Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz will make his second trip to Burma as one of three experts due to lecture an audience of businessmen and development professionals in Rangoon later this week.
The high-profile Columbia University professor is due to arrive on 9 February, and will stay for five days. In that time he will attend a seminar organised by the UN Development Programme in Naypyidaw, as well as the Rangoon lecture where he will be flanked by two other economists, Robert Findlay, also of Columbia, and Hla Myint, a former advisor to the Burmese government and now emeritus professor at London School of Economics.
The Rangoon event on 11 February, hosted by the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) and Myanmar Institute of Economics Graduates Association (MIEGA), is the latest attempt by the government to signal its efforts at reforming the country’s economy, which ironically began to gather steam in late 2009 after Stiglitz paid a visit to advise Naypyidaw on poverty reduction.
In the two years since, the country has undergone a rapid transformation, with the majority of industry first privatised by General Ne Win following the 1962 coup sold to private enterprise, and Rangoon now teeming with businessmen eyeing opportunities amid speculation that western sanctions will soon end.
How much of that came from Stiglitz’s advice is questionable: development in the country, particularly its rural regions, remains a major concern, and while downtown Rangoon is undergoing something of a refurbishment, the long-neglected peripheral states still await the spoils of a shake-up of the economy that, dramatic as it has been, has to date served only business tycoons and, lately, foreign companies.
Stiglitz, whose paper for the conference is entitled ‘Development Strategies for Inclusive and Sustainable Growth’, will attempt to pick up from where he left off in 2009, when the former World Bank chief economist sought to use the economic growth examples of regional neighbours as a blueprint for where Burma could head with a liberalised economy.
His visit will also be hailed by many as proof of the government’s willingness to engage with more progressive voices. Stiglitz was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2001 for work that has largely pivoted on criticism of the free-market in its pure sense, instead arguing for a compromise between that and more state-centred models.