Sunday, June 29, 2014

My Conversion to Globalization

Myanmar is one of the most rapidly developing nations in the world. We're talking 6 to 8% annual GDP growth per year projected for the next 10 years. It's easy to have huge growth every year when you start with shit. Myanmar is like China was 30 years ago. It's like Thailand was 20 years ago, or Vietnam was 15 years ago. It's in the same place as Cambodia and Laos are today, but it's got a couple advantages, culturally and geographically over those other two countries that make this place what I predict will be the next Third-world Asian nation gone prosperous.


When I was a teen, I was aware enough of economics to have understood the term 'Asian Dragons', namely, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan. Those four economies, underdeveloped at the time, were predicted to be major players in the world economy, the pundits told us back in 1983. Sure enough, South Korea has made Japan look like Canada. Singapore is a First World country in the heart of SE Asia. The average income of Malaysia rivals that of any European nation. I don't really know much about the economy of Taiwan, suffice to say I think we can lump it into the dynamo of the world's second largest economy: China.


Whatever you might think of globalization, the transformation of the aforementioned nations is a product of that much maligned economic dynamic. The citizens of the Asian Dragons now enjoy things like potable water coming from their civic water systems, a national health care system, high speed internet and political freedoms absent under more authoritarian and underdeveloped times. Life is a lot better now in the Asian Dragon nations than it was 25 years ago.


What countries are the next Asian Dragons?


Thailand, Indonesia, India, Vietnam and the Philippines are halfway there. Each of these countries have built some of the infrastructure for making development possible. The average Thai makes $5000 per year. There is a minimum wage of $10 per day, which is pretty good by Third-world standards. Despite this, one thing that all these nations still enjoy when it comes to the global marketplace: cheap labor. A large percentage of the people of all 5 of these countries subsist on what is considered the international standard of poverty: earning less than $2 per day.

Two dollars a day feeds them and their families. It lets them live their traditional lifestyles without undo hardship. It does not, however, provide them the extra income to become consumers of the very stuff they're making. People living on $2/day aren't starving in Asia, but they're sure not buying mobile phones, LED TV's or subscribing to their local satellite service.

Thing is, there are countries nearby that have even cheaper labor. ICLM.

The conventional wisdom amongst the ICLM nations (India, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar) is that they want to be like Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore. They want to develop to the point of their neighbors. Twenty five years ago, if you'd asked me, I would have been against the modernization of these Asian nations. At the time, there was a certain spirituality, a sense of community and a feeling of the village that existed here that I thought would be spoiled by the impersonal ennui of modernity.

Now that I've been here a while in the 21st century and had a chance to observe this region up close, I'm not so worried. The critics of Thai culture today might disagree, but I think they've hung on to their 'Thainess' whilst on the verge of becoming a developed nation. Here in Myanmar, we'll see what happens, but this place has been in intimate contact with the West for hundreds of years, and it's still maintained its unique cultural identity.

There really are huge, substantial and undeniable advantages for the people of poor countries like Myanmar in becoming more developed. Clean water, freedom from famine, decent and secure housing, national health care, a minimum wage, smooth roads, fewer floods and democracy: these are all byproducts of development. Whether or not the village culture of interdependency, feeling happy with what you've got and the positive effects of their religion will withstand the pressures put on them by the cultural effects of a developing economy, we shall see. I've changed my mind from 25 years ago. I think the benefits of development outweigh the potential cultural losses. Perhaps its because I'm a Westerner, but I'd trade a feeling of oneness as part of a village for clean water, electricity and the internet any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for the brief history lesson and your experiences, how very interesting!

    Maura

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  2. And you are there to see it happen, and in a small way, by teaching one of the languages of the first world, helping the people adapt to the changes.

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  3. Thank you; this was a great entry educating us about where you live, and about your heartfelt feelings.

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  4. Read this from beginning to end in the past for days. Quite interesting and entertaining. Thanks for posting!

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