Bill Gates


Can the Asian Miracle Happen in Africa?

I read Joe Studwell’s How Asia Works because it claimed to answer two of the greatest questions in development economics: How did countries like Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and China achieve sustained, high growth and turn into development success stories? And why have so few other countries managed to do so? Clear answers could benefit billions of people living in countries that are poor today but have the essential ingredients to develop thriving economies.

I’m pleased to report that Studwell, a smart business journalist, delivers clear answers—not the hedged “on the one hand, on the other hand” answers that led an exasperated Harry Truman to ask for a “one-armed economist.” I found the book to be quite compelling. Studwell explains economic history in a concise and understandable way. I asked the whole Agriculture team at our foundation to read it because of its especially good insights into the critical role of household farming for economic development.

So what are Studwell’s answers to the multi-trillion-dollar question of why some Asian countries developed rapidly and others (Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand) did not? He offers a simple, three-part formula:

  1. Create conditions for small farmers to thrive.
  2. Use the proceeds from agricultural surpluses to build a manufacturing base that is tooled from the start to produce exports.
  3. Nurture both these sectors (small farming and export-oriented manufacturing) with financial institutions closely controlled by the government.

Here’s the formula in slightly greater depth:

Agriculture: Studwell’s book does a better job than anything else I’ve read of articulating the key role of agriculture in development. He explains that the one thing that all poor countries have in abundance is farm labor—typically three quarters of their population. Unfortunately, most poor countries have feudal land policies that favor wealthy landowners, with masses of poor farmers working for them. Studwell argues that these policies not only produce huge inequities; they also guarantee lousy crop yields. Conversely, he says, when you give farmers ownership of modest plots and allow them to profit from the fruits of their labor, farm yields are much higher per hectare. And rising yields help countries generate the surpluses and savings they need to power up their manufacturing engine.

Manufacturing: Studwell argues that once countries are producing steady agricultural surpluses, they should start moving to the manufacturing phase of development. He makes a strong historical case that the successful countries do not simply rely on the invisible hand of market forces; they supplement market forces with the heavy hand of state-driven industrial policy. These countries engage in a combination of protectionism (coddling infant industries to give them time to become globally competitive) and then culling losers (cutting off resources to firms that don’t succeed in export markets).

Finances: Studwell shows that rapidly developing countries usually give lip service to free-market principles while actually keeping their financial institutions “on a short leash.” In other words, they enact policies to protect themselves against the shocks and whiplash of global-capital flows, and they make sure their financial institutions serve the country’s long-term development ends rather than the short-term interests of financiers.

I came away from the book with many take-home messages that apply to our foundation’s work. I’ll highlight two.

First, I appreciated Studwell’s thinking about agriculture economics. Drawing on data on crop yields and overall agricultural output, he argues that rapid agricultural development requires redistributing land more equitably among the farming population. To date, I haven’t focused as much on the land ownership piece as I have on the role of better seeds, fertilizers, and farming practices. This book made me to want to learn more about the land ownership picture in countries where our foundation funds work.

Second, Studwell provoked me to think hard about whether his three-part formula is as applicable to Africa as it is to Asia. Certainly, the agricultural piece applies well—and has many economic and health benefits. The big question for me is: Can African countries become successful export-oriented manufacturing hubs? I do see this potential in countries like Ethiopia and Djibouti. They already have a strong connection with China and ambitious, long-term economic plans. Unfortunately, many other countries on the continent don’t have those same success factors, especially landlocked ones with very poor infrastructure. Helping farmers in those countries grow more food and earn more money would be a big help on its own.

How Asia Works is not a gripping page-turner aimed at general audiences, but it’s a good read for anyone who wants to understand what actually determines whether a developing economy will succeed. Studwell’s formula is refreshingly clear—even if it’s very difficult to execute.

The News (Pakistan)

Asian tigers and paper tigers
Friday, November 01, 2013
The writer is special adviser to the Jang Group/Geo and a former envoy to the US and the UK.
An important new book explains why some countries have become economic tigers in East Asia while others are relative failures or paper tigers. ‘How Asia Works’ by Joe Studwell is a bold and insightful work that is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the ingredients for economic success in this continent.

