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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Slave to the Blog: The Only New York Band That Matters Edition

by | January 19th, 2013 | 07:00 am

In honor of Marcus Noland’s recent post inspired by The Clash, Rolling Stone Magazine’s 28th greatest band of all time,  here’s a tribute to the 26th greatest band of all time.  Here’s hoping The Ramones had North Korea in mind in their song titles as well.

Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World

In one of the stranger news stories to come along in the new year, its been reported that the North Korean government is building a museum dedicated to Khmer culture in Cambodia.  Not only has the government spent at least $10 million building the museum, the construction itself is being completed by a North Korean state-run group called the Mansudae Art Studio.  At nearly $600/MT, that $10 million would buy close to 17 thousand metric tons of rice, a non negligible share of North Korea’s current uncovered food deficit of 207 thousand metric tons.  Also, while Cambodia is hardly regarded as the “freest” of nations, the North Koreans still kept close tabs on the Korean workers working on the project.  One Cambodian engineer remarked, “The North Koreans? I heard they’re building a digital museum. But we don’t really know. They do everything behind that metal wall. They never come out.”

This Ain’t Havana

Hot off the press after reporting on Koryo tours highlights of 2012 comes news of another player in the North Korean travel market. Voyages Jules Verne out of the UK have recently added North Korea to their “World of Wonder” list of destinations.  Referring to North Korea as “The Last Unknown,” which sounds like a great title for a spy thriller, Voyages Jules Verne promises “ Those who will have the privilege to visit this surprisingly beautiful country will experience fine coastline and magical mountain resorts, an orderly and well-mannered life, striking architecture and monuments, of which many portray the ‘eternal president’ Kim Il Sung, and even the deepest metro system in the world (110 metres), found in Pyongyang.”  Sounds like a great trip.  The “orderly and well-mannered life” in an authoritarian dictatorship is surely a perk and who doesn’t want to ride the deepest metro station in the world.  The escalator ride down into the DuPont Circle metro station here in DC always ends too soon.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Thanks to Justin Rohrlich for passing this one on.  For those looking for a surefire investment opportunity, check out the following item recently posted on ebay.  Currently priced at $36 US, the lucky bidder will get their hands on an authentic 50 Won 1950 North Korean bond.  While we’re not sure about the maturity date, recent price data in North Korea suggests this might be the right paper for the absolute most risk loving investors among us.

Sheena Is a Punk Rocker

News from the DailyNK states that women have once again been banned from riding bicycles in North Korea.  Women had been allowed to ride bicycles last year, but the privilege was rescinded on the 10th of January.  In addition, the penalty for women riding bicycles was significantly increased.  In the previous ban, women were only fined an amount not to exceed 5,000 Won, but now women will have their bicycles confiscated.  They are also banned from riding on the backs of bicycles as passengers.  The logic of this move is quite strange.  Kim Jong-il supposedly banned women from riding bicycles in the ’90s following the death of the daughter of a high ranking official.  Assuming no major accident preceded the new ban, one might wonder if this is a move to curtail private market activity.  As Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland reported in the recent working paper, Gender in Transition: The Case of North Koreawomen are even more likely than men to participate in private market activities.  Transportation is a necessary ingredient in getting goods to market so a ban on women riding bicycles is sure to harm private market participants.

Three additional Ramones song titles appear below.  Submit your best North Korea story match in the comments.  These shouldn’t be too hard.

Blitzkrieg Bop

I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement

Chinese Rock