EH.NET Book Reviews, 2009

 Sean Turnell opens this fine study with an arresting contrast: “At the dawn of the twentieth century Burma was the richest country in Southeast Asia.

 Sean Turnell opens this fine study with an arresting contrast: “At the dawn of the twentieth century Burma was the richest country in Southeast Asia.  At the dawn of the twenty-first century it was the poorest.”  Central to that descent, he argues, has been the failure of Burma’s leaders – not simply the military regime that has been in power since 1962 but the civilian democracy that preceded it and indeed the British colonial administration which came before that – to fashion the institutions necessary for sustained economic growth.  One of the most important of those institutions is a functioning financial system.  In other words, to understand the failure to create effective financial institutions is to understand Burma’s economic failure across the long twentieth century. […] Turnell … has been a close “Burma-watcher” for many years.  This book draws on a close reading of a wide range of official sources, of an extensive secondary literature, and of primary documents in the major relevant archives … .  It is not written specifically for specialists in the history and practice of financial institutions and structures – though specialists will certainly gain much from it – but is clearly intended to be accessible to a broader audience, not least to those with an interest in Burma wishing to more fully understand that country’s huge problems.  When necessary, the author provides important context on, for example, the principles of central banking or on the working of currency boards.  But even here, the writing has a light touch.  This is an attractively written, accessible account and analysis.

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