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As a rule, nothing greases reform like the death of a dictator. After Joseph Stalin, the gulag faded away. After Mao Zedong, policies that starved millions were abandoned. So when North Korean leader Kim Jong Il died a year ago, there was reason to expect meaningful change.

Yet North Korea, the world’s longest-lived totalitarian state, never seems to follow the rules. When its founding dictator, Kim Il Sung, died in 1994, the state stumbled, but it did not collapse and it did not reform. For the first time in history, power in a communist state shifted from father to son, from Great Leader to Dear Leader. And Kim Jong Il was no reformer. He turned out to be even more repressive than his father was.

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