It challenges much conventional wisdom in the development debate. Most significantly the book questions key tenets of the so-called Washington consensus, which prescribes free market ‘solutions’ for all economies regardless of their level of development. Studwell establishes that a nation’s development destiny is shaped most decisively by government action and policies. History, writes the author, shows that markets are created, shaped and re-shaped by political power.

Studwell presents his case unambiguously, backing it with solid empirical evidence. “No significant economy has developed successfully through policies of free trade and deregulation from the get-go.” “Proactive interventions” have been essential in all cases of economic transformation – in agriculture and manufacturing – as they fostered early accumulation of capital and technological learning.

The book does two important things. First, by a historical recall of the East Asian and Chinese experience it shows that for all the talk of an ‘Asian miracle’, countries in the region have followed different trajectories and policies, which have produced sharply different outcomes. While north-east Asian states achieved extraordinary progress and prosperity, south-east Asian nations have lagged behind, in part because they took poor advice from multilateral financial institutions and failed to heed the lessons of history. China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are all remarkable economic success stories. But the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, despite initial spurts in economic growth, slipped back and have remained relatively poor. This divergence has created what the author calls “a tale of two East Asias”.

Second, the book draws a distinction between what it calls the ‘economics of development’ and the ‘economics of efficiency’. The first is like an education process where poor nations, lacking technological capacity and adequate human capital, acquire the skills necessary to compete globally. This requires investible funds, which in turn needs state intervention, “nurturing and protection as well as competition”. However at a later stage of development, countries have to transition to the ‘economics of efficiency’ to achieve profitability. This requires less state intervention, more deregulation and freer markets.

From this emerges the author’s central argument that economic development is a “stages game” with different policy solutions suited for different phases of development. This challenges the one-size-fits all paradigm of neoclassical economics. Studwell delves into China and East Asia’s varying experiences to substantiate this thesis. This leads to a provocative conclusion: “Poor states can only become rich by lying” – publicly supporting ‘free market economics’, advocated by the developed world, while pursuing “interventionist policies that are essential to become rich in the first place”.

At the very outset, Studwell identifies three critical interventions that successful east-Asian countries and China (after 1978) employed to achieve accelerated economic development. The first, “often ignored”, and now “off the political agenda” in developing countries, is land reform. This restructured agriculture into highly labour-intensive household farming. In the early phase of development, with the necessary institutional support, this helped to generate a surplus, create markets and unlock great social mobility.

The second intervention, as countries cannot sustain growth only on agriculture and must transition to the next phase, is to direct entrepreneurs and investment to industrial manufacturing. Manufacturing allows for trade and technology learning. And trade, says the author, is essential for rapid economic development. Studwell then demonstrates – while challenging the champions of free trade – how nurturing and protection, along with instituting “export discipline”, builds the capacity to compete globally. Manufacturing policy is a key determinant of success he says, as an infant industry strategy offers the quickest route to restructuring the economy towards more value-added activities.

Holding that development is quintessentially a political undertaking, the author sees the relationship between the state and private entrepreneurs as a critical variable. History, he writes, teaches that governments should not run everything themselves. But governments have to use their power and the right policy tools to make private entrepreneurs do what industrial development requires.

The third intervention necessary for accelerated development is in the financial sector, aimed at directing capital initially to intensive, small scale agriculture and to manufacturing rather than services. Studwell argues persuasively that it was the close alignment of finance with agriculture and industrial policy objectives that produced north-east Asia’s economic success.

Detailing the role of financial policy, he illustrates how premature bank deregulation exacted a high price in Thailand and Indonesia. China, on the other hand, and other north-east Asian countries resisted that, instead using financial management to serve development needs and an accelerated economic learning process.

The 1997 Asian economic crisis laid bare the sharp differences in policies followed by China/north-east Asian countries and those in the south-east. China, South Korea and Taiwan were either unaffected by the crisis or bounced back quickly to re-embark on the path to robust growth and technological progress. But the economies of Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia were derailed. The first two remain mired in significant levels of poverty.

For Studwell, the Asian crisis underscored that these three interventions were what made the crucial difference between sustained economic success and failure. In China, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, he writes “governments radically restructured agriculture after the Second World War, focused their modernisation efforts on manufacturing and made their financial systems slave to these two objectives”.

