Current scholarship on marketization from below in North Korea emphasizes the increased influence of private actors, and portrays this process as eroding state control. While these accounts are largely accurate, they risk overlooking significant policy responses on the part of North Korea’s leadership. Over the course of the past decade, the regime under Kim Jong Un has actively pursued a political-economic model that attempts to institutionalize market activity under strengthened party-state political control. In doing so, the DPRK is hewing toward a model of “market Leninism” or “party-state capitalism” akin to that pursued by contemporary China and Vietnam, rather than that of the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe. By placing North Korea’s political economy in this framework, we can better understand the two key imperatives that have characterized Kim Jong Un’s rule: institutionalization of market mechanisms and strengthened political control.

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