The seventh Workers' Party of North Korea congress has just ended, the first since 1980 when the nations' first leader, Kim Il Sung, announced that his son, Kim Jong Il, would succeed him, which he did in 1994. This congress was convened by his son, the 33-year old Kim Jong Un, who has used it to consolidate his power. Among the more noticeable of things that happened is that he was named to be Chairman of the party. It has been widely noted that the congress fits in with a policy of elevating the party in comparison with the military, which was apparently favored by his late party. So the congress elevates both the party and Kim Jong Un.
What is of perhaps more interest for readers of this blog is what economic policies came out of the congress. It is interesting to me at least that prior to the congress outside observers were very much up in the air about what it would do regarding economic policy, aside from reconfirming the "byungjin" policy of simultaneous pursuit of nuclear weapons and economic growth, or as some wags have put, both guns and butter.
A particular issue of controversy involves agricultural policy, which has involved an unofficial spread of more or less free markets. This came about after the famines and extreme food shortages of the 1990s and early 2000s, with the situation much improved, if not great. Many thought that perhaps the congress would make this policy official, although it was always understood that they might not. In the end, they did not. Official ideology of socialism remains in place, even as the reality in agriculture at least is one of more or less free markets now.
Probably the only other notable decision was to resume five year plans. Many outsiders probably think that they never went away. We (and I am guilty of this) have long described its economic system as this holdover of Stalinist command socialist central planning, and indeed it is a socialist command economy, with the notable exception of the agricultural sector as noted above. However, fiver year plans were abandoned in the late 1980s while Kim Il Sung was still in power and prior to the end of Communist Party rule in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. So this is also a return to a more officially formal socialist position.
BTW, it should be noted that the North Korean economy is probably doing better than many think. We are back to a situation where there are widely competing estimates of how its economy is doing. The Bank of (South) Korea estimates that North Korean GDP has been growing at about 1-2% per year, but numerous other observers, such as Andrei Lankov, who is based in Seoul, think it is growing at more like 7% per year. There certainly has been a lot of construction going on in Pyongyang recently, although this at least partly reflects a growing inequality between the capital city and the rest of the country in economic conditions, with the northeastern part especially poor. Much of these disagreements indeed involve trying to figure out some of these sectors such as agriculture, where it is clear that official data probably do not reflect reality.