But in south-east Asian states, this didn’t happen. There was neither any real land reform nor creation of globally competitive manufacturing firms. This caused what were called “technology-less” developing countries to regress when their investment funds dried up.

It is in the context of the author’s lament about how, despite land reform being a vehicle for change, it does not figure in the development advice given today by rich countries or international institutions, that Pakistan gets mentioned in the book. Pakistan is cited as a prime example of where land inequality and agricultural dysfunction is at the heart of its economic and security challenges. Elsewhere the book says rural poverty nourishes terrorist groups that echo those suppressed in south-east Asian countries.

India doesn’t feature in the book. But it gets a mention when the author challenges the myth that poor countries can become prosperous by leap-frogging the stage of industrialisation. Studwell believes it is a mistake to think that India with its “much-vaunted IT service sector”, which employs a fraction of its labour force, “represents an alternative to manufacture-led development”. “There is no way that the specialist IT firms of Bangalore, or the financial services elite of Mumbai, will propel India to the kind of development success seen in China, Japan and Korea.”

Much of the book concerns itself with the three interventions. But the author is also emphatic in stating that they only take countries to a certain development stage. Over time, these policies create problems and have to change as countries transition to the next phase, when the ‘economics of efficiency’ has to kick in. As Studwell puts it: “The one, two, three approach only gets an economy – not to mention a society – so far. If policies do not change the economic sclerosis of contemporary Japan or Italy beckons”.

In making a powerful case for poor countries to make the right development choices and learn from other nations’ experiences, the book warns against the kind of free-market economic dogma routinely pushed down the throats of developing nations by wealthy countries and international institutions. As China has shown by example, countries must determine their own development path, stick to it and then stay the course – not lurch erratically between contradictory policies under donor or populist pressure as several developing nations including Pakistan seem to do.

Joe Studwell, How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region, (London: Profile Books, 2013).

Twitter: @LodhiMaleeha

Review: John Williamson

Here is a review of How Asia Works from the blog of John Williamson, the man who coined the phrase ‘Washington Consensus’.

It is a thoughtful review to which I offer three brief points of response, whose relevance should become apparent as you read: a) I believe that Thailand’s very fast growth in the 1980s was based too much on a surge of FDI in low-value added processing activity and speculative real estate development and that this is why it proved to be unsustainable; I also think that far too much of Thailand’s manufacturing activity since the Asian crisis is still based on FDI and that this is one reason why the country will not progress towards developed nation status. b) since indigenous technological progress in manufacturing has characterised all the economic development success stories I have studied, I am unwilling to suggest to poor countries that there is ‘another way’, as Mr Williamson suggests there may be; such advice reminds me of the IMF telling poor countries in east Asia in the 1970s and 1980s to get rid of capital controls at an early stage of development despite the fact that no successfully developed country (outside offshore centres) ever did so; I am, if anything, a historian and so I go with what has been shown to work. c) I cannot see how I suggested in the book that Mr Williamson was personally in favour of open capital accounts in developing countries; I am quite sure he is sick to death of ‘Washington Consensus’ being misused, but I don’t think I said anything about how his personal views do or do not differ from the Consensus view.

Review of Joe Studwell, How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region

Posted on August 22, 2013by 

In this book, the author lays out what he takes to be the conditions for catch-up growth à la Gerschenkron. These are essentially three. The first is land reform: letting the peasants own their own land and supporting this by the necessary ancillary services will result in maximizing output per hectare (and the labor input), with consequences that include a burst of output, increased savings, the creation of rural markets for urban-produced goods, without jeopardizing a ready-made supply of labor for the new urban industries. The second is the development of an industrial sector under heavy infant-industry protection, disciplined by the requirement of export success, and its progressive expansion into ever more advanced fields. The third is the use of a repressed financial system under government control in order to promote the first two conditions. He argues that this was the formula first pioneered by Meiji Japan and subsequently copied elsewhere in N.E. Asia (postwar Japan followed by Korea and Taiwan, and he hopes now China).

He also considers Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand (S.E. Asia), and dismisses claims that they have enjoyed comparable success. They failed to implement a serous land reform, nor did any of them institute an industrial policy aimed at growing industry and pushing it into ever more advanced fields. Entrepreneurs were not required to assist in “developmental” causes when privileges were extended to them, nor were the privileges dependent on revealed success, e.g. in exporting. Accordingly they have no chance of becoming developed.

