North Korea embraces capitalism by default
Writing in the Asia Times, Andrei Lankov, Australian National University, tells the remarkable story of how North Korea is making the transition from socialist-made famine in the 1990s to a de facto market economy. It began with a slight relaxation in domestic travel permits, and the propensity of officials to take a bribe. Other factors combined to set in motion the logic of markets: the move the masses of people into the cities for food, the establishment of informal businesses (run mostly by women), the rise of a merchant class, access to foreign currency, underground money lenders, and the inability of the government to fight back for lack of resources. This is a remarkable case study.
As the author says: "In the Soviet Union of the late 1950s and in China of the late 1970s, Stalinism-Maoism was dismantled from above, through a chain of deliberate reforms planned and implemented by the government. In North Korea the same thing happened, but the system disintegrated from below, despite weak and ineffectual attempts to keep it intact."