The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently released it’s projections for GDP growth in the year 2016. The country on top of the list? Myanmar. At 8.6%. That’s a lot and is (on the surface) quite encouraging for a country who’s economy pales in comparison to even the economy of it’s neighbor, Thailand. With vast political and economic reforms have come increased consumer confidence, large inflows of foreign direct investment, and a strengthened partnership with “the international community”.
But, as any economist will tell you GDP is a measurement of economic performance not a measurement of well-being. In fact, rapid economic growth, like what Myanmar is experiencing at the moment, can result in a range of effects on well-being. At the extremes of this range are effects that seem to be opposites of each other. Here is Ghatak, Ghosh, and Kotwal (2014) commenting on the past decade in India:
[2004-2013 was] a period during which growth accelerated, Indians started saving and investing more, the economy opened up, foreign investment came rushing in, poverty declined sharply and building of infrastructure gathered pace . . . [But a] period of fast growth in a poor country can put significant stress on the system which it must cope with. Growth can also unleash powerful aspirations as well as frustrations, and political parties who can tap into these emotions reap the benefits.
If the next decade for Myanmar looks at all like the past decade for India, many would consider this to be a success. As the economy opens up bringing with it accelerated growth, increased foreign investment, large investments in infrastructure, and a sharp decline in poverty on average; questions remain. Will these advancements unleash powerful aspirations or vast frustration? Will the dividends of peace, security, and democracy include the farmers, fishermen, entrepreneurs, and families in the rural areas or will the impacts be contained to the rapidly developing urban areas?