Of course, countries are required to lie through their teeth in order to implement his strategy. His hero is Park Cheung-hee, who was prepared to assure the Americans that he was aiming to enhance free markets at the same time that he actually did the opposite. But Studwell admits that there is a problem with his prescriptions, which are aimed at development. For an advanced economy, it is quite appropriate to pursue efficiency. The problem is in knowing when to switch from caring for development to pursuing efficiency. Korea accidentally made the switch right, at the time of the Korean crisis in 1997, when its policies were fortuitously controlled by the IMF. Japan failed to make the switch, as a result of which it has suffered 2 lost decades.

One suspects that there may be other problems with his prescriptions besides the self-diagnosed one. Before elaborating on these, let me say what a pleasure it was to read a literate defense of land reform again, emphasizing the importance of accompanying land reform by the provision of extension services, credit, marketing, etc. This is a reform that we have almost forgotten about in recent years, yet it is surely of vital importance. The problem is that it involves destroying some people’s property rights, unless full compensation is paid, which tends to be expensive. That is why historically major land reforms have occurred only in the wake of major wars, when the rulers had no qualms about raiding people’s property rights, since these were widely regarded as having been illegitimately acquired. My guess is that under current conditions it would be worth compensating fully, even though this would add to government debt. (A compromise is available to countries that have previously imposed a land tax: pay compensation at the declared value of land, which is usually a gross under-estimate of its actual value.)

It is also a pleasure to have the logic of the industrial policies pursued in NE Asia laid out so clearly, though I am not filled with the same zeal for them as for the agricultural policies. Buying them essentially requires a similar act of faith to that involved in signing on to the neoclassical economics he so fervently despises, and accepting that there is no other way to develop except by the dirigiste strategy that he so well outlines. But is that really true? When I was young the developed countries comprised Western Europe and what Angus Maddison has called the “European offshoots”. To those we must now add not only Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, but also Southern Europe, Israel, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

It is difficult to know what Studwell would make of Southern Europe (at least outside Italy, which he considers to have developed properly) and Israel. But Studwell tells us quite explicitly that he is not going to consider Hong Kong and Singapore, because they are merely “anomalous port financial havens” (p. 63). The implication is that it is wrong to compare city-states to “real” countries. This would make sense if the cities normally sacrificed for the benefit of their hinterland, but surely they have, on the contrary, generally exploited their hinterlands, so that it is more and not less difficult for a city-state to develop. Of course, addition of Hong Kong and Singapore to the comparators is devastating to his thesis. Hong Kong developed under the purest laissez-faire that I know of; its addition to the list of comparators suggests that we look to what the countries of NE Asia have in common—competitive exchange rates, reputable educational systems, demographic transitions, and high savings—rather than to what is different between them—industrial policy—in explaining their success. And the inclusion of Singapore in the reference set would force him to admit that part of SE Asia has already made it.

His attitude to SE Asia is in fact something of a mystery. He says on p.160 that it is difficult for him to see how any of the Asian stock markets contributed to development. Let me tell him: by letting firms raise money, and without the danger of strangling themselves by excessive leverage. On p. 166 he tells us that Thailand had been going completely the wrong way prior to 1997, but two pages before that he told us that Thailand was the world’s fastest developing country over the decade 1987-96. He added that this did not signify real development. In the sense in which he defines real development, as implying mastery of more advanced techniques, this may be right, but it makes one wonder about his definition. If there are alternative paths to advanced-country living standards that maybe involve less sacrifice of the current generation, why not take them?

Let us suppose for the sake of the argument that Studwell is correct in his description of how NE Asia developed. (I have a feeling that he is closer to the truth than all those who tried to make out that they succeeded because they were really paragons of liberal virtue.) At the same time, he does not convince me that this is the only route to development. What stands out from his description is the price that was paid for developmental success: he records how Korean businessmen were at one stage locked up (p. 89); foreign holidays by Koreans were banned as late as the 1980s (p. 149); the high rates of inflation that were endured by Koreans right up to the 1980s; the negative real rates of interest paid on Korean deposits and even in the kerb market when there was a crisis (p. 149); and so on. (Not to mention the deprivations experienced by Chinese consumers as the counterpart to the massive accumulation of reserves—reserves that will have a negative yield—by the People’s Bank of China.) Surely development à la NE Asia works, but it works at a terrible cost to the first (and maybe second) generations. If (as I argue above) there are alternative routes to high-income status and these alternatives demand fewer sacrifices en route, then one has to judge the demand that countries master ever more advanced techniques as quixotic.

