Record of Economic Performance
A lack of reliable data inhibits an accurate quantitative
assessment of North Korea's economic performance. In mid-1993
North Korea remains one of the most secretive nations in the
world, limiting the release of its economic data to the outside
world and, for that matter, to its own population. Until about
1960, North Korea released economic data relatively more freely.
Beginning in the 1960s, the publication of economic data began to
dwindle dramatically; the withholding of information coincided
with the beginning of the economy's slowdown.
The small amount of data that is published suffers from
ambiguities and gaps and--more often than not--is in the form of
percentages that do not provide base figures or explain the
precise meaning of aggregated data. Moreover, North Korean
macroeconomic aggregates such as national income, which is based
on Marxist definitions, has to be modified in order to be
comparable to customary Western standards. In the 1980s and early
1990s, only limited quantitative or qualitative information about
the North Korean economy was available. Quantitative information
on foreign trade is a welcome exception because the statistical
returns from North Korea's trade partners are gathered by such
international organizations as the United Nations (UN) and the
International Monetary Fund
(IMF--see Glossary), and South Korean
organizations such as the National Unification Board.
Estimating gross national product
(GNP--see Glossary) is a
difficult task because of the dearth of economic data, the
national income accounting procedures based on the Marxist
definition of production, and the problem of choosing an
appropriate rate of exchange for the
wn (see Glossary)--
the nonconvertible North Korean currency. The South Korean
government's estimate placed North Korea's GNP in 1991 at US$22.9
billion, or US$1,038 per capita. This estimate of economic
accomplishment pales next to South Korea's GNP of US$237.9
billion with a per capita income of US$5,569 that same year.
North Korea's GNP in 1991 showed a 5.2 percent decline over 1989,
and preliminary indications were that the decline would continue.
In contrast, South Korea's GNP grew by 9.3 percent and 8.4
percent, respectively, in 1990 and 1991.
Data as of June 1993