How North Koreans make money

A lawless form of marketization has replaced the iron rice bowl of work in state companies, and many North Koreans think in terms of trade and profit.

There are a variety of ways one can make money in North Korea. For government officials (whose official salaries are neglible) it is access to things like the diplomatic pouch (for smuggling), the army (which is used more for construction projects than fighting), foreign North Korean-owned restaurants, weapons deals, or food rations that can be turned into cash.

For the average citizen, the entrepreneurial spirit is pretty astounding. In various neighborhoods in every major city, the authors claim, there is a middle-aged woman who rents apartments for sex by the hour. “Her preferred time will be in the afternoon, when her children are at school, and her husband is at work,” they write.

Or one can learn to perform a plepharoplasty, which is the surgery that gives people fold lines along the eyelids. “Those who do it well,” the authors note, “will benefit from word of mouth, and be able to make a good living.”

There are also those who have managed to get a Chinese phone that connects to the Chinese network. “Over half of those who have made calls out of North Korea with Chinese phones do not actually possess one themselves,” the authors explain. Instead there are phone owners who make their living renting out time on their illegal phones.

“North Korea’s new ‘system’ is unfair and Darwinian,” the authors write, “but at least gives the average person a sense of agency.”

[The Daily Beast]          Read more

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  1. Pingback: The jangmadang market system of North Korea | North Korea Refugees

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