Another paper that I read (in Portuguese) simultaneously with this book calculates the expected proportion of GDP contributed by industry over the period 2001-07, the expected proportion being determined by a regression equation containing per capita income, its square, population, and population density (Bonelli, Pessoa, and Matos 2013). An extract of their results shows:

Observed value         Lower limit     Expected value      Upper limit

Brazil                          0.15                      0.16                      0.18                      0.20

China                          0.32                      0.22                     0.28                      0.33

Germany                    0.21                      0.16                      0.19                      0.21

India                           0.15                      0.18                      0.22                      0.26

Japan                          0.21                      0.19                      0.21                      0.24

Korea                          0.24                      0.20                     0.22                     0.24

Thailand                     0.34                      0.17                      0.20                     0.23

UK                               0.13                      0.13                      0.16                      0.19

US                               0.14                      0.10                      0.14                      0.17

None of the NE Asian countries, nor Germany for that matter, are shown as falling significantly above the expected proportion of income. Ironically, the one country exhibiting clear signs of what they dub the “Soviet disease” (the opposite to the famous Dutch disease) is Thailand. Ah, but doubtless Studwell would fault them for having the wrong type of industry!

Let me note in closing that Studwell uses the term “Washington Consensus” with great frequency and always in what I think of as the populist sense. In n.3 he asserts, quite wrongly, that in introducing the term I favored floating exchange rates and unrestricted capital mobility: in fact I was quite explicit in condemning both. It is this that distinguishes the populist sense of the term (“populist” because it is used to signify policies that would discredit it in the minds of the audiences addressed) from my initial usage.

To return to the main theme, I welcome, though without much hope of his making an impact, the emphasis on land reform. But to assert that real development consists only of the process of mastering ever more advanced industrial techniques condemns most countries to remaining undeveloped. It has still to be proved that most countries cannot aspire to developed-country living standards without mastering the most advanced techniques. Unless this happens to be true, the notion of having a separate economics of development and then changing over to a concern with efficiency at some point in time, makes no sense.


Bonelli, Regis, Samuel Pessoa, and Silvia Matos. 2013. “Desindustrialzação no Brasil: fatos e interpretação”, in E. Bacha and M. Baugareten, eds., O Futuro da Indústria no Brasil (Rio de Janeiro: Editora José Olympio Ltda).

Studwell, Joe. 2013. How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region. (New York: Grove Press.)

FT Longlist

The Financial Times published its longlist for the FT/Goldman Sachs Book of the Year today and I am honoured that How Asia Works is on it. Below is the full list of 14 titles.


After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead, Alan Blinder, The Penguin Press

The Alchemists: Inside the Secret World of Central Bankers (UK subtitle); Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire (US subtitle), Neil Irwin, Headline Business Plus; The Penguin Press

Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier, John Murray; Eamon Dolan Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The Billionaire’s Apprentice: The Rise of The Indian-American Elite and The Fall of The Galleon Hedge Fund, Anita Raghavan, Hachette Book Group/Business Plus

The End of Competitive Advantage: How to keep your strategy moving as fast as your business, Rita Gunther McGrath, Harvard Business Review Press

The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be, Moisés Naím, Basic Books

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, Brad Stone,Transworld/ Bantam Press; Little, Brown

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Adam Grant, Weidenfeld & Nicolson; Viking (Penguin)

The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality, Angus Deaton, Princeton University Press

How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region, Joe Studwell, Profile Books; Grove Press

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg, WH Allen/Random House Group; Knopf

Making it Happen: Fred Goodwin, RBS and the Men Who Blew Up the British Economy, Iain Martin, Simon and Schuster

The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office, Tim Sullivan and Ray Fisman, Twelve

Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir, Allen Lane; Times Books/Henry Holt

The Inquirer (Philippines)

Proving the old adage that any book recommended by someone called Teddyboy is worth reading…


