North Korean Economy by the Numbers

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Recent saber-rattling by the government of North Korea has led to the U.S. Navy sending a carrier group to the Sea of Japan and added to U.S. concerns about North Korea’s development of a nuclear weapon that could reach the west coast of the United States.

Whether or not the country has development the capability both to build and deliver a nuclear weapon is no more clear than the country’s economy. North Korea does not publish reliable national data on its economy, so there is an element of educated guesswork in figuring out what the country’s economy is like.

According to the CIA Factbook, North Korea’s GDP in 2012, 2013 and 2014 was $40 billion. The World Bank does not even include the country in its ranking of countries by GDP. There are nearly 200 U.S.-listed public companies with a higher market cap.

Using the Factbook’s economic numbers, North Korea 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.

About 75% of the country’s $4.15 billion in exports are sent to China and 76% of its $4.8 billion in imports come from China.

The Factbook concludes 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.

China’s recent reported decision to curtail imports of coal from North Korea as a response to the country’s continued testing of missiles and nuclear devices will hurt the economy even more. But the important thing, at least to the government, is maintaining its control over the population and strutting its nuclear stuff on the world stage.