The Asian Model: A Crisis Foretold?
The East Asian countries achieved extraordinarily fast economic growth during the last four decades. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that they represented the most successful case of rapid industrialisation and sustained economic growth in the history of mankind. An economy like South Korea’s was unequivocally industrially backward in the mid-1950s. Its per capita industrial output was at the time US$ 8 compared with US$ 7 for India and US$ 60 for Mexico. By mid 1990, the country was the fifth largest car producer in the world, the largest producer of DRAM microchips, and the home of the world’s most efficient steel industry. Its per capita income had increased from x dollars to nearly US$ 10,000 over a thirty-five year time span. The Korean story of fast industrialisation and technological catch up is by no means unique. The other three countries in the Gang of Four - Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore also achieved similar economic success. More recently, these four countries were followed by Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia who also recorded sustained and rapid growth of per capita income. Significantly, these “miracle” countries not only expanded at a fast rate but they also did so without any worsening of income distribution. Their record of poverty reduction has been truly remarkable. As Professor Joseph Stiglitz, the World Bank’s Chief Economist, notes: “In 1975, six out of 10 Asians lived on less than $1 a day. In Indonesia, the absolute poverty rate was even higher. Today, two out of 10 East Asians are living in absolute poverty. Korea, Thailand and Malaysia have eliminated poverty and Indonesia is within striking distance of that goal. The USA and other western countries, which have also seen solid growth over the last 20 years but with little reduction in poverty rates, could well learn from the East Asian experience (Stiglitz, 1998).”
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