Economic Development, Social Order, and World Politics: With Special Emphasis on War, Freedom, the Rise and Decline of the West, and the Future of East Asia

By Erich Weede | Go to book overview

6

THE WEST IN DECLINE
AND THE RISE OF EAST ASIA

1. Distributional Coalitions
and the Welfare State in the West

According to the World Bank (1994, pp. 162-163), high-income economies averaged an annual per capita GNP growth rate of 2.3 percent in the 1980‐ 1992 period. Except for the United Arab Emirates, all of the high-income economies are either Western (i.e., European or countries primarily settled by Europeans) or East Asian. There are only three East Asian societies in the select group of twenty-three high-income economies, but they monopolize the first three ranks in economic performance. Hong Kong is number one, with 5.5 percent annual per capita growth; Singapore number two, with 5.3 percent; and Japan number three, with 3.6 percent. By contrast, the economies of the United States and France grew 1.7 percent, Germany and Britain 2.4 percent. While all of the West is in the high-income group, most of East Asia is not yet. If one looks at other East Asian societies, one finds South Korea with 8.5 percent, Thailand with 6.0 percent, and China with 7.6 percent per capita growth rates. In spite of the sorry state of the North Korean economy and the persisting problems in the Philippines or parts of Indochina, there can be no reasonable doubt that East Asia outperforms the West. Why?

The most obvious answer refers to "opportunities of backwardness" (Gerschenkron, 1962, chapter 1; Maddison, 1969, p. xxiii). According to Kuznets (1966, p. 10), "since the second half of the nineteenth century, the major source of economic growth in the developed countries has been science-based technology." If advances in knowledge and scientific progress fuel economic growth, then comparatively backward economies can borrow from the leaders and apply imported technology to their own benefit. Imitation can be faster and cheaper than the exploration of technological frontiers and the development of entirely new products. This argument may be applied to the contrast between East Asia and the West as well as to the explanation of different performances among the industrial societies. It may

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