Myanmar emerges from decades of isolation. Following a general election in 2010— which installed a civilian government albeit with still considerable military influence—Myanmar has undertaken significant political, economic and policy reforms.
“We’ve never seen anything like this” is the refrain increasingly heard in every corner of the world in the wake of natural disasters. Indeed, intense natural disasters have increased nearly fourfold over the past four decades, with floods and storms representing 70% of the increase. Asia and the Pacific has been the worst hit region. Yet, the response to hazards of nature has been mostly to react when they strike. The upshot I see is this: unless prevention takes center stage, disasters will likely unravel progress.
Over the course of our eleven-month “re-engagement” with Myanmar and my three trips to the country since June, I have discussed prospects for the country with literally hundreds of people. In a September op-ed, I quoted Rudyard Kipling who referred to the country as "quite unlike any land you know about" in his 1898 collection Letters from the East and these discussions leave me convinced that this century-old observation holds true.
My second meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was in early November. I had returned to the country to meet with officials and discuss next steps following our Board’s approval of our interim country partnership strategy. Following a variety of meetings in Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw, we returned to her residence on the outskirts of the capital. Madame Suu Kyi again greeted us at the entrance to her home and ushered us to the same table.
Perhaps the most significant global social policy development in 2012 was approval of the International Labour Organization (ILO) recommendation on creation of social protection floors. Approved in June, the recommendation calls on the ILO’s 185 members to ensure that everyone in need has access to essential health care and basic income security.
Social protection is moving up in the global development agenda with good reason. Sweeping social and demographic changes will be an unstoppable driver of demand for governments to provide social protection—as will widening wealth gaps, economic crises, and, especially in Asia and the Pacific, the increased severity of natural disasters.
Aging can adversely affect economic performance, demanding changes in social and economic policies to address the challenge. While the best-known dimension of aging relates to fiscal sustainability due to spiraling health care and pension costs, the repercussions are wider. More worryingly, aging will ultimately constrain economic growth because labor supply shortages result in lower GDP growth in the absence of increases in total factor productivity.
I have been in several discussions recently in which people have argued that there is a definite trade-off between promoting economic growth and supporting inclusiveness. In particular, social protection is considered part of a set of welfare-oriented “populist policies” which is a drain on national budgets, as opposed to real investment to spur economic growth.
I am not an environment or climate change expert, but I am an environmentalist out of conviction. When I was 14 years old I wrote a letter to the German Minister of Environment asking for faster policy action to reduce green house gas emissions.
With their middle and lower economic classes being squeezed, governments overseeing several leading Asian economies are responding with greater social spending and tax relief.