North Korea

The Atlantic on Why North Koreans Don't Have Enough Food


Because I need to feel good about high-fiving over death, no matter whose, check out Jordan Weissmann over at The Atlantic who has a concise overview of why the hell North Koreans always seem to be starving.

North Korea has mountainous, rough terrain which is not great for growing but that difficulty is multiplied by the delusionally isolationist North Korean juche philosophy which meant that the country is supposed to grow all its own food (a difficulty made worse once the country lost its Soviet sugerdaddy in 1991.) Also, the fact that collectivised farming did not go out with those millions of dead Ukrainian peasants in 1933 proved fatal to 1-3 million North Koreans as well.


One Cold War relic in desperate need of reform the country's food distribution system. Crops like rice and corn were raised on collectivist farms, then doled out by the state. The process served a political purpose by funneling cheap food to the country's outsized military, as well as citizens in the capital of Pyongyang, which together made up the base of Kim's power. But it was also ready to collapse. 

In 1995, when the globe first learned about the North Korean famine, Massive floods decimated as much as 15% of North Korea's farmable land. Local officials began hoarding food they were charged with distributing. And a fuel shortage made it impossible to move crops around the country. The government appealed to the World Food Program for humanitarian aid, blaming the floods for the disaster. Yet even as he sought help from abroad, Kim deepened the crisis at home by stumbling into a war with his country's farmers.

Without enough food to go around, the North Korean regime had turned to triage. Pyongyang and the military had to eat, so the government cut rations for farmers instead, slashing the portion of their harvest they could keep to feed their own families. Predictably, there were severe consequences. Faced with the unappealing prospect of going hungry, farmers began hiding their grain. In 1996, the World Food Program found that half the country's corn crop had gone missing. Reports spread of farmers' roofs collapsing under the weight of stashed food. Soldiers were sent to guard the fields at harvest time, but as a United States Institute for Peace report noted, they were easily bribed. After all, the soldiers were hungry, too.

The rest here.

Reason on North Korea and Ira Stoll's most recent column on "Remembering Kim Jong-Il's Victims"(the details of which are rather difficult to read).


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  1. Now libertarians are trying to tell the North Koreans how to live. (Not that I have a problem with it, but you should at least admit it.)

    1. The stupid… it burns!!

    2. B+, for the obviousness of the spoof.

    3. Better than telling them how to die.

    4. Tony|12.20.11 @ 1:54PM|#
      “Now libertarians are trying to tell the North Koreans how to live. (Not that I have a problem with it, but you should at least admit it.)”

      That’s a lie, shithead.

    5. Really? I didn’t realize Jordan Weissmann is a libertarian.
      I also didn’t realize so many North Koreans read Atlantic or Reason.
      OK, even assuming for a moment he’s libertarian, and that North Koreans read Hit & Run,
      what’s wrong with telling starving people how to live?

    6. Capitalist countries sanctioned North Korea, which is causing their people to starve. This is all capitalist tyranny Koch brothers fault!!!1!1!eleven!! You people should be compassionate and cave into the demands of the most wise and righteous Kim Jong Il… wait, he’s dead? Oh, well, Kim Jong Un, then!

  2. You know, it seems that Lucy’s articles are always appearing on the website much later than the timestamp at the head of the article would indicate. I’ve seen it happen with other contributors, but it seems to happen a lot with hers.

    I blame the free market.

    1. And she sneaks it back in between previous articles too. Very shady.

    2. Plus, she hasn’t played with the groundlings in a few days. I smell conspiracy.

      1. It’s probably somehow tied to the conspiracy mentioned below re: the divergence between north and south in various nations.

        The KOCHTOPUS and the Illuminati are in on it together. Hell, maybe the Koch Bros. are the current head of the Illuminati, and Lucy is their Metatron.

        1. Yes.

          1. *shakes head* You’re not very good at being a mastermind conspirator, are you? You’re not supposed to admit your involvement. I’m never robbing a bank with you.

            1. Metatron Megatron

        2. head

          Heh heh heh.

