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    Who wants Kim?

    Fatih Özatay, PhD20 December 2011 - Okunma Sayısı: 977

    Why do the North Korean people fail to overthrow the dictatorship which has been confining them to death of starvation for decades?

    On the North Korean channel yesterday, a brunette lady with short hair wearing black clothes was reading what is written on the paper she holds, with tears in her eyes. What she read was the death knell of Kim Jong-il, the leader of North Korean. The news channel screening the broadcast via the North Korean TV also broadcasted a military march past from North Korea. Soldiers in goose steps were saluting their leaders stridently. On the next scene were missiles with nuclear warheads passing by Kim Jong-il. 

    Deaths of starvation
    Another channel announcing the death of Kim Jong-il was reporting that two million North Koreans died of starvation. Some argue that the actual numbers are even higher. An international newspaper says that since 1995, four million North Koreans died of starvation. Unfortunately, this is not an ancient phenomenon. While dictator Kim Jong’s country was producing nuclear weapons, hundreds of North Koreans died of starvation increasingly, especially in the last couple of weeks.

    This dictator famous for raising a nuclear threat against the world and unable to feed its people was in power for seventeen years. He had taken over the “throne” from this father Kim İl Sung. It is reported that he will be replaced by his son, Kim Jong Un.

    One of the main questions the economic theory seeks to solve is how countries which were once poor managed to improve per capita income to the level of developed countries while most countries failed to do so. Four possible explanations are raised: luck, culture, geography, and institutional structures. Many economists think that institutional structure is the main determinant of income differences. 

    Per capita income gap
    After the World War II ending Japan’s rule in Korea, the country divided into North and South. This offers important intuitions for economists about the role of geography, culture and institutional structure on the income differences. Before the division, residents of both the north and the south had a homogenous culture; they spoke the same language and shared a common religion. They obviously shared the same geography. Before the division in 1953, per capita income in both north and the south was around US$ 700.

    However, in time, a large gap emerged. By 2008, per capita income in South Korea reached US$ 28,000. Per capita income in North Korea is estimated at US$ 1,100. Major differences in institutional structure are considered to be the main reason for such a large income gap. Those who would like to have more information on this issue can see Chapter Four, Introduction to Modern Economic Growth by Daron Acemoğlu.

    Then, why did the anchor woman on the Korean television announcing the dictator’s death burst into tears? More importantly, why did the North Korean people fail to overthrow the dictatorship which has been confining them to death of starvation for decades?


    This commentary was published in Radikal daily on 20.12.2011