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Growth-policy reassessment urged


THE Thai economic crisis has provoked an ongoing debate over whether an economic policy advocating growth for growth's sake should be reassessed.

Last week Paiboon Wattanasiritham, managing director of the Government Savings Bank and a veteran community developer, politely tried to engage James Wolfensohn, World Bank president, in such a debate on the need for a reconsideration of the concept of economic growth.

Wolfensohn had just finished giving an address on the World Bank's policy of encouraging the participation of people in its development projects. The speech was part of an event organised by the National Economic and Social Development Board to commemorate its 50th anniversary.

In Paiboon's opinion, the very idea of blindly espousing economic growth should be reviewed, for Thailand's experience showed that its pre-crisis high rate of growth had been achieved largely at the expense of the environment and its human resources, he suggested.

Since it was the policy-makers who set economic growth as their target, they would do anything to achieve it without considering the consequences, Paiboon said, and economic growth should rather be treated as a by-product of economic activity that placed the highest priorities on promoting productivity, maintaining cultural and social values and enhancing the quality of life.

While Wolfensohn respectfully acknowledged Paiboon's philosophical argument, he pointed out that any discourse on the role of economic expansion in a country's development should instead start from the premise of population growth: how is the world going to feed the growing number of people on this planet?

From the World Bank's perspective, without growth there would not be enough food on the table for everyone, he noted, so that it was a difficult question that might not have a ready answer.

The task confronting Thai policy-makers of eradicating the poverty of seven million Thais is tough (see accompanying story), but the task that Wolfensohn faces is even more challenging: how to solve the problem of three billion people trying to eke out a living on less than US$2 a day.




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