North Korea — It’s Worse Than You Think.

Rick Margin
7 min readNov 13, 2023

Kim Jong-un is the Supreme Leader of North Korea since 2011 and, like his family predecessors for the last 75 years, he rules with absolute control. This is probably no revelation to most of you, but has it benefited North Korea? This unavoidably creates a classic capitalism vs. communism comparison, but as you’ll read, the facts speak for themselves and their really bad.

First a quick brush up of how we got here. Almost immediately following the conclusion of World War II, the US commenced an occupation (Operation Blacklist Forty) of Korea which lasted until 1948 to accept the Japanese surrender and assist in creating an independent and unified government. They set up base in present day South Korea. Meanwhile, the communist Soviet Union occupied the north with the same goal. Both sides agreed to use the 38th parallel as their operating zone.

The Soviets real agenda soon became apparent as they forcefully invaded the south beginning in 1950 and nearly defeated the overmanned Americans. Fortunately, a fortified US military force pushed the Russians out of the south and the war ended in 1953 with 2 new countries created. Note that KOREA was a unified country with a similar culture until 1948.

This 5 minute video provides more detail of the conflict.

North Korea’s public image is about the might of their economy, social progress, infrastructure, military capabilities and the power of their despotic ruler Kim Jong-un. In reality, North Korea is one of the most closed and secretive countries on the planet. This satellite says it all. The darkness which is North Korea, confirms both the lack of electricity and urban development. The bright lights in the upper left is China and the lower area is South Korea.

It seems like little has progressed for the now 26 million mostly rural North Koreans since 1948. For perspective, the Korean peninsula is roughly the size in square miles of Utah, so keeping North Korea, roughly the size of Pennsylvania, in the dark for 75 years is staggering. This graphic offers an explanation. The South, a country of 52 million, has been represented by 12 non-family elected leaders vs. the North’s 100% blood-related “leadership”.

Economic metrics for growth start with a countries GDP. According to the UN, North Korea had a GDP of $16.7 billion ranking #135th in the world, while South Korea ranks #10 with $1.6 trillion.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), Vermont has a 2022 GDP of $40 billion, over 2x’s North Korea’s.

Here’s a somewhat dated chart (re:2010) showing historic comparison of North Korea’s GDP per capita vs. South Korea’s. According to the UN, updating these numbers to 2021, South Korea’s $35,000 per capita represents a 60% increase over 2010 vs. North Korea’s $654 per capita representing roughly a 50% decline, ranking it #180 in the world. Capitalism vs. communism 101.

The quality of communications is critical for public connectivity and unity. The North Korean’s get their news in a manner more reminiscent of the early 20th century with 71% getting their news by word of mouth. Where’s the internet and cell phones?

Here’s a comparison of cell phone ownership between the North and South.

Internet usage has the same relationship between the North and South. This chart shows the South’s access. According to Statista, “as of October 2023 North Korea ranked #1 with nearly zero percent internet penetration, as the internet remains blocked for its citizens.”

A well maintained roadway system is necessary for a developing economy. Here’s how the North and South compare. North Korea is representative of a 3rd world nation.

South Korea began to evolve to an global trading economic model in the late 1980s. As of 2019, they were ranked the #8 largest importer and exporter driven by corporations like Hyundai Motor, Samsung Electronics, LG Corporation, and Kia Motors. Conversely, in 2021, North Korea ranked #186 in exports and #200 in imports. Here’s good comparison of both the content and volume of the North and South’s #1 export.

Another key indicator of the quality of life separating 3rd world and developed countries is life expectancy. According to the World Bank, there’s a 10 year difference in favor of South Korea. This is a result of its citizens struggle to access basic services like energy, healthcare and even food.

How about freedom? North Korea ranks as the 3rd least democratic country in the world in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, while The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal’s Index of Economic Freedom places the country as #1 with least economic freedom. On the other hand, according to the Freedom in the World Index, South Korea is considered to have a high human rights record in the category for human freedom in civil and political rights, with 83 points out of the 100 points.

Culture provides for another huge contrast. South Korea has been strongly influenced by Western culture in recent decades, due in part to the American military bases installed there, but also because many South Koreans are educated abroad. It’s generally considered the most youth driven Asian culture led by their high energy K-pop music, dancing and movies, high tech job opportunities and great food. On the other hand, North Korea has none of the freedoms required for bottoms-up creativity. Nor do they have the disposable income to partake in it.

Hopefully these contrasts provide you with a deeper understanding of the callous disregard Kim Jong-un has for his 26 million citizens. $654 per year. How can these glaring comparisons of 2 countries sharing the same relatively small peninsula exist? Their capitals are 3 hours apart. Thta’s the driving distance between Washington, DC and Philadelphia. I have overlaid the state of Florida to that Peninsula for more context.

Kim Jong-un cares about 3 things.



Nuclear missiles on display.

Personal Wealth

VIP Complex.
180' Yacht.
Private Jet.
Private Train.
Private Limo.

$654 Per Capita in 2022. According to Forbes Magazine, his net worth is estimated at $5 billion.

This style of tragic “leadership” is routine for communist run countries and a lesson for all who want to learn. But, according to a 2019 YouGov survey published by MarketWatch, capitalism, has plunged in popularity from a year ago, with 2 out 3 American millennials — ages 23 to 38 — supporting socialism.

Meanwhile, from the same 2019 survey, 36% of millennials polled say that they approve of communism, which is up significantly from 28% in 2018.

Fortunately, this recent Gallup Poll of all US age groups continues to show consistent support for capitalism.

But, where are Millennials are getting their information. Home? School? Social media?

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Rick Margin

A curious guy interested in both understanding & writing about meaningful issues. Email @ Join in at