2014-2015 - Economic Growth in North Korea?

We just got around to reading the new CRS report on North Korea, which South Korean press picked up on last week, with dry headlines like "The marketplace economy in North Korea". Dry, but also misleading: we were somewhat surprised when we got around to reading the report that there was barely anything about the DPRK economy - its more of a US perspective on a range of North Korea's diplomatic relations and how they relate to their domestic issues. 

To reverse-employ a classic technique of Kumsusanology, the word 'diplomacy' was used 16 times, while the word 'economy' was used but 7 times. 'Nuclear' was used 136 times.

The economic section was brief, but noted that "since early 2015, reports have trickled in about modest economic growth in North Korea." The authors cautiously attribute this to economic policy changes that have taken place in the last couple years, despite less pro-growth policies - namely the Ebola quarantine.

New orders were scarce in late 2014 and early 2015 (photo from 2012)

New orders were scarce in late 2014 and early 2015 (photo from 2012)

Indeed, in early 2015, after the Ebola shutdown, the capital city did seem to be waking up, but the first few months of this year were very quiet indeed, residents reported. Pyongyang will be hoping the 'reawakening' continues on its upward trend, despite China's recent market turmoil.

This trend, according to South Korea's central bank, has been one of slow growth for the last four years. They released their annual report on the northern economy two weeks ago. Southern statistics about the north are fraught with problems. Marcus Noland outlined some of these issues a few years ago. Shortly thereafter, Aidan Foster-Carter lamented the state of North Korean statistics - almost entirely absent except for vague budget reporting - though a couple weeks after that Ruediger Frank pointed out that they are "better than nothing". Mid-2012 saw a great upsurge in scholarly lamentations about how little we know.

We recommend checking out these articles if you haven't before or re-reading them even if you have. It's worth remembering that a lot of guesswork goes into the numbers we read on the DPRK economy and while it isn't useless, pinches of salt are recommended.