The Economics of Transition in Laos: From Socialism to ASEAN Integration

Article excerpt

The Economics of Transition in Laos: From Socialism to ASEAN Integration. By Yves Bourdet. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2000. Pp. 169.

While books on Laos tend to be a rarity, books on the economy of Laos are even more thin on the ground. The Economics of Transition in Laos seeks to depict and analyse the transition process that the Lao economy has been undertaking since the mid-1980s, and is a very welcome addition to the scant body of literature on this topic. The author has monitored at first-hand the entire economic transition process in Laos, and his insights are undoubtedly worthy of an audience. Not only has the economic transition process in Laos differed from that of ex-socialist countries in Eastern Europe, but it has also displayed characteristics that make it quite distinctive from the transition process in neighbouring China and Vietnam. In this regard alone, the publication of The Economics of Transition in Laos should be welcomed by researchers interested in the country and/or the process of economic transition.

That said, there are a number of minor weaknesses in The Economics of Transition in Laos, which serve to make the book a bit of a disappointment. The sub-title is slightly misleading, in that the country's recent integration into ASEAN receives little attention, beyond a relatively short section in the introductory chapter. Indeed, for those expecting a fully comprehensive overview of the economic transition process in Laos, this book really only focuses on a handful of - albeit critical - issues: rural and agricultural reforms, fiscal policy changes, labour market adjustment, regional disparities, and a "macroeconomic evaluation of Laos' transition mix". The inflow pattern of foreign investment on Laos gets almost no attention, while the very considerable impact of the Asian Crisis on Laos is also discussed all too briefly. With an economy heavily oriented towards Thailand, the Lao economy was hit hard by the regional economic downturn, and its currency registered a depreciation greater than even the Indonesian rupiah (although partly attributable to domestic factors). Laos' fairly unique privatization programme - which ranged from quite bold and inspiring partial divestments of strategic firms into joint ventures with foreign firms, to much less inspiring leasing arrangements - is also not explored. There is also no discussion of the country's overly ambitious hydropower development plan, in which Lao policy-makers put heavy emphasis in the early 1990s.

The book might have also benefited from a concluding chapter that sought to bring together the various strands discussed in the preceding chapters, and tried to identify the main determining factors of future economic prospects in Laos. …