The numbers behind North Korea’s zombie state

January 13, 2015

The worst place on Earth is, of course, a subjective designation. But while some nations suffer from runaway drug gangs, and others from religious and civil wars, few are as isolated, poor and frozen in time as North Korea.

Relations between North Korea and the United States — and the majority of the world — have been fraught for decades, dating back to the end of the Second World War. An October, 2006, nuclear test led the United Nations Security Council to unanimously vote for broad economic sanctions, which, when combined with a wholly inefficient state-run economy, has had a devastating effect, as this Reuters graphic shows.

In 2013 South Korea enjoyed better than $1 trillion in trade with the rest of the world, while North Korea’s total added up to a moribund $7.43 billion, a figure that doesn’t equal even half of the $15.8 billion that Microsoft founder Bill Gates added to his personal fortune over the same period. Strict limitations imposed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (PDF) mean that the entirety of trade between the United States and North Korea comprised a measly $23.4 million in exports.

The result is that North Korea’s nominal Gross National Income is just 33.8 trillion South Korean won (approximately $3 billion); South Korea’s is more than 42 times that number at more than 1.4 quadrillion. Despite having just over twice North Korea’s population of 24.9 million, the South generates better than 26 times the electric power, a multiple that helps one understand the miserable humanitarian and industrial situation in the North.

The recent dance around the release of the movie “The Interview,” and the hack of Sony Pictures shows that North Korea is enough of a threat to be taken seriously. Meanwhile, North Korea’s people remain poor, and in many cases, malnourished.



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No wonder they are zombies in North Korea, you would be too if you had to live in the place, winters are miserable, I know I spent time there in 1952 with 30 below zero, and also back there in the 90s, saw no improvement, why bother paying attention to them they will ice up for four months of the year and rest most will starve. Feel sorry for those that have to live there when a few miles South, is a fully modern and prosperous country called Republic of South Korea.

Posted by porterd | Report as abusive

Fair enough. But happiness? Has anyone compared them to let’s say the Pygmies, the Mennonites, the Amish? I’m not saying one way or another, but I don’t see anyone asking about actual true personal values. Maybe they are miserable. But maybe they aren’t.

EM Burke

Posted by EMBurke | Report as abusive

This is a good article for the 50%+ of this country who is convinced that government solutions ‘work.’ A strong government is working great for North Korea.

Posted by LeslieWest | Report as abusive