There are also approximately 100,000 North Koreans sent abroad to work mainly as manual laborers, whose earnings are taxed at near confiscatory rates. (Much of this is detailed in a lawsuit filed by a North Korean ship worker who worked 12-hour days at a shipyard in Poland in unsafe conditions with almost all of his wages paid in taxes to Pyongyang.) It’s a scheme that provides Kim’s regime with the hard currency it needs to build nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them.
It should go without saying that this system will never yield the kind of healthy economy that Trump dreams of for North Korea. For North Korea to be prosperous, its citizens cannot live in perpetual terror and fear. The problem for Kim is that, without fear, his regime would crumble.
For now, then, it doesn’t look like an economic revolution is on the horizon. Trump’s instinct to try to negotiate a deal to at least defang this menace is not crazy. But his offer to make North Korea prosperous is foolish.