Monday 20 Aug 2018 | 01:40 | SYDNEY
Monday 20 Aug 2018 | 01:40 | SYDNEY

Why we avoid the P word

15 September 2008 17:36

Guest blogger: Peter McCawley (pictured) is a Visiting Fellowin the Indonesia Project, ANU, and former Dean of the ADB Institute, Tokyo.

For economists such as myself, one striking thing about the discussion on changes in international relations across Asia (including the handy survey by Graeme Dobell) is the absence of any focus on the P word – poverty. A billion or more people across Asia still live in abysmal poverty, so mass poverty is the top economic challenge for the region. Yet the P word hardly appears in the various speeches by Kevin Rudd about the region and is rarely referred to in much other commentary.

Why? One main reason, surely, is that the P issue is something of an embarrassment to policy-makers in both rich and poor countries. Policy-makers in rich countries such as Australia worry that references to mass poverty in Asia will cause regional diplomatic problems. Moreover, if the topic is raised then rich countries like Australia are likely to find themselves under pressure to respond with trade and aid policies.  It's easier to avoid the subject.

In poor countries, mass poverty is a difficult issue for policy-makers as well. Most of our Asian neighbours are grappling with the challenge as best they can. But the problems are very complex. The single most effective anti-poverty policy for poor countries is high economic growth combined with large-scale job creation. But these days the rich world is ambivalent about the idea of high economic growth in developing countries. The rich world is now worried about climate change, and whales and forests, not about poor people in poor countries. So policy-makers in poor countries know that they are largely on their own in tackling the most important economic problem in the region.