Elites behaving badly and other theories: why only some Asian states are ‘Tigers’
A new book offers some plausible explanations on the patchy rate of economic success across Asia
“The same thing in the Philippines – independence in 1946 but the Americans locked them into various trade agreements which kept the ruling elites in a comfortable position.
“No country has ever acted generously having become rich, with the exception of the United States for a brief period after the second World War, in very particular circumstances.”
History of selfishness
He cites the remark by 19th century German economist Friedrich List about kicking away the ladder once you get to the top.
“That’s very much what Britain did. China fits much more into the British model. I don’t see them having a positive developmental impact in places like Africa, or in North Korea. The Chinese go in and trade for their own benefits. All that ‘pragmatic’ really means is that countries that climb the ladder of development have a very long history of being revoltingly selfish,” says Studwell.
So much is a question of approach. It’s not about prudence or stability, at least not necessarily.
“Macroeconomic stability was not a clear determinant of developmental success in northeast Asia, and nor was it in Southeast Asia, where there was also notable variation – for instance, between less ‘prudent’ Indonesia and more prudent Thailand, both of which ended up on the industrialisation rubbish heap,” he writes.
“Equally, there is the example of Ferdinand Marcos, who borrowed and printed lots of money like Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan in Korea, but blew his cash like a drunk in a casino.
“I think China will be the last fast growth story that we will see. You can’t have that kind of very fast development without land reform and I don’t think that kind of land reform is going to occur in Southeast Asia because the politicians can’t get it together.”
For those looking for a punt on a future growth story, Studwell recommends North Korea.
“The place most likely to have a 10 per cent growth story is North Korea. The reason would be is that Korean agriculture is collectivised but they have been moving tentatively towards household farming essentially and it wouldn’t require much of a push for North Korea to significantly increase its output and push to industrialisation and go for the east Asian miracle. It has the political infrastructure. It will of course require a political shift.”
How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region by Joe Studwell, Profile Books, £14.99