    3. I blame home schooling.

  3. Prior to WWII, Northern Korea was the industrial part of the country while most of the agriculture was in the south.

    1. Same thing in Germany, Italy, and America (industrialized north, agricultural south). Seems like some kind of conspiracy.

      1. All those countries are in the Northern Hemisphere, which means the southern parts have (on average) longer growing seasons.

        1. Thanks for raining on my parade with your “facts”, asshole.

        2. And just who decided that? This only proves that it is a solar system wide conspiracy.

        3. Well, for a place as small as Korea, I wouldn’t think there’s much difference between the north and the south.

          1. I’m not saying it’s the reason in every case, just the fact that that’s a general trend in many countries (which are mostly located in the Northern hemisphere) is not surprising.

          2. The South is also somewhat less mountainous and more fertile.

          3. It’s not all that small. Just looks small next to China and Russia. Winter in New Jersey and winter in New Hampshire are pretty different.

          4. You can fit in a lot more microclimates in a region as mountainous as Korea.

        4. Which means their insects don’t freeze to death which means more of their crops get infested.

    2. Of course if the North had traded all of those metals with the South in return for food, it wouldn’t be starving. Instead the North embarked on an insane for of self reliance fascism. That is why they are starving.

  4. Communism would work if it wasn’t for all of those damn hoarders.

  5. They also built a large dam, for no apparent purpose besides demonstrating how great and powerful they are, which flooded a good portion of the remaining arable land.

  6. I reject the whole premise of that article. North Korea has exactly the right amount of food. It just has too many people trying to eat it.

    Slowly, that latter problem is working itself out as the surplus population defects to China or drops dead.

    Onward, Great Successor!

  7. defects to China

    You know the situation is bad when that is a good idea.

    1. There’s a book that came out last year in which a bunch of the defectors were interviewed. One of them reported that on his first night in China, he came across a bowl of white rice sitting outside someone’s house. North Korea’s central planning worked so miserably, that it is the only Asian country where white rice is hard to come by.

      The defector, overwhelmed by his good luck, starts gobbling the rice. After a few minutes, he realized that the chinese person had left the dish out for his dog, i.e., dogs in China ate better than people in North Korea.

      1. i.e., dogs in China ate better than people in North Korea.

        So they beat the obesity problem before Michelle did? The First Lady must feel so cheated!

      2. dogs in China ate better than people in North Korea

        My dogs probably eat better than people in China.

  8. Juche = Self Reliance is too results orientated to be the national philosophy of N Korea.

    “Our national philosophy is self-reliance” + “We are starving” = We Suck. You don’t have a national philosophy of telling your people We Suck.

    Juche has to be one of those commie window dressing slogans they were famous for.

    1. From Kim Jong-il’s On the Juche Idea,
      “The people must have independence in thought and politics, economic self-sufficiency, and self-reliance in defense.”
      “Policy must reflect the will and aspirations of the masses and employ them fully in revolution and construction.”
      “Methods of revolution and construction must be suitable to the situation of the country.”
      “The most important work of revolution and construction is molding people ideologically as communists and mobilizing them to constructive action.”
      “The Juche outlook requires absolute loyalty to the Workers’ Party of Korea and Kim Jong-il.”

  9. But but but but….they have top men in charge of food distribution! Top! Men!

  10. Snap to it, Mercy Corps and World Vision! The North Korean military’s not going to feed itself!

  11. who has a concise overview of why the hell North Koreans always seem to be starving.

    Without reading the article, they’re starving because North Korea is in a permanent cycle of deficit spending and economic stimulus.

  12. Faced with the unappealing prospect of going hungry, farmers began hiding their grain.

    North Korean Tony: Hiding their assets, hu? Why, those miserable hoarders! How do they expect to pay for civilization?

  13. North Korea and Switzerland have roughly the same overall population density (although a greater proportion of Swizterland is mountains). No one starves in Switzerland, in fact they can fully feed themselves if need be. So, what’s North Korea’s problem?

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