Succession politics in North Korea

While it’s clear that I’ve got to find something to write about besides North Korea (soon, soon, I promise), I can’t resist linking this blog entry from FP on a (possibly) budding sibling rivalry between Kim Jong-Un, the successor-designate, and Kim Jong-Nam, the elder son whose partying lifestyle apparently led him to being passed over for the throne this spring.

Named successors are pretty rare things, and when they happen, I’m always reminded of Gordon Tullock’s answer as to why they’re so rare: they’re dangerous, both for the incumbent and the now publicly-named next in line. Tullock argues that designating a successor helps coordinate those who would wish to alter the succession but who, in the absence of a focal point, would have trouble overcoming a basic plotter’s dilemma: I want to topple the king, but I don’t want to be the only one (because then I’m terribly easy to kill). Named successors can help coordinate the opposition or, and I’m thinking aloud here, maybe force the hand of rival claimants to the throne…and this just might have something to do with Kim Jong-Nam throwing wrenches into his younger brother’s plans and, in retaliation, Jong-Un’s reported attempt to have his brother assassinated. The counterfactual, of course, would be that in the absence of a named successor, there would be sufficient uncertainty, given the government’s coercive power, to induce caution on the part of would-be troublemakers who seem willing to move only now, once Jong-Un won the family’s favor.

Why bring this up? Well, if named successions are so dangerous, it begs the question of why they’re used. What did Kim Jong-Il stand to gain from naming the heir apparent? I’m working out an answer, so look for more on this later..

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