Get Real

How to sustain our 7-percent growth rate


9:33 pm | Friday, July 26th, 2013

Teddyboy Locsin raved about the book and urged me to read it asap. When he told me what the key message was, and then gave me the gist of the author’s pithy remarks about the Philippines, I went home and did as I was told.  The book is “How Asia Works,” subtitled “Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region.” It came out sometime in the end of March, and its author is Joe Studwell, an old Asia hand, journalist (Economist, Economic Intelligence Unit, Financial Times, Asian Wall Street Journal, Far Eastern Economic Review), broadcaster and author of several other highly acclaimed books, who is currently pursuing a mid-career PhD in Cambridge.

And what is Studwell’s message? Like all effective communicators, he says it both in the introduction and in the epilogue of his work, although using different words. And that is that based on the Asian experience, there are three critical interventions that governments can use to speed up economic development: restructuring agriculture into highly intensive household farming, directing investment and entrepreneurs into export-oriented manufacturing, and intervening in the financial sector to support the two sectors. A recipe for success that is “as simple as one-two-three.”

Studwell cites Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and China as countries that have employed these interventions, resulting in “the quickest progressions from poverty to wealth that the world has seen.” These countries radically restructured agriculture (compulsory land reform) after World War II, focused their modernization efforts on manufacturing, and made sure that the financial system accommodated this development strategy. Other countries, like Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, did not follow the recipe (and also accepted bad advice from rich countries), and while these countries (excluding the Philippines—or until very recently, anyway) may have exhibited high growth for relatively long periods, the progress was not sustainable.

What is especially intriguing about Studwell’s book is his justification of the three interventions. With respect to land reform, he points to the studies of Klaus Deininger, whose research findings show that “only one significant developing country has managed a long-term growth rate of over 2.5 percent with a very unequal distribution of land. That country is Brazil, the false prophet of fast growth which collapsed in a debt crisis in the 1980s in large part because of its failure to increase agricultural output.” Deininger’s two big conclusions, he continues, are that “land inequality leads to low long-term growth,” and that “low growth reduces income for the poor but not for the rich.”

In the process of justifying his arguments, Studwell earns his reputation as a myth-buster. For example, he cites data showing that following the shift to small-scale agriculture in his success countries, gross output of foodstuffs increased by somewhere between half (in Japan) and three-quarters (Taiwan). He also shows that sugar and banana yields in Taiwan from these home farms far exceeded plantation yields (which is what the Food and Agricultural Organization also has pointed out, but the data are ignored by large landholders and their supporters in the Philippines).

His descriptions of the land reform experiences of Japan, Taiwan, Korea and China are fascinating and instructional (I did not know that the programs of the first three were in major part influenced by the fear of communism, and there was resistance, too, from the elites, but this was overcome), and he emphasizes that the land redistribution was accompanied by massive credit, infrastructure and extension programs. And then he follows up with a second set of stories that begins with Negros Occidental and broadens to the entire Philippines, providing a brief history of the land reform attempts starting from the US colonial government in 1904 (165,000 hectares of religious estates—unsuccessful because the Americans insisted on a full market price, and of course the tenants had no money; most of the land was bought by businessmen).

Studwell has this to say: “Nowhere in Asia has produced more plans for land reform than the Philippines. But equally, no ruling elite in Asia has come up with as many ways to avoid implementing genuine land reform as the Filipino one.” I have to agree.

And this is how he describes the Philippines’ Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law: “The result was a law that was long winded, unduly complex, insufficiently radical, with many loopholes and with an absurdly extended timetable for implementation.”  He then proceeds to go into the specifics of implementation failures—from the very large retention limits (five hectares + three hectares for every owner’s child over 15, compared to a maximum of three hectares in Japan and Taiwan), to the fact that the compulsory acquisition of land as of 2006 covered only 5 percent of the total “reformed” area, to the stock distribution option a la Luisita.

It is an indictment of the law and its implementation. As Studwell remarks, “In the Philippines, man’s capacity to seize failure from the jaws of opportunity is writ large.”  Again, one cannot help but agree.

But why bring it up now? Well, because the message seems clear that if we want to make sure that our 7-percent growth rate can be sustained, we better focus on agriculture and land reform. Otherwise, we will end up with a Third World state, with poverty rates to match.