Markets, Markets Everywhere

After most socialist revolutions the newly established burgeoisie (the revolutionaries who claimed to be fighting for the proletariat) begin monopolizing the economy. This monopolization involves the use of violence in an attempt to completely suppress markets. Shortly after the state begins its war on markets nasty periods of bread lines and starvation begin. As it turns out there is no way for the state to plan an economy and when it attempts to do so everything falls apart. Fortunately markets, which are nothing more than events of human economic interaction, cannot be suppressed and when things start turning south in a planned economy markets begin to spring up in spite of the law. An interesting editorial in the New York Times written by a North Korean expatriate explains who even in a totalitarian state like North Korea markets continue to be the salvation of the people:

Dialogue will never entice the regime to give up its nuclear weapons; the nuclear program is tightly linked to its survival. And talks will not lead to change over the long term; the regime sees them only as a tool for extracting aid. High-level diplomacy is no strategy for getting the regime to make economic reforms. The key to change lies outside the sway of the regime — in the flourishing underground economy.

All North Koreans depended for their very survival on a state rationing system until it collapsed in the mid-1990s. Its demise was due in part to the regime’s concentrated investment of funds in a “party economy” that maintained the cult of the Kims and lavished luxuries on an elite instead of developing a normal economy based on domestic production and trade. Desperate people began to barter household goods for rice on the streets — and the underground economy was born. With thousands of people starving to death, the authorities had no option but to turn a blind eye to all the illegal markets that began to pop up.

Like the Soviet Union, North Korea now has a flourishing “underground” economy, which is the only thing preventing more people from starving to death. In fact the “underground” economy has become so rampant that party members have had to give up the ideals of socialism and involve themselves in markets.

Jang Jin-sung, the author, rightly points out that North Korea’s salvation from tyranny isn’t diplomacy, sanctions, or war. The country’s salvation lies in its markets. The only way to topple a regime is to take away its power and the only effective means of doing that, without establishing another regime in its place, is to starve it of resources. Socialist states such as North Korea monopolize the economy because it gives them unfettered access the nation’s resources. Instead of burdening the general population with taxes socialist states merely claim that the best way for everybody to flourish is if the entire economy is controlled by the ruling class (which is ironic when you consider the philosophical reason for socialism is supposedly to overthrow the ruling class and empower all people).

Although they probably don’t realize it the people in North Korea who are participating in the “underground” economy are agorists. Agorism is a simple idea where the people withhold resources from the state by participating in an “underground” economy. Through this practice the state is starved of resources and loses its legitimacy in the eyes of the people. Who is going to suffer a state when it does nothing but take resources? The people of North Korea can be saved but it is up to them. No outside force is going to save them. At most an outside force, such as the United States, would merely topple the current regime and put another, possibly more brutal, regime in its place. If the North Korean people can topple the regime by depriving the state of resources they will come out with a functioning economy already in place and have no need to suffer another regime.