Between 1950 and 1995, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia each enjoyed periods of booming timber exports. Each had forests that contained trees from the Dipterocarpaceae family — trees that grew tall and straight, resisted wood-boring pests, and could be milled into highquality lumber and plywood. While Indonesia's forestry institutions were weak, the Philippines and Malaysia had relatively strong forestry institutions, at least initially. Both had forestry departments that were led by well-trained professionals, that enjoyed a high degree of political independence, and that restricted logging to sustained-yield levels.
Yet over time the forestry institutions of all three states broke down. After timber exports began to boom, the Philippine, Malaysian, and Indonesian forest departments lost their political independence; the quality of their forest policies dropped sharply; and each government began to authorize logging at ruinously high rates — as high as ten times the sustainable level. Why did the forestry institutions of these three states break down? And why did these governments become so eager to squander their forests?
The breakdown of forestry institutions in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia is the central puzzle of this book; in answering it, though, I seek to cast light on two larger puzzles. One is the puzzle of poor forest management in the developing world. Since the 1950s, virtually all developing states with commercially valuable forests — in Latin America, the Caribbean, West and Central Africa, and Southeast Asia — have logged them unsustainably. A landmark 1988 study by economists Repetto and Gillis found that across the tropics, the misuse and waste of forest resources was, in part, caused by government policies. Yet the reasons for these self-defeating policies are elusive. According to one survey, attempts to explain poor forest policies have been “extremely