April 23, 2013
Welcome to AS IT IS from VOA Learning English.
I’m Mario Ritter.
Today, we hear about a different way to measure economic growth, the Social Progress Index. We also hear from the author of a book about institution building in Asia. But first we hear about the state of reform in Burma.
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi recently warned that political reforms in Burma are not yet permanent. She says the reforms still depend on the support of the country’s military. June Simms has this report.
Aung San Suu Kyi says her country has started on the path to democracy. But she says the military remains very powerful.
"There are many people who ask me whether the process of democratization in Burma is irreversible. Now I always say very simply, it will be irreversible once the military has accepted it."
The opposition leader is now a member of Burma’s parliament. She spoke during a visit last week to Tokyo University in Japan.
Observers say the comments show that she is seeking to balance relations with the military and her party, the National League for Democracy.
Many foreign leaders have praised Burma’s moves toward political and economic reform. But Aung San Suu Kyi suggested that she and her party still have a difficult relationship with Burma’s military.
Armed forces members largely wrote the constitution approved in 2008. Now, political experts say the NLD may be compromising too much in its effort to amend the document. Under the constitution, the army occupies one of every four seats in parliament. It also bars Aung San Suu Kyi from seeking the presidency.
Aung Thu Nyein is director of the Vahu Development Institute, a Burma research group. He says the opposition still needs the support of the military.
"It is a quite delicate for her, you know, to deal with the military because the 25 percent of the un-elected parliamentarians are still in the parliament and they are quite influential for to make constitutional reform.”
The opposition leader and the NLD have also faced criticism. Rights activists have criticized them for not opposing the party of President Thein Sein since gaining seats in parliament. The NLD leader has also been denounced for failing to speak out against oppression of ethnic and religious minorities in Burma.
But at Tokyo University, Aung San Suu Kyi said establishing the rule of law in Burma remains the biggest concern.
"So we have had no rule of law in Burma over the last 50 years, what we have had is rule of an authoritarian government and rule of law has been weakened to the point that it became non-existent. We are trying to re-establish it."
I’m June Simms.
Author Mitchell Wigdor has written a book centering on the development of institutions in Asia. It is called “No Miracle, What Asia Can Teach All Countries About Growth.” VOA’s Jim Stevenson spoke with the author about his book.
Strong institutions are important to a country’s development. Mitchell Wigdor says one of the main goals of his book is to center attention on which institutions are important to development. He says institutions that help bridge the digital divide are extremely important to being able to compete in the global economy.
Mitchell Wigdor defines the digital divide as the difference in access to information technology between the rich and the poor. He says governments that help reduce that difference will see greater economic development.
“And unless governments are able to foster the usage if information technology throughout their countries they really run the risk of falling behind and not being able to participate in this economy.”
In his book, Mitchell Wigdor points to Singapore as a country that built institutions that led to economic success. He also notes another important responsibility of institutions.
“Institutions are very much about the implementation of laws and public policy. And without that, your laws for example, are just words on a piece of paper. They don’t actually do anything. Institutions are about how you implement your policies and how you create the wealth that government’s desire and that people desire.”
So, he says, institutions that support the law and public policy are needed before economic development can truly take hold.
Mitchell Wigdor’s book is called “No Miracle, What Asia Can Teach All Countries About Growth.”
How do you measure the size of a country’s economy? The usual way is by adding up the value of all the goods and services exchanged in a country over one year. That number is called the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP.
Now, some researchers are using a different method to measure a country’s economic success. Avi Arditti tells us more.
The Social Progress Index measures things other than the value of a country’s economic activity. The goal is to show how well 50 countries provide for all of the needs of their people.
Researchers from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology designed the index. They received help from business professionals from around the world.
Michael Green is executive director of the Social Progress Imperative, the group that carried out the project. He says the index measures well-being.
"We're not measuring economic proxies for well-being; we're measuring the things that matter to real people. Do I have enough food? Do I have shelter? Do I have access to health care? Do I have opportunity in my life?"
The index considers 12 very different areas, including nutrition and personal rights. It measures complex environmental issues like ecosystem sustainability. It also measures the ability of people to use the Internet.
The United States, the world’s largest economy, rated sixth in the Social Progress Index. Sweden was first followed by Britain.
Costa Rica came in 12th place. That is the highest-ranked developing economy in the world. Costa Rica also rated highly on issues related to education, environment and on opportunity.
Roberto Artavia is vice-chairman of the Social Progress Imperative. He says Costa Rica’s democratic history strengthened its placement on the index.
"One hundred twenty-four years of continuous democracy. It has had a social inclusion institution since 1971. It has had full social security since 1941. This seems to have actually created the framework for development - social development - to take place."
The creators of the Social Progress Index say politics is not a consideration. Director Michael Green says the message for policymakers is that you can get high levels of social progress in economies big or small. I’m Avi Arditti.
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