Friday, November 02, 2012

How Despotism Promoted Ignorance in Myanmar

Many people nurture the mystical impression that noble intentions drive actions of governments pertinent to social welfare concerns.

Well, not in Myanmar’s case, where the former rulers opted for policies that resulted to a massive black hole in education.

From Wall Street Journal, (bold emphasis mine)

The University of Yangon was once one of Asia's best colleges. Today, abandoned buildings rot away on its overgrown campus, with some walkways deserted except for dogs.

Its state of affairs embodies a crucial challenge for leaders as Myanmar opens to the outside world. The military junta that dominated the country for five decades all but destroyed the university system after a series of student protests convinced its leaders that schools were breeding grounds for dissent.

But now that the lifting of most Western sanctions has paved the way for an expected wave of investment, companies are finding a nation largely bereft of skilled workers. Doctors and lawyers often lack up-to-date training, and other professions are desperately short of qualified staff with even basic critical-thinking skills, employers say.

The lack of expertise in the country was sometimes used by military leaders as a justification for handing big business contracts to associates of the regime. A small number of Myanmar students went overseas to study. Only over the past year, since the military regime stepped down, has the government actively encouraged those educated abroad to return and share expertise.
Of course such policies reflected on the “rule of thumb” for politicians where the principal concern of politics has been about political control or political power.

The difference lies in the nature of political institutions in Myanmar. The ruling military junta relied on a regime whose power has been rooted on ignorance and fear rather than from getting the consent of the governed. So the curtailment of dissent was then seen as a political imperative.

In addition, the past regime profited from society’s ignorance through the “justification for handing big business” or by awarding economic opportunities to favored network of families, friends or allies: cronyism in socialist clothing.

But all these have backfired.

Compounded by the snowballing opposition to the military junta, eventually the military junta was forced into a referendum that transformed Myanmar’s politics into a presidential republic with a bicameral legislature

And thus, the pronounced turnaround in Myanmar’s political economy, through economic reform policies of liberalization.

The political and economic developments in Myanmar seem to be confirming the position held by the great Professor Ludwig von Mises (Liberalism p.46),
Only a group that can count on the consent of the governed can establish a lasting regime. Whoever wants to see the world governed according to his own ideas must strive for dominion over men's minds. It is impossible, in the long run, to subject men against their will to a regime that they reject. Whoever tries to do so by force will ultimately come to grief, and the struggles provoked by his attempt will do more harm than the worst government based on the consent of the governed could ever do. Men cannot be made happy against their will.
For as long as economic liberalization will be the premier thrust, Myanmar looks like a promising compliment to ASEAN, whom likewise needs to have more economic freedom.

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