North Korea’s Middle Class…“Money is Power” (1)

[imText1]In socialism, the laborer and the peasant dominate the nation and society. However, since the late `60’s, the role of the laborer and peasant has decreased with the bureaucracy taking power, to the extent that a country can no longer remain in traditional socialism.

Currently, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Il with a minority of the central class surround this core power. In North Korea, the laborers and peasants are rather subject to extortion.

Amidst a North Korean market economy, a middle class is being established. The middle class comprises of people who have assets that the average citizen cannot afford and own medium-sized businesses or engage in wholesale trade.

Undoubtedly, this group of people are dominating the middle class as well as playing a vital role in the lifeline of North Korean citizens and market, a fact that could not have been fathomable in North Korea’s past.

Until the 80’s, North Korea’s economy was a planned economy. Supply and demand of goods was distributed according to the national plan. However, in the late-80’s, small holes began to emerge in the socialist planned economic system and with a lack of daily necessities, people began to rely on the black market.

Arising from the major cities, goods were secretively traded in the black market and eventually the majority of North Koreans acquired their needed goods through this system. This system operated evading the control and regulation of North Korean authorities, but when caught, a person was condemned to severe punishment and the goods confiscated.

However, the mass food crisis of the mid-90’s completely collapsed the remnants of a socialist planned economy that had subsided unto the time. What had happened was the end of the national food distribution system.

In particular, the collapse of the food distribution meant the death sentence. Tens and hundreds of thousands of North Koreans began to die of starvation and as a means to live, people became active in the market and trade began to emerge in different regions of North Korea.

Mass starvation which created expert tradesmen

The immobilization of a socialist planned economy activated Jangmadang (North Korea’s integrated markets) which then led to the formation of a new class within North Korea’s own expert tradesmen. North Korean authorities who had no other countermeasures had little choice but to comply as the lives of the citizens were now left to the hands of trade.

In the mid-90’s, North Korean authorities approved personal trade to occur between North Korea and China and then permitted markets to exist along the border districts. Simply put, the mass food crisis created a new class which actually gave North Koreans an opportunity to trade.

At first, people would sell goods that they already had such as household appliances, television, recorder and bicycle. Furthermore, any type of stock accessible, particularly clothing, candy and other foods coming from China such as rice, flour and corn were also traded.

As people gained more experience and came to know the basics of marketing, tradesmen became more specialized. People who sold rice, only sold rice, whereas people who traded fabric only sold fabric.

North Koreans began to realize that specializing in a particular field was the way to make money and the people who were unable to assimilate to this culture broke away penniless.

Accordingly, the market gradually became a center for specialized tradesmen to provide goods and daily necessities. The goods sold by these tradesmen eventually became the mark for the middle class merchant. During this time, stabilized distributors began to dominate the market and more individualized entrepreneurs surfaced.

People skilled at cooking, baked decorative and delicious bread in their homes and then sell them at the markets. In addition, candy distributors have made a mark at the markets with candy making having become an advanced skill. People who once made candy in their homes now brag that they have been able to produce a small-scale sugar factory. In particular, clothes making and candy making has become enterprises leading to great money.

Today, 50% of candy, home-made clothing and 30% of uniforms, sold at North Korean markets are products made from home. Through goods such as these, Chinese merchants, tradesmen and the middle class are earning money through North Korea’s markets supplying the customers, the majority of the lower class.

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