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Can Giant Rabbits Save North Korean Communism?

In the 1990s, North Korea's communist economic system killed some 2 million people as a result of food shortages partly created and seriously exacerbated by the country's system of collectivized agriculture. Serious food shortages and widespread privation persist even today, since North Korea remains the world's only unreformed Stalinist economic system.

But never fear, the North Korean government has apparently found a way to increase food production at last: giant rabbits! According to the Washington Post, North Korea recently purchased six giant rabbits from a German breeder in the hope that they can turn them into an important new source of food (hat tip: Tom Palmer). And I have to admit that the German giant rabbits are pretty cool:

Unfortunately, centrally planned rabbit-breeding is no more likely to be efficient than other forms of central planning. As the Post explains, breeding giant rabbits for food is likely to be far more expensive and inefficient than alternative options, including even relying on smaller, less voracious rabbit breeds:

The Koreans' choice of rabbits has other German breeders scratching their heads.

Karl-Heinz Heitz, chairman of the State Association of Rabbit Breeders in Berlin-Brandenburg, said that German gray giants are hard to beat for size but that they aren't cheap to fatten up. It takes wheelbarrow-loads of hay, vegetables and rabbit chow to bring them to maturity.

"Let me say this: There are certainly breeds that are more economically profitable; I do not know why the North Koreans wanted this one," said Heitz . . .

Breeds such as New Zealand red or big light silver or Vienna blue are only half as big but are more cost-effective to raise. "You do not have to put in as much to get out a fair amount of meat," Heitz said.

Communist economic planners have a long history of funding large-scale but extraordinarily inefficient projects. For example, Joseph Stalin ordered the construction of large numbers of giant factories that routinely consumed massive amounts of resources worth far more than what they produced. Totalitarian regimes of both the right and the left have a well-known propensity for gigantism. However, until now neither Uncle Joe nor his various imitators ever thought to raise giant rabbits! To my knowledge, at least, the North Korean effort is a first. Another great milestone for Comrade Dear Leader Kim Jong Il and his Songun-Based Revolutionary Line.

UPDATE: Perhaps the North Koreans should have gone with the giant rabbit that attacked Jimmy Carter back in 1979.

Syd (mail):
They may not be efficient, but they have that all-important coolness factor.
2.11.2007 11:51pm
Tom R:
All right, it's inevitable that someone's going to draw this comparison, so let's just get it over with quickly and back to analysing the fundamentals of economic Juche.
2.11.2007 11:53pm
new guy (www):
Old news - click here at the Donkey:
2.12.2007 12:28am
twenty pound rabbits:
I love this blog.
2.12.2007 12:37am
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
If the NorKs are short on food, what will the giant rabbits eat?
2.12.2007 12:38am
Bill_C:
What? No Night of the Lepus Jokes?
2.12.2007 12:40am
eric (mail):
Meat as a food source is generally tasty, yet inefficient. They should grow some soybeans. Oh yeah, getting rid of the crazy communist dictator would be a good step too.
2.12.2007 12:41am
Richard A. (mail):
"For example, Joseph Stalin ordered the construction of large numbers of giant factories that routinely consumed massive amounts of resources worth far more than what they produced."

Has Uncle Joe been reincarnated as an ethanol lobbyist for Archer-Daniels Midland?
2.12.2007 12:44am
Randy R. (mail):
I want one as a pet.
2.12.2007 12:46am
Beerslurpy (mail) (www):
When I first heard the story I was hit by pang of dread. Who can possibly screw up the raising of rabbits? The australians accidentally were overrun with them. The north koreans might actually make a go of it.

But I should have had more faith in communist ineptitude.
2.12.2007 12:57am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Oh yeah, getting rid of the crazy communist dictator would be a good step too.

I wonder if that would be feasible at this point. It seems like it is ingrained in the culture and national mindset at this point. The repression seems so complete that there doesn't even sound like there is coherent resistance or even opposition. (Anyone know anything about this?) It seems like if they got rid of him another communist strongman would take his place.
2.12.2007 1:20am
Fearmonger (mail):
I wonder how they taste.
2.12.2007 1:56am
JB:
If KJI died, and the next day South Korea opened its borders, how many people do you think would be in North Korea 3 weeks later?
2.12.2007 2:05am
Gabriel (www):
It didn't work for Jean de Florette either.
2.12.2007 2:06am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Like chicken.

