Myanmar needs to reimagine its economic future

Development should be Myanmar’s number one priority. In the lifetime of today’s children, it has the potential to become a developed country. Combined with measures to fight inequality, finding the right path to development is critical for a successful transition to democracy. It’s also critical for peace – in fact, it’s the missing ingredient. But we need first to reimagine development. And we need a public conversation focused on the future of the economy.

Development is not the same as economic growth. An economy can grow at 5 percent or even 10pc a year and not develop. Myanmar could sell all its remaining forests and grow the economy. Myanmar could double its production of rice for export and grow the economy. Myanmar could invite foreign companies to set up factories and employ Myanmar workers and grow the economy. But this alone will not lead to development. Growth is necessary for development, but development is different from growth.

Development means the structural transformation of the economy, away from a rural, agrarian, low-skilled, low-paid economy to an urban, industrialized, high-skilled, high-paid economy. No country can develop based on agriculture. Even in rich countries that have a relatively large agricultural sector, such as New Zealand, agriculture still accounts for less than 7pc of the economy.

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