Academic journal article Social Justice

Asia in the World-System

Academic journal article Social Justice

Asia in the World-System

Article excerpt

The world economic crisis, whose arrival Andre Gunder Frank was among the earliest to announce and systematically analyze to a disbelieving world, rather imperceptibly left the sphere of controversy ("Crisis? What crisis?") some time ago and entered the realm of fact acknowledged by all; by all indications to date, it seems to be here to stay. In a two-page "public service" advertisement for Citibank, MIT economist Lester C. Thurow writes:

In the last four decades, the real growth rates of the capitalist world have fallen from 4.9% per year in the 1960s, to 3.8% in the 1970s, to 2.7% in the 1980s, and to about one percent in the first four years of the 1990s. Japan is in a recession and much of the Pacific Rim is slowing down. China and those economies closely linked are thus far an exception to this slowdown, but it is only a matter of time until the slowdown reaches everyone on the Pacific Rim.(1)

This essay will focus on the region that has so far been an exception to the world economic slowdown: the Asian arc of the Pacific Rim. By any measure, the economic performance of East Asia from north to south is exceptional. It is exceptional in more ways than one, and as is often the case, it may be an exception that proves the rule.

Through those 30 years of steady deceleration of the world-economy, the economies of East Asia have seen their growth rates surge ahead of everyone else's. Japan, already remarkable for its immediate postwar reconstruction achievements (not to speak of the breakneck modernization that enabled it to wage the Pacific War in the first place), embarked in the 1960s on a manufacturing revolution that increased per capita real income fourfold over the following 25 years and, by the advent of the 1990s, made the Japanese in dollar terms the richest people on earth. Following the path of that Asian industrial forerunner, four "tigers" - the two Japanese ex-colonies, South Korea and Taiwan, and two islands, Singapore and Hong Kong, the first a city-state, the other a British colony that will soon revert to China - embarked on their own export-led manufacturing revolution, doubling real GDP every eight years during 1950 to 1985 (an eight-fold increase in all). In the late 1970s, China accelerated its massive modernization program, introduced market mechanisms, and welcomed foreign investment; since the 1980s, it has been the world's fastest-growing economy, averaging almost 10% yearly in the last decade and a half. Over that period, three Southeast Asian countries - Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand - have proved that they, too, can sustain growth rates of over seven percent a year, a speed that doubles the size of an economy each decade. Since the 1980s, these East Asian economies have been growing three times faster than the OECD economies, twice as fast as the rest of East Asia, three times as fast as Latin America and South Asia, and five times as fast as sub-Saharan Africa. Their export performance has been particularly impressive, with their share of world exports of manufactures shooting up from nine percent in 1965 to 21% in 1990.(2)

Those are the indicators behind the phenomenon that has variously been called "Pacific Shift," the "rise of Asia," the "Pacific Century," or, as the title of a recently published World Bank study puts it, "The East Asian Miracle." Understandably, a sense of triumphalism accompanies this phenomenon, a touch of smug self-affirmation that, naturally enough, spills over into the realms of theory and ideology. Not surprisingly, Andre Gunder Frank's works figure prominently in the fray.

The East Asian phenomenon has been advanced as a living refutation of dependency theory. In this part of the world, dependencia is broadly taken to imply that industrial development is precluded to the Third World, because of the polarizing and marginalizing dynamics of global capital accumulation that the "Latin American" Andre Gunder Frank understood, articulated, and popularized so well. …

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