Skills and Upgrading in Southeast Asia
The thinking behind this book started long before there was any notion it might turn into a book, and long before my time at Emory University or James Madison College at Michigan State University. Over 15 years ago, as a young executive in the computer industry, I found myself traveling around the world to market and sell software. No PhD was needed to quickly see that some countries were far out in front technologically, and that the number of such countries was comparatively small. Countries such as Korea and Taiwan were making tremendous gains on countries such as France and England. Singapore, Australia and Ireland began to emerge as technological leaders. Even traditionally poor countries like Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia in Southeast Asia, Mexico in North America and Brazil and Argentina in South America began to transition from agriculture to manufacturing and exporting, generating huge gains in wealth and poverty reduction as a result. So astounding was this rapid transformation among the countries of Southeast Asia that the World Bank declared the region an ‘economic miracle,’ and new hope emerged that all countries might be able to ‘upgrade’ their economies and compete in a global market. Yet as promising as the thesis was that countries were like geese and the leaders would pave the way for the followers, it soon became apparent that not all countries shared the same capacities for upgrading. While foreign direct investment and export industrialization might cause economic growth to surge for a period,...