The Foxy Art of Herding Dragons: How Sly Asian Leaders Pulled off Politically Difficult Economic Reforms

Major economic reforms are often politically difficult.  They may cause pain to voters and provoke unrest.  They may be opposed by politicians whose time horizons are shortened by electoral cycles.  They may collide with the established ideology and long-standing practices of an entrenched ruling party.  They may be resisted by bureaucrats who fear change, and by vested interests with stakes in the status quo.  Obstacles to major economic reform can be daunting in democratic and autocratic polities alike. 

And yet, somehow, past leaders of today's Asian dragons did manage to get away with critical and creative economic reforms.  Sly political foxes nudged their countries onto high-growth paths toward global renown as economic dragons.  What lessons can be learned from their experiences?  Are tactics that worked in authoritarian systems applicable to democratic ones, and vice versa?  Can one identify a set of stratagems that would amount to an equivalent, for economic reformers, of the advice Machiavelli gave political princes? 

Arroyo will recount the crafty political maneuvers used by leaders of economic reform in Asia during these pivotal eras:  China under Deng Xiaoping; India in the 1990s; Thailand under General Prem Tinsulanonda; Vietnam's Doi Moi; South Korea under Park Chung Hee; Malaysia under Mahathir Mohamad; and Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew.  Arroyo's remarks will be drawn from the paper he has been writing at Stanford on "The Political Economy of Successful Reform: Asian Stratagems," which he describes as "a playbook of useful maneuvers for economic reformers."

Dennis Arroyo is presently on leave from his government post as a director of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) of the Philippines.  He has held consultancies with the World Bank, the United Nations, and the survey research firm Social Weather Stations, and has written widely on socioeconomic topics.  His critique of the Philippine development plan won a mass media award for "best analysis."  He has degrees in economics from the University of the Philippines.