by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
IN TERMS OF LAND area and population Myanmar and Thailand are close in size, and i n the 1960s both countries had similar rates of growth.
But in 1962 Myanmar’s General Ne Win led a coup d’état, establishing a nominally socialist military government that followed an economic policy of autarky. The country closed its doors to the world and expelled the Indians who had come with the British to help in the retail industry many decades before. Although Ne Win resigned in July 1988, the military junta remained firmly in control of the country.
During the same period Thailand experienced multiple army coups, but its leaders chose a different economic path. Thailand became a free-market economy, open to all investments from all countries, and it absorbed its Chinese immigrants, who had arrived during and after British rule. Today Thailand is one of Asia’s busiest manufacturing hubs.
Because of its closed-door socialism, Myanmar’s per capita GDP (in current international dollars) has lagged behind Thailand’s. In 1980 Myanmar’s was $172 and Thailand’s, $1,060. By 2012 the gap had widened, with Myanmar’s per capita GDP reaching $1,950 and Thailand’s, $8,516.