Just a day after North Korean apologists took to the streets in Washington, D.C. for May Day, Vox asserted the North Korean economy is “doing pretty well.”
In an article originally titled, “Turns out North Korea’s economy is actually doing pretty well,” Zeeshan Aleem wrote about North Korea’s economic growth—despite international sanctions.
Aleem cited a New York Times article about how North Korea’s economy is allegedly growing at a rate from one to five percent, despite the country remaining “deeply impoverished.”
In Aleem’s piece, he similarly notes the living conditions for most North Koreans is “nightmarish”:
None of this is to say that the quality of life in North Korea for many is anything other than nightmarish. Food shortages are rampant, and the economy is far from self-sufficient: About 70 percent of the population relies on food aid, and 40 percent of the country is malnourished, according to the United Nations.
Aleem specifically names a “rise of a merchant class and a vibrant black market” as the primary cause for economic growth. Aleem mentions smugglers who bring in pirated copies of movies and people who own cell phones, along with the growth of government-approved shopping malls and the existence of Coke products.
Unlike the original headline of Aleem’s article, however, the headline of the New York Times’ piece makes no mistake that the growth of the North Korean economy is because of Kim Jong-Un’s slipping grip on the economy.
In fact, the New York Times piece also notes that the increase in those shopping malls is for those who are “under the protection of ruling party officials.” It even says “Reliable economic data is scarce.”
When Vox shared the article on Twitter, they copied the original—yet incredibly misleading—headline of the article.
After receiving backlash for the notion that North Korea is “actually doing pretty well,” without issuing a correction or an update, Vox changed the headline to a more accurate headline: “The North Korean economy is actually growing despite sanctions.”
Mentioning sanctions as the mere cause of North Korea’s economic strife, however, is still inaccurate. North Korea is a government that, with the exception of the growing underground economy, controls the daily economic lives of its citizens. North Korea’s government also controls the country’s media consumption and throws dissenters in internment camps.
To simply call sanctions the root cause of North Korea’s economic ills shows an ignorance of North Korea’s controlled economy. To say North Korea’s economy is simply “doing well” is so turning a blind eye to the struggle of the North Koreans who are suffering every day.
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