Joan Robinson on the Two Koreas in 1977

Michael Giberson

Scott Sumner wrote, “On or about December 1978, the world’s ideology changed,”explaining that “this quotation from Joan Robinson did not seem insane in 1977”:

Before the last Korean war in 1950, the North was home to most of the country’s heavy industry. As late as 1975, its income per head still exceeded the South’s, according to Eui-Gak Hwang of Korea University in Seoul. “Obviously, sooner or later the country must be reunited,” wrote Joan Robinson, a Cambridge economist, in 1977, “by absorbing the South into socialism.” (From The Economist, here.)

Sumner elaborates his thesis and then jumps to the more speculative issue of whether the dominant ideology is changing again. Or rather, not whether it is changing, but question of the direction of change. I’m not so sure about any of these claims, but the Robinson remark certainly sounds striking to observers looking backwards.

3 thoughts on “Joan Robinson on the Two Koreas in 1977

  1. I wonder if Mssrs. Funke et al. took into account the potential “peace dividend” which might flow from removing South Korea’s most significant security concern? Put another way, perhaps some of South Korea’s defense budget might be re-directed to reunification tasks. The question is, how much, and how?

  2. Related, how much of East Germany’s and West Germany’s budgets went to policing their joint border? How does it compare to reunification costs?

    Interesting question.

  3. Wasn’t Joan Robinson a hard core leftist?

    In the 1970s people could say things like “North Korea’s per-capita income is higher than South Korea’s” and they could point to “official” statistics to buttress their claims.

    One thing the collapse of the Soviet Union and its European colonies demonstrated was that, in the absence of meaningful market prices, those “official” statistics were propaganda that misrepresented large scale economic rot.

    If the current regime in NoKo is ever overthrown, one thing we will be able to see is its monotonic immiseration of the North Korean people since its inception shortly after WWII.

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