Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Claims and assertions... now with empirical data to boot!

Back in October, I suggested that the food crisis in North Korea is very real, not because of a definitive deficit of total food stuffs, but because of price increases in basic goods. I made the claim by piecing together ground observations and Andrei Lankov's analysis of the public distribution system, but had no empirical data to prove that the price of food was indeed increasing to unaffordable levels for everyday North Koreans.

Recently, two scholars with the Peterson Institute of International Economics have been posting articles about food and price inflation in North Korea on their blog. Marcus Noland and Stephen Haggard (the writing seems to be mostly done by Marcus Noland) collected data on rice and corn prices in the DPRK since Pyongyang's sudden currency reforms last winter. Much of their conclusions support what NGOs and UN agencies have already observed, but the empirical data that Haggard and Noland used to validate their analyses provide a definitive economic survey of the food crisis.

In the post "Inflation in North Korea," Noland observes:
A simple regression of the prices (technically their logarithmic values) against time suggests that since the beginning of 2010, inflation on an annualized basis has averaged 131 percent for rice and 138 percent for corn... Most worrisome, however are recent post-harvest observations. Unlike 2010 when, as would be expected, the price of rice fell after the harvest, the rice price has been rising continuously since the harvest. Corn prices, which tend to fall even more dramatically after the harvest, for example by nearly 50% in the three months following the harvest in 2010, have actually risen since the harvest.
further explicating what their findings actually mean, Noland continues in the post "The food situation in North Korea"
Abundant evidence suggests that the distribution of income in North Korea is becoming less equal. The upshot, as the WFP report makes clear, is that some swath of the non-elite population is being squeezed, with a reported 50-100% increase in hospital admissions of malnourished children and rising numbers of low birth-weight babies.
So, with all this analysis available and understanding the social and political hazards of allowing the starvation to continue, it's mind boggling how Washington can maintain its rhetoric on the need to "identify and complete an assessment of whether food aid assistance can effectively be provided in a manner that is transparent and targeted and reaches intended beneficiaries and avoids the risk of graft and misappropriation” in the face of such a catastrophe.

Yes, there are obviously considerations in regard to "rewarding bad behavior" and whatnots. And the systemic reforms to food production and distribution in the DPRK are long ways away from being implemented, if they have even been planned. Regardless, if the first world nations do not come to the aid of North Korea now, we will be condemning millions to unfathomable suffering and death.

There are certainly more eloquent ways to say this, but: think of the children.

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