'Asian values'

December 16, 1997

An excerpt froma Chicago Tribune editorial of Dec.13:

fTC Before their economies took a battering, Asian leaders and their sycophantic apologists liked to boast the region's unique social values were fueling its phenomenal material success. The powerful engine of the so-called "Pacific way" was said to be the traditional Asian commitment to strong families, hard work, respect for authority and the priority of communal interests over individual wants and needs.

Now that the "Asian tigers" are mired in financial scandal and collapse, the notion that their economies benefited from innate advantages sadly lacking in the undisciplined West has lost whatever small credibility it once had.

The truth is much simpler and very ugly. For more than a decade, the Asian miracle was driven by an ever-swelling flood of investment capital that now has abruptly dried up. All that self-serving talk about Asian values was spewed out by leaders of authoritarian bent to justify a loathing for democracy, a sorry record on human rights.

Paternalistic governments and corrupt industries were driven to excess by a seemingly endless flow of foreign bank loans and equity investments. As long as money poured in, the Tiger economies thrived despite a plague of crony capitalism, bad loans and profligate government spending on public works.

In Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, greedy cabals of politicians, bankers and business titans grew fabulously rich. In a climate of lax regulation and endemic secrecy, government officials leaned on banks to lend big money to their friends, who in turn cut the officials in on their huge profits. Criminal libel suits enforced by corrupt judges intimidated journalists and honest public figures, so criticism of the way things worked was stifled.

That was the terrible truth about "Asian values." That plus the suppression of political opposition and flagrant violations of human rights.

Then came the Great Crash of 1997. As President Clinton's international economics adviser, Daniel Tarullo, put it: "The Asian miracle did not repeal the laws of economics."

Pub Date: 12/16/97

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