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Crabs, Skinny Jeans, Porn: Huge In North Korea

Even in North Korea, there's a consumer economy. The Korea Herald reports:

Skinny jeans, blue crabs, pig-intestine rolls and even human manure were some of the hottest items among North Korean consumers this year, according to a South Korean professor who has interviewed recent defectors from the communist country.

Kim Young-soo, a political science professor at Seoul's Sogang University, said in a conference on Tuesday that adult movies, television dramas and instant noodle "ramen" made in South Korea are also selling "like hot cakes" in North Korea.

The consumer goods — the jeans, the porn — "are signs that North Korea is easing its isolation," the professor said, particularly in the capital and near the Chinese border.

On the other hand, some of the more basic items are a result of increased tensions with South Korea, and greater limits on trade between the nations.

With imports of chemical fertilizer from the south cut off, human manure is being used as fertilizer. Blue crabs were formerly exported to the south, but fewer exports mean more are now being eaten in the north.

As the blog North Korean Economy Watch recently noted, North Korea "has markets but no market institutions." In other words, people buy and sell things, but the country lacks the kinds of clear, consistently enforced rules about property and contracts that allow commerce to thrive.

For more: We had a podcast on North Korea's economy back in May of '09. In November of '09, the government overhauled the nation's currency, which rendered peoples' personal savings worthless. Here's a New Yorker story on the aftermath of the overhaul.

Hat tip: Marginal Revolution

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