Author | Editor: Kuznar, L. (NSI, Inc.)
No primary data were available for analysis. Instead, a literature review of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, i.e., North Korea) inequality and stability is summarized.
Primary data on North Korean inequality are not available. However, anecdotal information and innovative means of tracking resource flows indicate that the DPRK may be by far the most unequal society in the world, with a small elite (less than 10%) controlling virtually all wealth, leaving the rest of the population at barely or below subsistence level.
Significance for Risk Taking and Stability
Since the vast majority of the population is probably at near equal levels of impoverishment, they are probably risk averse toward one another, since there is no status to be gained or lost. Because the elite control the existence of the population in this totalitarian society, the population does not have the means to challenge elite control. Therefore, at this time, the risk sensitivity of the population at large is probably not relevant to state stability. Because wealth is concentrated at the top and the state uses material rewards (income, apartments, luxury goods) to incentivize party members, there is likely intense competition and risk acceptance among elites. Rumors of coup plots among these elites indicates that extremely high levels of risk acceptance exist in this segment of DPRK society.
Implications for US Interests
While the risk sensitivity of the population may not be relevant to US interests, the likely risk acceptance of the elite could open the possibility for elites (military officers, high ranking party officials) to challenge central state authority. However, because central party figures punish perceived and real challenges harshly, it is difficult to gauge the extent to which elite risk acceptance could translate to challenges to the central party and the Kim family.
Implications for China’s Interests
China faces the same dilemma regarding risk sensitivity of North Koreans as does the US. It is illustrative that Kim Jong-un is reported to have executed one of China’s key links to the DPRK government, his uncle Jang Song-thaek, who may have been involved in a coup plot (rumored to have involved Kim Jong- un’s half-brother and China). The execution of Kim Jong-un’s uncle and half-brother demonstrates the absolute control the Kim family exercises over all in the country.
Implications for Russia’s Interests
North Korean inequality has the same implications as China and the US, but because events concerning the DPRK have less impact on Russia, any consequences have less effect on Russian interests.