The Rise and Fall of Cooperative Credit in Colonial Burma
Cooperative credit was the British Empire's all-purpose answer to problems of rural poverty and indebtedness, usury, and land alienation. Originating in the idealism of the 'Rochedale Pioneers' and in schemes from rural Germany, cooperative credit was imported into India with an evangelical zeal to solve all manner of perceived economic and social ills. With only slightly less moral fervour it was transplanted from India into Burma in the first decade of the Twentieth Century, and by 1920 several thousand cooperative credit societies had mushroomed across the country. The purpose of this paper is to trace the development of cooperative credit in Burma from these promising beginnings, until the near collapse of the movement on the eve of the Great Depression. The paper explores the way in which cooperative credit was seen by the imperial authorities as a device to limit the role of Indian money-lenders in Burma, and as the basis for the establishment of formal rural credit markets. The paper concludes that poor implementation, on top of official myopia as to the cultural, historical and economic differences between India, Burma and Europe, brought about the demise of a movement that promised much.
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