Could Warren Buffett Buy North Korea?

Thus spake the headline in Le Figaro by that paper’s Beijing correspondent Arnaud de le Grange, whose dispatch of 23 October runs goes a little something like this:

Le magazine Forbes a mis en parallèle la fortune de certains de ses hôtes du classement des 400 premières fortunes mondiales et les économies de plusieurs pays.

Au lieu de se payer châteaux en ­France, îlots paradisiaques dans les Caraïbes ou yachts de luxe à la 007, les plus hardis des milliardaires de la planète pourraient se mettre à acheter des États. Et si possible des pays englués dans une misère crasse, de manière à rendre service à l’humanité… Le magazine Forbes s’est ainsi amusé à mettre en parallèle la fortune de certains de ses hôtes du classement des 400 premières fortunes mondiales et les économies de plusieurs pays. Le plus riche des Américains, Bill Gates, avec ses 50 milliards de dollars, peut toiser les PIB de 140 pays de la planète. Même des «petits budgets» comme Gary Magness, qui a fait fortune dans l’eau au Colorado, avec ses 990 millions de dollars, pourraient s’offrir le Vanuatu. Le fondateur d’eBay, Pierre Omidyar, avec sa fortune de 5,5 milliards de dollars, pourrait contrôler le marché somalien. Et, malgré la perte de quelque 10 milliards de dollars dans la dernière tempête économique mondiale, Warren Buffett aurait encore de quoi acheter la Corée du Nord, dont l’économie ne pèse pas plus de 40 milliards de dollars. Pour l’offrir ensuite à Barack Obama ?

La Grange spins the Fortune magazine numbers thus: Bill Gates’ net worth exceeds the GDP of 140 nations; the founder of E-Bay could buy the entire Somalian economy, and Warren Buffet, in spite of losing 10 billion dollars in the global downturn, could still purchase the North Korean economy with his 40 billion dollars.  I don’t know whether to call this innovative thinking or find the whole thing offensive.  De La Grange, having been in the hothouse of Chinese capitalist economy for a few years now, has no compulsions about concluding his piece with the speculation that Warren Buffett, having bought North Korea, could then offer it up to Barack Obama.   Take it as a lesson, perhaps, in how quickly the DPRK could be swallowed up in the world system if it were ever to implode.  Or, casting aside the juche mentality, see it as a golden promise for prosperity that could be dispensed to Pyongyang from rich white men in Omaha, Nebraska, or on the shores of Lake Washington on Seattle’s East Side.


  1. Adam,

    I wouldn’t say that it is quite yet offensive, but it is downright silly. You just don’t (and of course can’t) buy a country based on a country’s GDP. Didn’t the South Korean government put out an estimate not too long ago saying the mineral resources alone in the DPRK are worth 5.4 trillion dollars, something like that? Try buying the DPRK Warren Buffett, yeah right.

    1. Juche,

      Certainly, the feasibility isn’t there in the least. On the mineral wealth, I recall reading the bullish Goldman-Sachs economic analysis of the DPRK’s economy, but haven’t seen the ROK government’s take on the issue. Certainly China is hoping to continue to tap the minerals of the North (unlike Warren Buffett, who, unlike Hyundai, I would assume has no interest in investing there at the moment).

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