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One map that shows just how poor North Korea is

After the Sony hack, North Korea's gotten a lot of attention for its belligerent foreign policy. But it's also worth remember that, as a result of the Kim dynasty's misrule over the last 60 years, the North is unbelievably, crushingly poor. This map comparing North and South Korea puts that fact in pretty stark relief.

The map shows the amount of light that can be observed from space, at night, in North and South Korea (as well as a part of China). According to the Brown University researchers who put the map together, the amount of light a country emits at night is a pretty good way of measuring its prosperity. That makes sense — richer countries should have more electricity.

So here's how South and North Korea compare, both in 1992 and in 2008. The redder an area, the more light it puts out at night:

light intensity north korea (J. Vernon Henderson/Adam Storeygard/David N. Weil)

(J. Vernon Henderson, Adam Storeygard, David N. Weil)

The takeaway here is obvious. North Korea has almost no light activity at night, especially compared to the prosperous South (that big red spot is Seoul, the South Korean capital). And while South Korea got way richer — and brighter — from 1992 to 2008, North Korea hardly budged. If anything, the one tiny bright spot, the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, appears to have gotten somewhat smaller.

Looking at nighttime lights from satellites sometimes gives us a surprisingly granular look at the North Korean situation. According to a recent study by Stanford economist Yong Suk Lee, North Korean electricity use increases in cities after new economic sanctions are imposed, but dims in the countryside. That, Yong argues, reflects the Kim regime concentrating scarce wealth in elite urban areas at the expense of the rural poor.

But there just aren't a ton of resources to choose from. As the map makes clear, North Korea is a deeply impoverished place. And keeping its people poor is just one of the Kim regime's many crimes.


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