interests are actually aligned with that of the government and therefore can’t be expected to favor unification with the South), before finally deciding that the gov’t and businesspeople don’t look that far ahead and are unlikely to cooperate. Food for thought.