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"Over the past thirty years, the rise of black and gray markets in North Korea have unmistakably transformed social relations between citizens and the government. What began as a survival strategy during a period of severe shortages of food and goods during the Great Famine in the 1990s has grown into a bona fide class of entrepreneurs1 who maintain the stability and development of the state economy. [...] The result has been an informal socioeconomic class system that intersects the historically rigid political caste system, leading to new lifestyles, the pursuit of social status, and incentives based on wealth rather than only political loyalty."

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The Understanding North Korea roundtable series is a joint program of the National Committee on North Korea and the Wilson Center’s Hyundai Motor - Korean Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy. The roundtable series was established to enable emerging scholars of North Korea to share their research ideas with peers and experts in the field, and to publish their findings in a format accessible to a general audience.

This paper reflects the views of the author alone and not those of the National Committee on North Korea, the Wilson Center, or any other organizations.


About the Author

Dr. Darcie Draudt

Postdoctoral Fellow for the George Washington University Institute for Korean Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs

Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy

The Center for Korean History and Public Policy was established in 2015 with the generous support of the Hyundai Motor Company and the Korea Foundation to provide a coherent, long-term platform for improving historical understanding of Korea and informing the public policy debate on the Korean peninsula in the United States and beyond.  Read more