“Poverty is not destiny. It can be changed,” so declared Prof. Justin Yifu Lin, former Chief Economist of the World Bank, who co-authored and co-launched the thought-provoking new book, Beating the Odds: Jumpstarting Developing Countries, with Dr Celestin Monga, African Development Bank’s Vice President/Chief Economist at the ongoing meetings on Monday.
Prof. Yifu’s assertion, incidentally, summarises the essence of the book, whose Chinese edition is already in the market. The English edition, according to Dr Monga, should be gracing bookshops and internet outlets in the coming days. That, in no way stopped the pair of economists from giving out snippets of the fresh ideas, thinking and policy recommendations for developing countries yearning for growth and sustainable development in a competitive world as espoused in the publication.
Speaking from a personal experience, Prof Yifu regaled the audience with the inspiring turn-around tale of his native Taiwan. The country, he said, was as poor as many African countries in the 1950s, when he was just a youth contemplating his future. Today, he notes, Taiwan is a developed economy with an impressive per capita GDP of $28 000, far outperforming the economies of those countries it once languished in poverty with. China’s more recent example was also cited for good measure.
Beating the Odds lays out how poor countries can achieve the Taiwan ‘miracle’ in spite of such popular prescriptions as purveyed by so-called Washington consensus or other trending economic models. The authors note that the successful East Asian countries are similar to developing countries in Africa and should be role models for those aspiring to improve the lives of their peoples.
Their prescription? They want developing countries to pay attention to some common things the East Asians did: They never allowed themselves to be hamstrung by mainstream economic thought or policy prescriptions by focusing on a pragmatic/proactive approach to the peculiar challenges in their economic space; they were alive and sensitive enough to catch the opportunities that came their way; they started with encouraging small-scale industries appropriate for their level of development, concentrating on labour-intensive industries where they could had comparative advantage; pursued import substitution and built industrial parks that side-stepped infrastructure inadequacies.
Surely much more practical tips can be gleaned from the book by those who purchase their copies, as Dr Monga humorously quipped as he brought the session to a close.
By Joni Akpederi