World and Its Peoples: Eastern and Southern Asia - Vol. 5

By Paul Bernabeo | Go to book overview

ECONOMY

Myanmar (formerly Burma) is a country of 49 million people, most of whom live and work in the countryside. Ruled by a military junta since 1962, Myanmar is one of the world's poorest countries. For a variety of reasons, Myanmar is also economically isolated.

The government of Myanmar is trying to rebuild the Burmese economy as the nation recovers from effects of guerrilla wars that have lasted for half a century. Various ethnic minorities have attempted secession, and fighting continues in some regions. Myanmar also faces international isolation brought about by the policies of its own government and the economic sanctions imposed by some Western nations to protest the widespread abuses of human rights in Myanmar.


ECONOMIC CHALLENGES

Myanmar has one of the least-developed economies in the world and declining growth rates. In 1987, it was declared one of the world's least developed countries (LDCs) by the United Nations (UN). Myanmar's slow economic modernization was limited by its self-imposed isolation from the international economy between 1962 and 1988, when its military government attempted to create a socialist economy that was independent and self-sufficient. During this period, all economic ventures were state controlled, foreign investment was discouraged, and foreigners were expelled. This policy created an underground economy that was equal in size to the formal economy, and many Burmese survived on smuggling and other illegal economic activities. Civil wars fought between various ethnic rebel armies and central government forces have also caused great damage to the country's infrastructure and crippled development in rural areas.


Standard of Living

Myanmar has a low standard of living compared with
neighboring Thailand. Around 25 percent of the population
lives below the poverty line, according to estimates from 2000,
although the real rate could be twice as high. There are great
differences between the rural and urban population in income,
food supply, and access to basic services; the relative
disadvantages of those living in the countryside are dramatically
increasing. The per capita GDP was $1,700 In 2005; this figure is
adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP), a formula that allows
comparison between living standards in different countries.

Following major antigovernment protests in 1988, the military regime began to institute partial economic liberalization, gradually opening the economy to market reforms and permitting limited foreign investment. The Burmese economy continues to be underdeveloped because the economic reforms of the government were limited. However, drawing detailed conclusions concerning the Burmese economy is not always easy because Myanmar's government restricts published economic data, and much data that is readily available in most other countries is almost treated as a state secret in Myanmar. As a result, estimates of production, trade, and fiscal matters are not completely accurate.

Official forecasts of growth rates are also often inflated and unrealistic. The government estimated growth in GDP (gross domestic product; the total value of all the goods and services produced in a country in a set period of time, usually one year) in 2005 of 12.6 percent, but independent forecasts put the figure at nearer 5 percent.

By some estimates, Myanmar's government spends close to 50 percent of its budget on the military. At the same time, the army controls many state-owned enterprises or has shares in joint enterprises with foreign investors. Between 1988 and 2005, the military grew from around 180,000 personnel to more than 450,000, and around $2 billion were spent on weapons purchases. Spending on health, education, and other social sectors decreased from 1995 to 2005. The Burmese government now allots only 1.3 percent of GDP to the social sector.

Primarily an agricultural economy, Myanmar relies on rice production for most of its subsistence needs. However, limited reforms in the agricultural sector to open the economy to international trade created food shortages throughout the country. Some of the economic reforms introduced after 1988 have been rescinded, and attempts to address the underlying economic problems have stalled.

As a result of continuing military rule and the piecemeal nature of reform. Myanmar's economy is stagnating due to poor management as well as limited Western aid and investment. Most foreign aid stopped after 1990, when the Burmese authorities refused to honor the result of legislative elections. The European Union and the United States imposed sanctions in 1996 and 1997 respectively. The European Union increased sanctions in 2000, and the United Stated took similar action in 2003 and 2005. Goods from Myanmar are not allowed into the

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World and Its Peoples: Eastern and Southern Asia - Vol. 5
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Country Locator for Volume 5 Myanmar and Thailand i
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Geography and Climate 580
  • The Land of Myanmar and Thailand 582
  • Geology of Myanmar and Thailand 590
  • Climate of Myanmar and Thailand 594
  • Flora and Fauna of Thailand and Myanmar 598
  • History and Movement of Peoples 602
  • Sukhothai and Ayutthaya 604
  • Later Burmese Kingdoms 608
  • British Intervention in Burma 610
  • Peoples of Myanmar and Thailand 612
  • Myanmar (Burma) 614
  • Government 618
  • Modern History 620
  • War and Independence 623
  • Independent Burma 626
  • Modern Myanmar 628
  • Cultural Expression 630
  • Art and Architecture 632
  • Music and Performing Arts 636
  • Festivals and Ceremonies 638
  • Food and Drink 640
  • Daily Life 642
  • Family and Society 644
  • Welfare 646
  • Yangon (Rangoon) 648
  • Naypyidaw 650
  • Mandalay 651
  • Moulmein 652
  • Pegu 653
  • Economy 654
  • Thailand 662
  • Government 666
  • Modern History 668
  • Siam in Transition 670
  • The Age of Reform 672
  • War and Military Rule 674
  • Modern Thailand 676
  • Cultural Expression 678
  • Art and Architecture 680
  • Decorative Arts 683
  • Music and Performing Arts 684
  • Festivals and Ceremonies 687
  • Food and Drink 688
  • Daily Life 690
  • Family and Society 693
  • Health, Welfare, and Housing 695
  • Education 697
  • Bangkok 698
  • Chiang Mai 703
  • Nakhon Ratchasima 704
  • Udon Thani 705
  • Economy 706
  • Further Research 716
  • Index 718
  • World and Its Peoples 722
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