Since Tom quickly got the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, and the Update's got another, I can only add Gordo from Episode 86 of Malcolm in the Middle.
2.12.2007 2:07am
Lev:

The australians accidentally were overrun with them.


Video rec: The Rabbitproof Fence

Speaking Caerbannog, which I guess is some Irish place, I would mention Harvey, except that although he was in the form of a rabbit he wasn't a rabbit.
2.12.2007 2:24am
Lev:

Caerbannog


Ah, right, brain fart. Run away run away.
2.12.2007 2:39am
EP Dowd:
Harvey!? Is that you??
2.12.2007 2:58am
John Costello (mail) (www):
Caerbannog is either Welsh or Scots. Probably Welsh. Arthur, after all, is King of the Britons, not the Erse.

There is evidently an undergroun in North Korea. Some time ago there was an organized breakout of more than a hundred political prisoners from deep within the country, with some of them making their way to China before they were caught and returned for execution. North Korea as the hermit kingdom seems to be on its way out. One source of information about the outside world may be the former USSR. There are NK wood-felling camps in Siberia, and one wonders just how insolated the workers are there from what is happening in the rest of the world. For one thing, if the NK workes meet 'Russian' Koreans, they will find their kinsmen are substantially taller. The two generations of famine condtions in Kimland have produced a physically stunted population.
2.12.2007 3:01am
John Costello (mail) (www):
The thought now occurs to me: if Communism lasts two more generations in North Korea, will the rabbits be used for mounts?
2.12.2007 3:03am
advisory opinion:
That rabbit ist nicht cool. It has something of the grotesquerie about it.
2.12.2007 4:15am
AppSocRes (mail):
Communism would be laughable if it were not still killing millions of people. By the way, any bets on how long before Comrade Chavez manages to reduce Venezuela's economy to Cuban depths of misery and near starvation?
2.12.2007 8:37am
professays (mail):
No rabbits for Northern Korean communists.
2.12.2007 9:22am
alkali (mail) (www):
They are not a food source. They will be used in intricately choreographed rallies at May Day Stadium, including the forthcoming "Giant Rabbits Bring Pride To All Students Of The Dear Leader" extravaganza.
2.12.2007 9:36am
GG (mail):
The man in the picture has mastered the old fisherman's trick of holding the catch out towards the camera thus taking advantage of the camera's foreshortening effect. Thus the rabbit appears to be 2/3 of the height of the man.

GG
2.12.2007 10:00am
MartyB:
The photo brings to mind the old dictum about pets growing to look like their owners. (or is it vice versa?) The one without the blue coat is the rabbit, right?
2.12.2007 10:11am
liberty (mail) (www):
"I wonder if that would be feasible at this point. It seems like it is ingrained in the culture and national mindset at this point."

Thats how it looks from the outside at least. And it may require some outside help to overthrow the government (although when the dictator dies it becomes much easier to do from the inside).

Remember that we have examples to counter anyone who says that the mindet being such, the people are not ready if freedom/democracy was imposed from outside: Japan. There was no more pure a national mindset than thousands of years of imperial rule in Japan and a willingness to die for the emperor/God. Yet, after WWII the people adjusted quickly to freedom.

As for underground, there is some in North Korea including an underground railroad to freedom with brokers you can pay and routes to different countries and Christian charities who can help you with food and other necessities.

Here are some links:
Charity
A window
PBS interview with reporter
Brokers
Help for refugees

In recent year there has been a lot more opening up - not offically but because of technology and a few daring souls who travel back and forth across the border - bringing refugees out and bring food and pictures of the outside world back in.
2.12.2007 11:11am
AEW:
I'm not as skeptical as others seem to be. I wonder whether the food shortages could be addressed with a combination of giant rabbits and cuban apartment cows.
2.12.2007 11:15am
ak47pundit (www):
In addition to the inherent inefficiencies of communism, they've chosen the wrong food animal.

