In a post a couple of weeks ago, I analyzed inflation in the two years since the currency reform, concluding that it was high, sustained, and in the case of food products signalled a deterioration of food security. Now GoodFriends has produced some additional data. I tend to discount their statistics--they cherry-pick what they release publicly and have never been willing to share--but even with that caveat their data are disturbing. They indicate that in a two month period between September and November, in Pyongyang the black market value of the dollar rose 39 percent, the price of rice 52 percent, and the price of corn 64 percent. These figures, if true, indicate that not only are food prices rising in both won and dollar terms, but in departure from the usual seasonal pattern that they are rising after the harvest, and that the price of corn (the less preferred grain) is rising relative to rice, signalling belt-tightening by households.
Mort Abramowitz has a very good piece in the National Interest Online explaining why the US government should provide food aid to North Korea, and why it is not. Or maybe it is. According to Yonhap, the United States has agreed to provide up to 240,000 tons of food aid to North Korea. Their unnamed “diplomatic sources in Seoul” indicated that the agreement could help ensure progress at a fresh round of nuclear negotiations scheduled for later this month, adding that the sides “reached the agreement based on North Korea's pledge to implement initial measures of denuclearization that include a suspension of its uranium enrichment program." One should not believe everything one reads in the newspaper, especially when based on unnamed sources, but if correct, this would represent yet another case of “food for talks.” For those readers who believe that “food for talks” is a calumny and send me emails telling me so, just a reminder that our blog comes with a comment button. I recently provided my own take on the food insecurity situation; our views on the broader issues posed by humanitarian aid are well-known.
On the related topic of famine deaths, I did a couple of posts on two recent analyses that on the basis of the 2008 census appear to arrive at estimates of famine deaths lower than conventionally postulated. Now we have another entry—or perhaps not. At VOXEU, Ho Il Moon claims that there were 336,000 famine deaths between 1995 and 2000 and that he is the source of the South Korean government estimate put out earlier this year. I look forward to reading his forthcoming book that I hope is more nuanced than the op-ed piece.
Finally, in a recent post on corruption, I used TI’s finding that North Korea tied with Somalia for dead last in its transparency rankings for the lede. Now the DPRK has outdone itself: no more ties, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (via our friends at the DailyNK). North Korea is flat out the least democratic country in the world, placing 167th out of 167.