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Tuesday, November 30, 2010


North Korea’s Stationary Bandit

North Korea is again making headlines in international news, this time for its shelling of the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. This incident comes amid a somewhat uncertain time for the Korean peninsula as Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s current leader, or Stationary Bandit as Olson might call him, just recently named one of his sons, Kim Jong Un, as next in line for the post of Stationary Bandit. Some think that the artillery shelling of the South was a move by the North Koreans to build up some credentials for the new heir and to warn the South against interfering in the process of handing over power to the next bandit.

In Power and Prosperity, Olson says that “dynastic succession” benefits everyone in a society because it extends the planning horizon of the subjects ruled and encourages them to plan for long term investments and income. Having a clear line of succession may also be beneficial to a society because it reduces the likelihood of a succession crisis that would throw a society into chaos.

However, this might not be the situation in the case of North Korea as some have interpreted both the recent sinking of the South Korean warship and the shelling of the South Korean island as independent acts of dissent amongst some in the North Korean military. They may be opposed to Kim Jong Il appointing one of his sons as the next leader of Korea. Some have even predicted that when the elder Kim dies there will be a fight amongst many in his government over who succeeds him despite his naming of his son as heir. We will just have to wait and see if Kim Jong Un is able to consolidate his position and support for his rule in time to avert a succession fight when his father finally does die; some experts say he may not have long.



The might be another aspect to the logic of power in this case. North Korea has nuclear weapons, and I have heard some commentators explain the actions you are considering in terms of this bandit attempting to hold other countries up. In the past, the bandit threatened to use force in a more broad way after some act, and in return countries like the U.S. sent money.
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