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Entrepreneurship, North Korea Style: Making a Blood Purge Pay

Kim Jong-un and Dennis Rodman
North Korea long has been called the “Hermit Kingdom.”  Although the North’s isolation has eased in recent years, it still resembles “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” as Winston Churchill famously described the Soviet Union.  For instance, no one is sure what to make of the execution of the young leader’s uncle and one-time mentor Jang Song-taek. 

However, the latest turmoil provides an important entrepreneurial opportunity for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, one of the world’s poorest nations.  Jang was tasked with promoting economic development but then denounced for having “seriously obstructed the nation’s economic affairs and the improvement of the standard of people’s living.”

No one knows the truth of this charge.  But something continues to obstruct economic development.  And a bloody purge will only make things worse, since investors and traders crave stability.  I

Something needs to be done to spark the sort of growth in North Korea occurring elsewhere in East Asia. The answer is to turn the purge into a profit-making opportunity.  Why not also use the process to make some cash? 

Start with T-shirts. A colleague of mine suggested “I Survived the Purge” would be a winner with tourists—as well as residents of Pyongyang, assuming anyone actually survives the purge.  Other ideas include “I was Purged and All I got was this T-Shirt” and “Purge them All and Let God Sort Them Out.” 

Tourist shops could stock bobble-heads of political favorites, including winners and losers in the North’s ongoing political battles.  Directed especially at the Russian market would be matryoshka dolls, with successively smaller figures fitting within the others. 

The Kim troika, Great Leader, Dear Leader, and Cute (although increasingly Tough) Leader, would be essential for every collector.  Fallen rivals, like Jang, could be dressed in prison garb or placed on a tombstone—or perhaps hold their bouncing heads in their hands rather than on their necks.

The Kim dynasty could license a special line of liquors, along the lines of Jack Daniels’ new “Sinatra Select,” named after Frank Sinatra, who favored the brand.  The late Kim Jong-il was a devoted fan of Chivas Regal. Perhaps Kim fils has a special drink he relaxes with—and sips while purging and executing his enemies. 

Another opportunity is product endorsements.  Kim Jong-il cornered the market on platform shoes and big sun-glasses, as well as bouffant hair styles.  Kim Jong-un loves basketball.  What American boy would want to be without the special Kim Jong-un ball and hoop set? 

Indeed, there’s no reason to stop with basketball products.  The latter Kim could team up with his close personal friend and NBA great Dennis Rodman to start a professional basketball league in North Korea. Imagine the Pyongyang Purge playing on an international tour. 

The North Koreans also should create board, card and video games centered around their unique “social system,” as they called their society when I visited years ago.  Who needs “Monopoly” when you can have “Show Trial”?  Trade in venerable “Risk” for “Smash the American Imperialists.” 

The online possibilities are endless.  The DPRK version of “Civilization” could allow players to develop societies without electricity filled with starving people driving ox-carts on dirt roads. Combat games could feature liberation from South Korean oppression, overthrow of Japanese colonialism, and, of course, destruction of American imperialism.  

Finally, the North needs to tap into the global cultural marketplace.  Who needs Hollywood, Bollywood (India), and Nollywood (Nigeria) when you could have Pollywood in Pyongyang?  (In fact, Kim Jong-il was so committed to developing a domestic movie industry that he ordered the kidnapping of foreigners to produce North Korean works.)

Television offers even greater opportunities.  For instance, North Korea’s “Survivor” could put several dedicated revolutionaries in a desert or jungle and see who could build the biggest monument to Kim Jong-un. A group of North Koreans could be lodged in the same house tasked with determining who among them was the counter-revolutionary allied with Jang Song-taek. 

Obviously, these activities would only be the start of an economic revival.  Reform is required throughout the DPRK economy.  But turning bloody purges and political infighting into profit-centers would generate needed hard currency.  Doing so also would demonstrate the sort of entrepreneurship that foreign investors and traders should appreciate.

Jang Song-taek, noted “human scum,” is no longer with us.  But his legacy could live on if the Kim regime grasps the opportunity before it. With the right marketing, Jang could end up bigger than Darth Vader, an enemy of truly global proportions.  And Pyongyang could profit in the process.

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