North Korean Economy Explained

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It is so difficult to find accurate numbers about the North Korean (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) economy that are less than a decade old. The World Bank information is not any better. North Korea has been able to keep secret even the broadest details about its economy.

Even the CIA’s World Factbook, one of the most reliable sources of information about the world’s countries, has very little:

North Korea does not publish reliable National Income Accounts data; the data shown are derived from purchasing power parity (PPP) GDP estimates for North Korea that were made by Angus MADDISON in a study conducted for the OECD; his figure for 1999 was extrapolated to 2011 using estimated real growth rates for North Korea’s GDP and an inflation factor based on the US GDP deflator; the results were rounded to the nearest $10 billion.

However, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) section on North Korea is blank.

What the World Factbook has taken from a number of sources:

GDP (purchasing power parity):
$40 billion (2014 est.)
$40 billion (2013 est.)
$40 billion (2012 est.)

Based on those numbers, it is among the smallest nations in the world, economically:

Labor force – by occupation:
agriculture: 37%
industry and services: 63% (2008 est.)
Unemployment rate:
25.6% (2013 est.)
25.5% (2012 est.)

That would make its unemployment rate about the same as Greece’s.

The conclusion is that the North Korean government is its economy’s worst enemy:

The North Korean government continues to stress its goal of improving the overall standard of living, but has taken few steps to make that goal a reality for its populace. In 2013-14, the regime rolled out 20 new economic development zones – now totaling 25 – set up for foreign investors, although the initiative remains in its infancy. Firm political control remains the government’s overriding concern, which likely will inhibit changes to North Korea’s current economic system.

The strong hint from the World Factbook is that its economy is not likely to change.