Just a little more than a generation ago, many countries in Asia, with the exception of Japan, were associated with endemic poverty, hardline ideological regimes, and state-controlled economies that barely met the needs of the people. The people power uprising in Myanmar, in 1988 was quickly crushed by military regimes intolerant of political change as was the movement pushing for democracy which occurred in China’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. One of the major reasons for Myanmar’s reversal of fortunes has been the opening of markets in this region and the associated massive flow of capital that followed. Financial consultants, business executive and central bankers have come a-calling preaching the gospel of the market economy with pockets full of money for foreign investment that may create business and employment opportunities or exploit a country’s resources for the benefit of a few.
For a country like Myanmar the benefits and cost to these new developments are far from certain. Economics by nature is not a generous science. The best of all world scenarios are usually exceptions to the rule, with a number of trade-offs being the norm. Growth often is accompanied by the negative effect of income equality, inflation and environmental degradation. The adage that economic growth is an essential condition for economic development it is not necessarily sufficient. And there is no guarantee the opening of the market will improve human rights, though proponents at least give lip service to this goal.