Asia Economics Blog


Moderator:  Calla Wiemer (

The Cruel Arithmetic of Income Convergence in East Asia

The promise of development economics is that living standards can be raised significantly and sustainably. More than any other region, East Asia offered the hope that with the right policies, a country could reduce the incidence of severe poverty and, in some cases, provide for affluent lifestyles. Following Japan, buoyed by exports to the West, economies such as South Korea and Singapore grew their manufacturing sectors, transferring workers from low-productivity agricultural employment and raising overall living standards to that of the wealthier Western countries. Today, China continues this process, with the incidence of severe poverty falling from more than 66% of the population in 1990 to less than 1% in 2020 as it became the world's manufacturing center (World Bank).

The question for this note is whether the countries on the left-hand side of Table 1 are following the path of the Asian high-flying economies on the right-hand side. Can the poorer countries of Southeast Asia move up to the standard of living found in the group of more affluent countries? Can incomes converge at a high level across Southeast Asia? Some countries, including Malaysia and Thailand, have made this a national planning goal.

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Is ASEAN an Affinity Group? What Exchange Rates Tell Us

As we stumble out of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we need to examine how our economies have changed. In East Asia, the pandemic may result in higher costs for travel. In addition, the well-publicized disruptions to supply chains may not prove transitory. As a result, the East Asian development model of manufacturing goods for export may be less reliable.

This suggests a need to review contemporary economic policy. This piece looks at the shortcomings of exchange rate policy in Southeast Asia. A longer paper is available that provides full references to the relevant literature.

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The Economic Costs of Low-Level Hostility in the Western Pacific

The western Pacific Ocean is not literally pacific—it is not peaceful. In the south, overlapping claims to rocky islets have led to clashes over oil and gas reserves and fishery resources between a half dozen countries. In the north, there are also conflicting claims to maritime features. Across the region low-level hostility is not uncommon.

Problems between Japan and South Korea are particularly thorny. Recently, before the current COVID-19 pandemic, tensions mounted, partly reflecting South Korean resentment over Japanese treatment of Korean women during World War II and Japanese reluctance to recognize this issue. Japanese claims to the South Korean administered island of Dokdo (Takeshima in Japanese) are a continuing touchstone inflaming the discussion.

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How to Kill Entrepreneurship—Limit LGBT Freedom: The Impact of Discrimination in Brunei

The news from Brunei Darussalam is grim. The small Southeast Asian, oil and gas-rich country, has announced plans to implement a new legal code that, among other things, calls for amputation for those convicted of theft and for death by stoning for homosexual acts. After an international outcry, the Government has delayed the imposition of the death penalty, but it maintains the laws as the presumptive legal framework.

These laws violate basic human rights, but from experience, I realize that this argument doesn’t seem to be convincing to everyone. As a development economist, I then thought, what are the economic costs of this? Particularly, I wondered if there was likely to be an impact on the broader economy of restrictions on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. As I discuss below, the answer is, ‘yes, over the long-run, a lack of freedom for the LGBT community is associated with a less entrepreneurial economy—a less dynamic economy.’

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