27 April 2022
The Wilson Center Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy was established in 2015 with the generous support of the Hyundai Motor Company and the Korea Foundation to provide a coherent, long-term platform for improving historical understanding of Korea and informing the public policy debate on the Korean peninsula in the United States and beyond. [...] The 1990s famine and accompanying floods and droughts brought with it mass starvation, leading to 250,000 to as many as 3.5 million deaths according to 1 In this paper, I use the terms “entrepreneurs” and donju interchangeably to refer to lead brokers in the informal economy who manage the flow of goods and currency across borders and within the country. [...] Ultimately the reforms failed, and the state tried to pedal back by offering wage increases.8 However, in the long run, the reform encouraged the dollarization of the economy and the rise of a new entrepreneurial class. [...] Ersatz Capitalists in a Socialist State The North Korean state faces competing economic and political pressures: how can a revolutionary socialist state constrain the emergence of private-sector pressures while also dealing with the pragmatic need for entrepreneurs’ capital and services? The rise of North Korea’s ersatz capitalists complicates the official political system. [...] Political elites comprise a very small portion of the population, with the highest level of the “core classes” at the top of the songbun totem pole.