Small advances in freedom - small compared to the freedom we are taking for granted - can make a huge difference in the living conditions and outlook of people, and ultimately, in their political ambitions.
The world barely noticed a remarkable achievement last year: For the first time in nearly three decades, North Korean farmers managed to produce enough food to meet the population's basic survival needs. In spite of a drought this spring, preliminary reports indicate that this year's harvest is likely to be good, too.
This success, such as it is, arose out of necessity. In the 1990s, industrial output in North Korea halved and an agricultural collapse led to famine. The vast majority of North Koreans survived by establishing an underground market economy. They had little choice: With the shelves of state-run shops empty of food, rationing coupons suddenly became worthless pieces of paper.
Most of these private enterprises started small. Farmers started growing their own food on mountainside plots. Workers began to use (or steal) equipment from state-owned factories to make their own products, which they then sold. Some people opened secret restaurants, others did informal tailoring. Markets, which the regime had barely tolerated, moved into the open.
As one might expect, some elements of North Korea’s emerging entrepreneurial class became relatively rich and began to look for more lucrative opportunities. Private workshops, inns and eateries began to spring up.
seldom start when people are desperate; they are more likely to erupt when citizens have [attained a certain level of material advancement, G.T., and therefore] come to believe that life could be significantly better under different leadership. Economic growth brings more knowledge of the (more successful) outside world. The changes also make people less fearful of the government, since they are no longer as dependent on the state for their livelihoods. A brighter future for North Koreans could well mean a darker one for the regime.