Eating rabbit meat alone will, or so the SAS Survival Guide tells me (- don't go camping in the wild without it) - cause further health problems as rabbit meat lacks fat and vitamins essential to man.

People have died of starvation by existing on a diet of easily available rabbit with little else to supplement.

Evidently the body uses it's own vitamins and minerals to digest the rabbit and then these are lost to the body. If not replaced, symptoms of vitamin deficiency appear.

Basically North Korea just got it wrong - it's not Rabbit Season, it's DUCK season!
2.12.2007 11:51am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Communism would be laughable if it were not still killing millions of people. By the way, any bets on how long before Comrade Chavez manages to reduce Venezuela's economy to Cuban depths of misery and near starvation?
Funny you should mention that. From an AP story this past week:
Meat cuts vanished from Venezuelan supermarkets this week, leaving only unsavory bits like chicken feet, while costly artificial sweeteners have increasingly replaced sugar, and many staples sell far above government-fixed prices.

President Hugo Chavez's administration blames the food supply problems on unscrupulous speculators, but industry officials say government price controls that strangle profits are responsible.
Gee, didn't see that one coming.
2.12.2007 12:24pm
Bill_C:
<blockquote>
Meat cuts vanished from Venezuelan supermarkets this week, leaving only unsavory bits like chicken feet, while costly artificial sweeteners have increasingly replaced sugar, and many staples sell far above government-fixed prices.
</blockquote>
How times have changed. One of the key metrics of quality-in-life presented in Orwell's <i>1984</i> that ... stuck to my ribs... was the omnipresence of saccharin over the party luxury item that was sugar...
2.12.2007 1:54pm
gab:
The good news is, you don't have to worry about cats hunting 'em.
2.12.2007 2:16pm
Thief (mail) (www):
Hoi, hoi u embleer hrair! M'saion ule hrakka vair!
2.12.2007 2:29pm
XX:
GG: The man in the picture has mastered the old fisherman's trick of holding the catch out towards the camera thus taking advantage of the camera's foreshortening effect. Thus the rabbit appears to be 2/3 of the height of the man.

This also accounts for certain poses in porn movies...
2.12.2007 2:30pm
JerryM (mail):
We need to send a few of those rabbits from Monty Python's Search for the Holy Grail. that's a wabbit!!
2.12.2007 3:02pm
Crunchy Frog:
Sounds like a job for Wallace and Gromit
2.12.2007 3:15pm
Cornellian (mail):
Just think the North Koreans are on the brink of achieving something no one else has ever managed to achieve - putting a bunch of rabbits in one place, yet not having them breed like rabbits.
2.12.2007 3:35pm
byomtov (mail):
Meat as a food source is generally tasty, yet inefficient.

I think eric is correct about this. You have to feed the rabbits after all, and they don't convert their food to human food very efficiently. It's best to just eat the carrots yourself instead of using the rabbit to turn them into meat.

Of course if you can feed the rabbits on stuff people don't eat, like grass, that grows on land unsuited for other crops, I guess it's not so inefficient.
2.12.2007 3:37pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Meat is not so inefficient if a) it eats stuff you can't or won't eat and b) you are not getting enough nutrition without the meat (or fish or chicken)

However, the NK need some food first of all, large probably inefficient rabbits later.
2.12.2007 3:52pm
Friedrich Foresight:
"The [A]ustralians accidentally were overrun with them."

Rabbits were certainly a nuisance (hence the rabbit-proof fence: and in some States of Oz, even today, you can't legally keep them as pets). But during the Great Depression, the ability to cook stewed rabbits potted with a BB gun kept a lot of families from starving. May history repeat itself in NorKor - except Dear Leader probably doesn't permit his serfs to have guns.
2.12.2007 3:54pm
liberty (mail) (www):
"except Dear Leader probably doesn't permit his serfs to have guns."

