To shed light on the inner workings of policymaking in North Korea, this study examined the process behind economic policy change through an analysis of the official state economics journal. Semantic networks are used to trace the introduction and evolution of policies during four distinct economic periods in North Korean history between 1986 and 2009. Although reform is catalyzed by political and economic crises, the emergence of new policy topics occurs incrementally prior to change. Specifically, new policy discourse tends to emerge in gradual and cautious ways but policy change occurs swiftly in periods of crisis. During periods of stability, the state retreats to the centralized socialist economic system, often through coercion and force. This view of the policy process suggests that foundations of economic reforms in North Korea are yet weak and instable, and policy reform will continue to be vulnerable to the political influence of conservatives.