Kim Jong Il, the megalomaniacal and eccentric dictator of North Korea died of a heart attack Saturday:
SEOUL, South Korea — Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader who realized his family’s dream of turning his starving, isolated country into a nuclear-weapons power even as it sank further into despotism, died on Saturday of a heart attack while traveling on his train, according to an announcement Monday by the country’s state-run media.
Word of Kim’s death sent shock waves through North Korea’s Asia neighbors and reverberated around the world, reflecting the unpredictable outcome of an abrupt leadership change in one of the most opaque and repressive countries. North Korea is technically still at war with South Korea and the United States after nearly 60 years and has few friends besides China.
South Korea immediately put its armed forces on a high state of alert, and the South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that North Korea tested an unspecified number of short-range missiles on Monday morning. The news agency said the tests were conducted before the announcement of Mr. Kim’s death. The Defense Ministry in Seoul said it could not comment on the report.
The North had kept news of the death of its leader secret for roughly two days, perhaps a sign that the leadership was struggling to position itself for what many believe could be a particularly perilous transition.
A few hours after the announcement, the ruling Workers’ Party and other state institutions released a joint statement suggesting Mr. Kim’s chosen successor, his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, was in charge.
The statement called the son "the great successor to the revolution" and "the eminent leader of the military and the people." It was the first time North Korea referred to the son as "leader" since his ailing father pulled him out of obscurity in September last year and made him a four-star general and vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party.
The Workers’ Party said that “Under the leadership of our comrade Kim Jong-un, we have to turn sadness into strength and courage, and overcome today’s difficulties.”
K.C.N.A., the official news agency, said North Korean soldiers and citizens were swearing allegiance to Kim Jong-un. People on the streets of Pyongyang broke into tears as they learned of Mr. Kim’s death, The Associated Press reported from Pyongyang.
That last part about the tears is a bit of an understatement-- they broke into a mass hysteria of uncontrollable sobbing and breast-beating as only a thoroughly brainwashed cult could do:
The Washington Post has a piece up entitled Kim Jong Il's economic legacy in one chart:
One easy way to evaluate the legacies of North Korean dictators Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il is to compare their country’s economic performance with South Korea’s over the past four decades. The difference is stunning.
Back in 1970, the two countries were roughly comparable — in fact, AEI’s Nicholas Eberstadt argues that, at the time of Mao Zedong’s death, North Korea’s workers were more productive and better educated than China’s. But, as you can see from the graph below, North and South Korea’s economies massively diverged around 1976, as North Korea’s rigid central-planning economy failed to keep up:
But remember that this isn't just Kim Jong Il's legacy. This didn't happen because Kim Jong Il was just a horrible leader. It happened because no matter how good your leadership is, you cannot centrally plan a modern economy with any level of success, certainly not better than the voluntary actions of creative individuals in a free marketplace can. This is the economic legacy of central (i.e. coercive) planning, and we see it everywhere that central planning is implemented. The difference between that and a free economy is stark, as I discovered with my own eyes during my brief tour of Korea earlier this year.
So how should the United States respond? I've been arguing since 2009 that Washington should do absolutely everything within its power to open up more trade with North Korea, as daunting a task as that might seem. It is the best thing the international community can do to improve relations with North Korea while raising North Korean standards of living and subtly eroding its dictatorial government's power.