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Monday, October 26, 2009

We were not second to Japan

Once in a while, you get to hear the story of the golden age in Philippine history, the time when we were once next to Japan. Journalists usually evoke this story to illustrate how far we’ve fallen from grace as an Asian tiger. You hear this as well sometimes from conversations with older people, nostalgic of the past, implying that things were better during the pre-Marcos martial law era. If only we didn’t mess things up…

Well, guess what? Data shows that we were never the second best economy in Asia.

Below is a motion chart I made using historical GDP per capita (from Maddison) of various Asian countries going back to the 1950’s (if you're viewing this from facebook, you need to access my blog here). Note that, we were a middling country to begin with, behind Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Japan, Sri Lanka, and even Taiwan in the early post war years. From then on, we were simply outpaced by Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea, and China. Here’s a link to the bigger chart, in case you want to play around with the data.

I want you to think about this the next time someone claims we had things much better before. We did not. There was no golden age. And perhaps by liberating ourselves with this misguided view, we can press on harder in search for what "works."