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Governance

Asia in the 21st century: the challenge of equality

Eighteen years ago, the World Bank published a landmark book, The East Asian Miracle. The report praised eight Asian economies for their rapid and sustained economic progress and highlighted the fact that they seemed to have evolved a model which combined growth with equity. What is the situation today? Today we have growth, but with much less equity. All our societies have grown more unequal, as measured by the gini coefficient and the ratio of average incomes of the top 20% and the bottom 20%. According to the World Bank’s latest statistics, the gini coefficient for Singapore was 0.48 in 2010. In the case of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the gini coefficient has risen from around 0.30 in the early 1980s to around 0.47 in 2009. Some social scientists have warned that inequality which exceeds the gini coefficient of 0.4 could lead to social unrest. Even without social unrest, great inequality is a threat to social cohesion and harmony. The current trend in Asia is fundamentally objectionable because it is inconsistent with the very purpose of development which is to benefit all citizens. ADB is, therefore, right to make inclusive growth one of its three agendas in its Strategy 2020 document.

Governance

Myanmar: Rushing in Where Angels Have Feared to Tread

Photography by El-Branden Brazil
The remarkable, surprising, and extensive reformist policies of the new Republic of the Union of Myanmar have sparked interest throughout the international community. As one of the world’s last bastions of both relative isolation and new opportunities, Myanmar has recently become a magnet to which many are drawn. Governments, international non-profit organizations, and businesses are exploring what they might do in a state marred by intense poverty but possessing abundant natural resources. With a literate and diverse population and a myriad of business opportunities, Myanmar entices with many diverse possibilities for rapid growth and social equity. Hotels are filling up with tourists who now feel more comfortable going to that once exotic land, and embassies may well expand staffs to handle more foreign assistance. Many more international NGOs will join the fifty or so already there, and those that are well established may increase staffs as needs become more visible and access increases.

Governance

Is the Euro Dream Doomed?

Euro-Sign
The crisis in the eurozone is critically important for Asia. At a distinguished speaker seminar at ADBI on 1 December 2011, three eminent European economists examined the crisis and put forward tentative solutions. In this post based on the seminar transcripts, Stefan Collignon outlines his hopes and fears for the single currency. We are in the midst of a very severe crisis. It is not clear that the euro will survive, and if the euro does not survive then the European Union will not survive, and if the EU does not survive than I am not sure how much longer we will have peace in Europe.

Governance

Crisis in Europe: Greek Bailout the ‘Mother of all Mistakes’

Euro Coin
The crisis in the eurozone is critically important for Asia. At a distinguished speaker seminar at ADBI on 1 December 2011, three eminent European economists examined the crisis and put forward tentative solutions. In a post based on the seminar transcripts, one of the speakers, Charles Wyplosz, identifies some of the mistakes that have been made in the response to the crisis and puts forward three scenarios for its resolution. Since late 2009 the European debt crisis has worsened because of the wrong policy responses by European politicians. Some progress has been made but we are not yet there. We have a historic disaster with global implications on the way and unless a miracle happens I am pretty pessimistic about the future.

Governance

Survival instinct behind the apparently smooth transition in Pyongyang

Survival instinct behind the apparently smooth transition in Pyongyang
The death of North Korea’s Marshal Kim Jong Il, the Lodestar of the 21st century, was sudden but not unexpected. The Dear Leader, as he was usually called, suffered a stroke in 2008, and aged significantly after that. Soon after the stroke, Kim Jong Il began to prepare for his eventual demise. In 2010 his third son, 28-year-old Kim Jong Un, was made a four-star general and soon began to be featured by the official media as a young genius of leadership. Simultaneously, Kim Jong Il’s sister and her husband (both in their mid-60s), were promoted to top government positions—obviously on the assumption that they would act as regents for the young and inexperienced dictator should Kim Jong Il die soon.

Governance

Development Process Often Boosts Power of Local Bosses

Today, ordinary people in villages and towns in many parts of Asia enjoy more freedom, choice and power than ever before. This is in large part due to the expansion of markets and elections to encompass growing numbers of consumers and citizens, along with the devolution of state power into local hands. Against this backdrop, considerable interest has focused on the role of “local elites” in Asia: “bosses and dynasties” in the Philippines, “goondas” in India, “village emperors and local mandarins” in Viet Nam and PRC. By maintaining monopolistic, authoritarian control over markets, state resources and votes, these local elites are seen to be blocking the emancipatory effects of globalization, democracy and decentralization.