Over at the Diplomat, Geoffrey and Andray argue that a resource curse in North Korea is something we should be keeping an eye on. Some Excerpts: The idea of the “resource curse,” long debated by development theorists, is helpful in understanding how the DPRK might marketize and yet remain stable. Rather than spur change, a what we might call “resource-driven equilibrium” might develop in North Korea.
Resources can put tremendous strains on the economy’s manufactured goods, by driving up the exchange rate and making exports more expensive. Furthermore, human resources are drawn away from export-oriented industries, further eroding the competitiveness of the manufacturing sector. There are also political consequences associated with a resource boom. When there’s a lack of manufacturing to begin with, a country’s elites are incentivized to fight for control over the resource base, rather than producing wealth by other means.
Both the economic and political pressures brought by control of a valuable resource can be mitigated in a variety of ways, including good governance through strong institutions.
If managing resources and overcoming the so-called curse is a matter of concerted, institutional commitment and the corresponding development of effective economic institutions, North Korea will struggle to avoid the trap, both in economic and political terms.Marketization without good governance could result in a stagnant and isolated economy, much like Burma over the last decade.
North Korea’s system has shown resilience to the encroachment of unofficial sources of news and information that have been growing since the mid-1990s. A more marketized economy with greater engagement with the outside world may allow more outside information in, yet paradoxically serve to bolster, rather than erode, this resilience.