Nor might they be allowed to kill rabbits even with their bare hands - it could be construed as "speculation." Marx forbid someone kill one and trade it with someone else, or some such evil capitalist deed.
2.12.2007 4:52pm
Jim Addison (mail) (www):
"Of course if you can feed the rabbits on stuff people don't eat, like grass, that grows on land unsuited for other crops, I guess it's not so inefficient."


True, but the Norks already have to eat the grass and tree bark themselves in some areas. If the humans have to compete with the rabbits for grass, they better hope the rabbits aren't like this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNQmtSi0O94
2.12.2007 4:54pm
Mark P. (mail):
MartyB,

Thanks for the post. I'm laughing so hard that I can barely type.
2.12.2007 5:26pm
A Law Unto Himself:
Okay, someone has to say it:

WHAT'S UP, DOC?
2.12.2007 7:12pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Haven't they see "Night of the Lepus" in which giant rabbits take over a city ?(well, actually, Ajo, Arizona)
2.12.2007 10:19pm
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
Somewhere in North Korea, Bugs Bunny is planning revenge: "Of course you realize this means war."
2.12.2007 11:39pm
Tantor (mail) (www):
When I flew to Germany and saw my first German jackrabbit nibbling on the grass, I thought something was wrong with my eyes. They're huge, like small dogs.
2.12.2007 11:56pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Should we send them postcards featuring jackalopes?

Nick
2.13.2007 4:03am
Mike Brown (mail):

It's best to just eat the carrots yourself instead of using the rabbit to turn them into meat. Of course if you can feed the rabbits on stuff people don't eat, like grass...


The "rabbits-eat-carrots" concept has more to do with Warner Brothers than agriculture. Rabbits do, in fact, live on grass (fresh or as dried grass hay). Rabbits raised as food animals usually eat pellets which are mostly grass (alfalfa or timothy) and molasses. Even pet rabbits should eat more hay than vegetables. Bugs to the contrary, carrots are, in fact, not good for rabbit food (they're too sugary for their rather touchy digestive systems).
2.13.2007 10:51am
VanMorganJr. (mail):
Those of us who fish and don't have much luck at it know that you can artificially inflate your catch by holding a diminutive fish at arm's length in front of you so that the camera makes it look bigger relative to the fisherman in the background. This simple trick works in other contexts too - as with seemingly humongous rabbits. Accordingly, NK could increase food production dramatically simply by using advantageous camera angles, as was done in the specimen photo.
2.13.2007 11:01am
David M. Nieporent (www):
The "rabbits-eat-carrots" concept has more to do with Warner Brothers than agriculture.
Mike Brown is a scoundrel and a liar. Anybody who would impugn the scientific accuracy of Bugs Bunny should be banned from posting for life.

Next he's going to say that roadrunners don't beep and that Acme products aren't shoddy.
2.13.2007 12:43pm
Tom R:
> "Anybody who would impugn the scientific accuracy of Bugs Bunny should be banned from posting for life."

Drop an anvil on his head!
2.13.2007 7:35pm
Ilya Somin:
"Anybody who would impugn the scientific accuracy of Bugs Bunny should be banned from posting for life."

Drop an anvil on his head!


I must emphasize that neither I nor the management and staff of the Volokh Conspiracy in any way endorse any aspersions cast upon the good name, reputation, and scientific acumen of Bugs Bunny by misguided commenters. We further disclaim any and all liability for such anvil-related retaliaton as said bunny may, in his discretion, choose to inflict upon said commenters.
2.13.2007 9:44pm
Tom R:
It's all right, Ilya - he just has to make sure he's holding an umbrella at the time.
2.13.2007 11:40pm
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
I was thinking about Acme reliability when Emperor Kim was conducting those missile tests last year. Is Wile E. Coyote doing consulting work for the NorKs?
2.13.2007 11:48pm
ef@Fudd,Fudd,Garfinkle&Fudd,PA:
B-B-Bugs B-B-Bunny!! B-B-Bugs B-B-Bunny!? He d-d-doesn't d-d-deserve any sympathy from us, everybody knows h-h-he's just a wascally wabbit!
2.14.2007 6:42pm