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January 26, 2010
Worldfocus Radio: North Korea’s Economic Catastrophe

Looking beyond the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula, Worldfocus Radio examines the economy of one of the most isolated countries on earth.

North Korea has a per capita income of around $1,800 and continues to be the poorest nation in East Asia. The country still relies on heavy industry and military spending — in addition to huge amounts of food and fuel aid.

But we know little about the country’s black markets. And we struggle to find accurate statistics on the nation’s true standard of living.

A propaganda poster in Pyongyang. Photo: Ben Piven

Martin Savidge hosts Barbara Demick of the LA Times and Leon Sigal of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project. They discuss:

  • North Korea’s post-Cold War isolation
  • recent currency devaluation
  • impact of closing underground markets
  • China’s strategy of engaging North Korea
  • prospects of U.S. economic engagement
  • other investments (such Egypt’s Orascom)


Barbara Demick is the Beijing bureau chief for the LA Times and author of the new book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. She has reported extensively on economic and social changes inside the country.

Leon Sigal is director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council in New York. He has authored several books, including Disarming Strangers: Nuclear Diplomacy with North Korea.

Host: Martin Savidge
Ben Piven and Lisa Biagiotti

Visit Behind the Korean Curtain for our extended coverage and Inside the Hermit Kingdom for exclusive Worldfocus video from the inside.




They must find the courage to overthrow the Government,and emerge from this dark period in history.Food aid just delays this overdue uprising!


North Korea lost one of its cash cows. Iraq. It sold a lot of military equipment to Iraq. It also sold a lot of equipment to others countries that Iraq paid for. Without those oil dollars North Korea is in big trouble. If it was not for the AID from the other countries the Army would revolt and Fathers son would flee for his life. $1,800 per capita does not exist, it would be lucky if was one percent of that. At sundown North Korea goes dark. Unless your a party official you are living in near death life. The only thing that is worth anything is food. To much in your proceesion could get you shot.
If you want to understand how the average person or family lives it is easy. Think of yourself coming to America 300 years ago and being dump by a ship. You and your family land with only the clothes on your back and you have to build a community. You start from go. If you can not build a house to protect you from the elements then you will frezze. If you can not get enough food, you will starve. If you can not store food over a period of time you will starve.
In North Korea at least you have a stone house of sorts. You might have wood to heat your house and you might have some roots to eat. Your children might even be alive, but not healthy. If you get sick you die. You will work for food since money can not buy what is not there. A few meals will keep you alive, but not healthy. Any food produce belongs to the State. Any food imported belongs to the State. If you think Hell is bad, a least it is warm. North Korea is worst then Hell. Everything is a secret any facts can be questionable. Consider that anything said is a lie any that anything that was said was a lie. Also remember it is the fault of America that North Korea is the way it is. Some has to get blame.


You reap what you sow.

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